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Snow has transformed the landscape. Every little familiar detail is infused with magic. The little nooks created by hawthorns, apple trees and roses as they reach over the creek look like something out of a fantasy movie. Orin loves these spots and it fills me to watch him play as I did when I was small enough for such spaces.

I recently came across an audiobook for an old DragonLance novel I read as a young teen – Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’ve not read one of those books in near 20 years. I started listening as I tooled around the kitchen or early in the morning while getting ready for work. Sweet, sweet nostalgia. I wonder if Orin will love these books as much as I did in my younger days. Sometimes I wonder about how much different (read: less awesome) my life would be had I not discovered fantasy and sci-fi at such a young age. I have my brother to thank many times over.

We took a family walk after the first snow down to the creek and the aspen grove. The more we learn about the plants and animals, the more connected we feel to the land and to ourselves. Orin knows where the mint grows and where there are still rose hips left hanging, tipped with a powdering of snow.

In spite of recent setbacks (dead farm animals, cougars, and a whole new set of tires), our adventures in ReWilding are picking up steam and our excitement for the life we’ve chosen is as high as ever. Possibly a little higher.

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Orin’s Snack Shelf

Orin now has his own shelf filled with tasty homemade treats – dried beet chips, dried apples, roasted pumpkin seeds, raisins and popcorn. He’s quite proud of this new freedom and happily offers up his food to anyone at every opportunity. Orin’s snack shelf in action.

 

Food Secure

We’ve filled our freezer to bursting with a quarter of a grass fed cow raised a stone’s throw away by our neighbor, half a pig raised 30 minutes away, and a whole load of bones and leaf fat to render into stock and lard. Tasty, healthy free range meat with no synthetic chemicals added. Sweet.

Every Thursday we drive into town to pick up our grass fed raw milk share and our CSA box. This makes up most of what we eat. We’ve a wide assortment of herbal teas (some we’ve harvested, some we’ve bought) and a whole host of goodies we’ve made (mostly from the land here) elderberry juice, dried rose hips for tea, dried chanterelles and field mushrooms, fresh sauerkraut, fermented hot sauce, kefir, etc.

Most of our time spent not working is spent focusing on healthy food and exploring new ideas around rewilding and becoming happier and healthier. There’s something new to learn every day. I’ve been pretty swamped with work lately, so Manijeh gets to do most of the exploration while I push pixels around the screen. I enjoy what I do, but it’s sometimes difficult to look out the window and see Orin rolling around in the sunshine with his mom while I argue with clients about brand guideline adherence. Ha!

 

Bad Apples

Dianna recently explained apple doll carvings to me, so I gave it a shot (here’s mine below). What a great use for “bad” apples. I can’t wait to see what the final dried face will look like. Already I want to carve a dozen more and line them up in the dehydrator for Christmas ornaments!

 

Bad Apple

On Thursday, Manijeh and Orin stumbled across a cougar in the act of killing two chickens. It slunk away, leaving one dead bird, one wounded bird, and one very distressed wife.

Finding no sign of the cat, Dianna scooped up the dead bird while I tracked down the wounded one. She was pretty badly torn, so I wrung her neck a little more vigorously than necessary, popping the head off and sending the headless bird literally flying. Or at least flapping erratically as she careened through the air, sprinkling me liberally with bright red droplets .

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We plucked and gutted the birds. One for the freezer and one for the cook pot. I like the thought that we’ll be eating meals prepared by a mountain lion. I’d like to see what that’d cost in a high end restaurant. “Locally grown, free range, organically fed, hens. Freshly killed by local cougar. $75 per plate.”

Orin excitedly retells his version of the encounter at every opportunity. What he lacks in accurate details he makes up for in enthusiasm and large hand gestures.

Don’t mistake amusement for lack of fear. There’s plenty of room for both.

We’ve been talking a lot about permaculture techniques and zoning. Here is a first scribbly sketch of our thoughts for the land.

Top left is the yurt.

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Home in Washington. Seeing family and old friends is great, but it’s a relief to be back in the mountains.

First day back, one of the new chickens died. She lost all of her feathers molting and got lost on her way back to the coop. We buried her the following day. Orin and Atticus attended the funeral.

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On the same day, both goats turned up at the doorstep with teal powder on their noses. Apparently there had been a bag of copper sulfate sitting in the back of the old water tower for a few decades. After a week of diarrhea and lethargy, we thought she would pull through, but on Friday, November 8th, Little Big One died my and Manijeh’s arms.

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Banana is hanging on, but not looking great. We’re continuing to administer meds, but even if she survives, we’ll need to find her a new home with other goats. Goats shouldn’t be alone.
(Update: We found her a great new home thanks to the Oregon Homesteaders Facebook page)

Outside, a friendly local fellow named Mike works on widening the driveway (a county requirement), scooping up loads of Oregon Grape, mallow, yarrow and who knows what other native goodies with the topsoil. Orin enjoys playing King of the Hill on the giant mounds of soil.

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We harvested enough Oregon Grape root to make a tincture. We’ll see how that turns out in 6 weeks.

And another chicken recently met her end thanks to Scribble. We plucked, gutted and cooked her. Poor, scrawny old girl.

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So… rough times as the cold creeps in and the days get shorter.

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From the window seat of a 737, I watched morning fog pooling in lakes and valleys as the sun rose against Mt. Hood. I love epic views, which I suppose explains why we chose to live where we do.

Manijeh and Orin dropped me off at the airport this morning at 5:30. This is the third time we’ll have been separated for more than a day or so. In a moment of face-melting sweetness, Orin requested goodbye kisses from me. What a fantastic little sleepy guy. There’s an ache in my chest already where their comfortable presence should be.

I loath the process of flying – getting to the plane and making connecting flights. Still, the prospect of seeing my family in Alabama makes the discomfort an acceptable price. This is one small part of the cost of living so far from family. Like … the sales tax part.

I know my mother will be smiling ear to ear and my dad will have a warm grin and a bear hug for me.

I wish that Orin and Manijeh could be there for that greeting as well. My folks do live for their grand babies. Therein lies the true cost which is shared between us.

Too much reflection on this leads nowhere healthy.

Time to sit back and watch the fractals and li pass below.

We’ve been scrambling to get the rest of the apples picked. The dehydrator runs day and night making crispy apple rings and we had another cider pressing on Saturday. Unfortunately the old press suffered some damage and will have to be repaired, so that’ll have to be our last pressing for a while.

 

The goats loved eating the pomace, but most of it went into our composter with straw, leaves and chicken poop.

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The cider we set fermenting last weekend is doing well. I transferred it to the carboy yesterday and popped an airlock on it. We’ll give it a taste in a couple of weeks once the bubbles die down. We’re also attempting an apple cider vinegar from scratch for the first time.

Hard cider.

 

Manijeh has been harvesting field mushrooms (don’t worry, we researched them thoroughly). We roasted a few with a chicken last week. They’re very tasty! We should have enough now to make a pot of creamy mushroom soup.

 

Orin and Atticus helped me plant some more germinated acorns down in the valley. I’ve put in maybe 60 or 70, though who can say how many will survive the winter … or the years of small boys being small boys. I’ll be happy if even a handful make it to maturity (hopefully I’ll be around to see it). I like to think that maybe Orin’s kids will sit under them one day and watch their Grandpapa hobble around chasing chickens.

 

We picked up half a beef from Mr. John down the road. 100% grass fed, no grain, no antibiotics, no hormones.   Came out to $2.50 per pound. That’s hard to beat. Our pocketbook is empty, but our freezer is full and our bellies are too. I made burgers last night. Damned fine meat.

 

We’ll be picking up a turkey and half a pig from a nearby farm next month. We also plan to sign up at a local CSA to get a box of fresh local veggies once a week. Then we should be pretty well set for the winter.

 

We had a chili cookoff this week. I made a traditional chili with mixed beans and beef, Dianna made pork chili verde, and Gina made a sweet chili with beef, cinnamon and cumin. They were all winners, though I favored Dianna’s.

 

Here are a few additional pics from the week.

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Loads of love from the top of the hill,

Eric, Manijeh & The Rocket Man

Busy busy!

 

The days are getting cooler and the trees are starting to turn. We had our first mini frost, so we harvested a small wagon load of apples from the trees around Dianna’s house. She said we could do whatever we wanted with the apples if we’d prune them back a bit, so as we picked I took note of the work that’ll need to be done in late winter. They haven’t been really cared for in years, so there’s a lot of trimming to be done. I’m happy to take the job and I consider it a good trade.

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We pressed maybe 16ish gallons of cider altogether and sent some of it off with neighbors. We have 5 gallons fermenting and another 5 bottled and frozen to heat and spice in the cold weather.

 

We’ve gone out foraging a lot these last couple of weeks as well. We’ve collected loads of rose hips for tea, elderberries for syrup / medicine, chamomile for tea, walnuts, and mushrooms.

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Last Thursday I got all my firefighting gear and was officially aced on the roster. The guys are a lot of fun. Mostly older gents with good senses of humor. I feel a bit out of place as they’re all mechanically inclined and have years of experience while I’m more software oriented and know little of the area. They’re patient with my newbie questions and I hope to learn a lot from them. I look pretty funny in full gear.

Tomorrow one of the guys – Mr. John who talks just like Jimmy Stewart – will help teach me the bells and whistles of driving one of the engines which everyone calls The  E1. I’ve driven it a couple of times now, but I only know the bare basics. He’s asked me to redesign the department licenses which I’ll gladly do.

 

We planted maybe 25-30 oaks (germinated acorns) down in the valley today. I’ve another 30 ready to go for tomorrow afternoon or later this week.

 

Orin has been surprisingly helpful processing elderberries and rose hips. His patience boggles my mind – especially since he’s usually all over the place.

 

This afternoon after I dug the last acorn hole, we sat down in the sunshine and snacked on a banana and some smoked baby clams. He’ll gaze off into the distance and get a thoughtful look on his face and then say something about cows or birds or rabbits. He never ceases to amaze me.

 

The goats broke into our garden area and ate our new plantings: blueberries, honey locust, apple tree, currants, raspberries. I think they’ll all survive, but it was a little disheartening.

 

We’ve come to love the goats. They’re full of personality and they’ve warmed to us quite a bit over the last few weeks. They’re playful and quite silly. It might be hard to eat their offspring… but we’ll see.

 

It amuses me that this transition has me working in such opposing directions. I’m designing things that are more technically sophisticated than I’ve ever done before and I’m paid to critique the work of other designers as they try to learn the same skills. I enjoy it, but it is time consuming and occasionally frustrating.

 

In the evenings, I just want to dive into a pile of dirt to wash away the pixels. Hehe.

 

It’s not exactly fairy tales and pumpkin spice all the time. The transition from our old life to the new life is a struggle. I’ve received my WA business license and DBA, so Nice Incredible Studio is legit. Paying state, fed, and self employment taxes is fine, but health insurance has been murder on our finances. The Affordable Healthcare Act, whatever you may think of it, will help  with that situation though.

 

We met with a solar guy and got some quotes for a system. We’re weighing our options and will meet with KPUD to get an idea of cost for running lines to our property. It won’t be cheap.

 

Still, we’re optimistic when we’re not feeling pessimistic. 😉

 

Here are a few more pics of the things I’ve yammered about.

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My apologies for any typos. I’m on my phone and far too lazy to sort back through this to look for misspellings or weird auto-corrects.

 

I hope you’re well and I look forward to seeing you soonish!

E.

 

The lantern is one of 6 new oil lamps we ordered from Lehman’s. “For when all other lights go out”…

 

The cup of white stuff is kefir that I’ve been making every night for the last month or so.

We built our first hugel this weekend. We dug a trench and lined it with dead wood. Orin helped break sticks with my leatherman. He was very excited by the process. This evening we’ll cover it with rain dampened straw, sod (turned upside down), mulch and compost. This hugel is pretty small – only about 6 ft long and 3 ft high – but it’s the first of many. 

 

The decomposing wood acts like a sponge and keeps the soil warm. We place large stones in and around it to act as heat traps as well.

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We’re getting some fruit trees and nitrogen fixers planted this week, but we’ll need to probably run some extra fencing to protect everything from critters.

 

The first day of fall felt like it should. Windy and cool. I love it. We can see the first hints of orange in the aspens. Can’t wait to see them fire red.

 

I drove the E1 fire engine and passed the driving test, so I’ll be licensed to cruise it around now. All the long time volunteers went first in the daylight. They asked if I wanted to wait for another day, but I said I’d like to try even if it was dark. The harvest moon rose and lit the way for me (September 19th) and I nailed it except the parallel parking bit. I was about a foot off. Still, I got to go home and tell Orin that I drove the fire truck! I think he thought I was just pretending though.

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Orin enjoys setting up a box beside our bed. He lays blankets and a pillow down, then tells us good night. Of course he still climbs up into the bed, but he seems more and more interested in his own space.

Bedtime

We’re working with SmilingWoodYurts on our house plans. We’ve had to make a few changes, but it’s looking good and we’re in their queue now, so our kit should be finished by early spring.

 

I met the well driller and got our permit papers to fill out. Our plan is to put in an electric pump with a hand pump also. So if the worst happens, we can force the children to go outside and pump our water!

 

The apples and pears are ready to be picked. Dianna has given us permission to pick as many as we want. So there’ll be lots of dried, sauced, baked, stored apples. We’ll invite some folks up to run a load of them through the cider press next month.

 

I’ve been continuing to help Dianna get the place cleaned up, but it’ll be a long term project. Years of illness has left a lot of little things to be worked on. It’s frustrating to be stuck inside working when there are so many things to do outside.

 

We visited (read: trespassed) the field next to us. There’s an old homestead there with a pole barn. I took some pics to help me start drawing up some potentially usable plans. There are also tons upon tons upon tons of stones there. At some point I plan to ask permission to remove some to use as foundation material later. Don’t ask me yet how I’ll transport them though. :)

Pole Barn

 

Orin has been playing his little guitar and singing with me. We make up songs about whatever is around and he gets a kick out of it. Truth is I probably enjoy it even more than he does.

 

There’s more, but the sun’s well up now and I’ve a load to get done this morning. Manijeh is already outside taking care of the goats while Orin snuggles up in my armpit.

Bench Lake

 

From the top of the hill with love,

Eric

September 10, 2013

With the recent sightings of bobcats, Orin has become fascinated with them. He wrote this song to express his feelings.

There’s an emotional depth here that I wouldn’t expect from anyone who’s never actually been bitten by a bobcat.

 

Bobcats