Again, it has been a while since I’ve written. The usual excuse: I’ve been busy. It has been an experience of busyness unlike any previous sense I have had of that word. I am waking each morning into a relationship with my surroundings that is more intimate than ever. The rustic cabin we are renovating has its own spirit and personality. The land we are caring for has myriad voices, spirits, and relationships. Everything is alive. Everything is both giving and receiving; needing care and bestowing care.
We recently transplanted a small fir tree and a small cedar tree from their vulnerable position along the roadside to a place on the land where they will join a group of young pines we call, “The Sisters.” Both tiny trees are vulnerable and we may make mistakes in our attempt to care for them. Our intentions are to help the various sections of this 2.8 acre land become restored, natural, and vital.
Water has become far more than a taken-for granted given. The property is supplied by an ancient well and a semi-ancient pump. It is pristine glacier water that originated on the slopes of Mount Shasta centuries ago, but it needs to be pumped to reach our two little houses. That means that electric power is necessary. During the winter the power lines are at risk of snow and ice build-up as well as falling limbs and trees. In the fire season of summer and fall the power company may have to cut off power during dry windy conditions. Water is available during these times. We have a 45 gallon holding tank and the crystal springs at the headwaters of the Sacramento River are only three miles away. For one who was raised on the idea that water flowed endlessly at the twist of a faucet, this can seem incredibly inconvenient, even primitive. But from the perspective of the world at large, it is a paradisiacal fountain of plenty.
The conundrum of water does not stop once it reaches our pipes. Said pipes are decades old, installed by amateur plumbers whose techniques were not even up to the code of fifty years ago. Thus Brian, the owner of Mount Shasta Plumbing, has become part of our community. Not some faceless job-holder in a large company, but Brian; a man in his forties who is gracious, uncomplaining, and highly skilled. Without Brian we would not have our washer and dryer and the pipes in the walls would have continued to leak and destroy the crumbling wall board. We will see more of Brian as the toilet begins to leak around the wax seal that has been cemented to the floor making it an impossible job for a layman like me to replace. Cold water does not reach the kitchen sink. Fortunately my sister, who owns the property, helps with expenses or we would be unable to do the care taking work the property is calling for.
Did I mention the decaying rotting wall board? Ray, the carpenter and handyman, comes into our community circle. Ray is close to 70 years old and filled with an energy I didn’t have when I was 30. He turned the mold-ridden, rotten-walled, decrepit-floored little laundry room into a clean, solid, and pleasant place. The cabin is about 70 years old itself, so Ray will undoubtedly become even more intimately connected in our web of friends.
There are very few “jobs” in Siskiyou County because it is an inconvenient place to live if one is looking for comfort and convenience, but there is lots of “work” needed; the kind of work that knits a community together and reminds us all of our interdependence. It is not a place to which people flock on their way up the ladder of society, as most of the rungs here are considered to be quite low on that ladder. Actually, these rungs remain close to the Earth and I see that Earthiness in the faces of many of the people I meet. They are honest and open faces that present a willingness to help out and to befriend, knowing that help and friendship are essential qualities that will circle around and around within the community. The people who service cars are not faceless rip-off artists. They are known by name and dependent on the good-will of the community. Even the power company, Pacific Power, is really a collection of marvelously hard-working men and women who face uncomfortable and even life-threatening conditions to respond any time of the day or night to keep the life-giving electricity flowing into our heaters, stoves, and lights.
Nancy and I may not be facing life as directly as did our ancestors who lived on this land millennia ago. We may not be facing it even as Thoreau did in his Walden cabin experiment, but we are experiencing it like we never have before in our lives. Life is seeping into our bodies and spirits as it never could during our comfortable, white-collar, urban and semi-urban decades. My skin is weathering. My weight is evening out and my muscles are tightening up. I drive our Subaru onto the forest service roads on the slopes of the Mountain and lug back small logs from fallen trees that have not yet rotted. Then I use a hand axe and a hand saw to produce pieces small enough to use in our old wood stove. I’ve gathered almost a cord of wood and developed an aerobic practice that echoes Thoreau’s adage that wood so gathered, “warms you twice.”
We have very little money and must “re-use, re-purpose, mend, and make do” in the classic manner of our ancestors. When we can afford it, we will begin using solar power and even wind power. Nancy and I, who have never grown more than a spindly house plant, will begin next spring to plant vegetables, strawberries, blackberries, and who knows what else. We will probably not produce bumper crops but we will be working directly with some of our food and that itself will be transformative.
Food is one of the points where our relationship with the Earth is at its most fundamental. Even on our limited budget, we choose quality over quantity, buying organic foods when the GMOs right down the aisle are much less expensive. Our bodies, the farmers, the land, and even our compost pile benefit from this practice. Spending money on “bargain” factory food is a false economy. It creates the illusion of choice and savings while stealing our health and poisoning the land.
I am now, by general cultural convention, an old man. Yet I am happier and more vitally alive than I have ever been. I have come to an understanding of myself as a child of the Earth; one of millions of species of such children of that same Mother. I am also a spiritual Elder and understand that the remainder of my life must be in service to her.
If you would like to support me in this work, please check out my essay on the PATRONAGE page. It is a heartfelt and honest expression of my life as it is today.