When we bought the ranch house, something very interesting came to our attention. Apparently, the county has an easement on our property for the highway that runs in front of the house. Basically, we own half the highway.
That got me thinking…Since its our property, we could:
Make it a toll road. Anyone coming from a locality that has a Starbucks must bring me a Venti Vanilla Latte with whole milk and NO foam.
Regular commuters can skip ahead of the line, if they make trips to CostCo and Trader Joe’s for me on a bi-weekly basis (it’s already growing tiresome to drive an hour to get groceries).
Have an obligatory Farm-Tourism Experience to pass. (Those are all the rage right now!) To pass, you have to clean out the chicken coop, shovel horse manure, turn the compost pile, rota-till the garden or any other chores I find tedious.
Have a drag-queen fashion show, complete with a bedazzled runway, thumping house music and lots of glitter! (the locals would LOVE that!)
Invite some professional Canadian curlers and host a week-long curling championship.
Require that drivers blow bubbles for the kids for at least 5 full minutes. I’m getting really out of breath.
Mandate that people open all their car windows and take a couple hundred mosquitos and other bugs with them. I’m tired of looking like I have chicken pox from all the bites.
Set up a Zombie Apocolypse checkpoint- just to make sure that zombies aren’t coming into Sierraville to eat the faces off the ranchers and livestock.
The possibilites are endless! Suggestions welcome!
The more I look at this picture, the more it means to me. Not only do I love that our new home has so much history but the history is tangible. Our home sits on these bricks, made 154 years ago. This home is imprinted with the history of this breathtaking valley, of the ballsy people who settled it, the Holland (Dearest Husband’s Uncle) who restored it and now our Holland Brood.
This home, these bricks, this land is our new foundation. It will change…it will age…the cycle of life will have its’ way with it. But with work and determination, we’ll do everything in our power to carry it on…to our children (if they don’t completely resent us for moving them to the country once they enter their angst-ridden teenage years) and their children’s children…
As a family, we’ve moved quite a bit. But, this is it. We’re done. I feel it in my bones.
We moved up here to be closer to nature. I know that sounds all dirty-crunchy-granola-hippie-esque, but it’s true.
In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve come to learn firsthand that nature isn’t a still, peaceful Ansel Adams photo. It’s messy, violent, competitive, unpredictable and ridiculously complex. I see this played out from my kitchen window…the dance between predator and prey is always on display.
Consider the chickens. Lot’s of critters want to eat the chickens (including me). Hawks want to eat the chickens. Coyotes want to eat the chickens. My psycho dogs want to eat the chickens (but I have control- albiet limited- over them) Even the eggs are not safe. Magpies want to eat my chicken eggs. Hell, the chickens sometimes want to eat their own eggs. And what are the chickens eating? Bugs. See? Predator and prey…
On a side note: Did you know that if you give a chicken some chicken she’ll eat it? I was once blissfully unaware of chicken cannibalism. (Wonder if chicken tastes like chicken to chickens?)
I am all too aware of the coyotes, bears and mountain lions roaming around here. And of the owls that probably think our wiener dog would make a lovely little meal, so I’m his bodyguard while he is doing his business at night.
Amusingly, the predators I once feared, I now adore. Just last night, I was ecstatic to see bats swooping around my front porch. God bless ’em- eating the mosquitoes that have been relentlessly feasting on me and my kids. Predators come in all sizes…insects will gladly make a meal of you at any given moment.
Even the swallows that made a city of mud nests in the eaves of our barn are an example of raw nature at work. (At first, I thought the swallows were delightful, then a 1000 pounds of bird shit later…not so much) Some of the swallows fly so fast that they smack right into the barn walls and we end up with dead swallow bodies scattered on the ground. This gave the children an up-close lesson in the life cycle of a fly (maggots! Weeee!).
Though, my kids still haven’t come to understand the balance between predator and prey. Just the other day my son asked “Why do people kill deer?” (Dearest husband and I were talking about hunting). We explained that you hunt to eat- just like we kill chickens to eat.
His jaw dropped in disbelief and he shouted at me with conviction:
“NO MAMA. WE EAT NUGGETS. NOT CHICKENS!!!”
This whole country adventure is proving to be nothing but enlightening for the entire family.
It’s June and I’m already thinking of winter. It will be our first winter up here. I adore winter. I love cold weather. I love the hush that descends on the landscape when snow falls. I love bundling up. I love winter comfort food. I can’t wait for the kids to build snow forts and chuck snowballs at each other. Seeing our land covered in snow is going to be spectacular.
I’ve been thinking of how I will winterize the chicken coop and have been reading up on how I will get them to lay in winter. Once the goats join us, I’ll need to have hay on hand to keep them fed through the winter. I have to winterize the house (still don’t know exactly what that entails, probably something to do with caulking stuff?) I’ll need to buy the kids snow-appropriate clothes, as flimsy sweatshirts (which was all we really needed in SoCal) aren’t gonna fly. When you have actual seasons- something I am not very accustomed to- you have to plan ahead.
Everyone keeps warning me about winter around here. I get a lot of “Oh, you haven’t been though a winter around here, have you?” type comments. I blow it off with a little bravado about how I lived in Alaska and Colorado. I know a little bit about snow and winter.
But when I drive to Truckee, I pass Donner Memorial State Park. The park preserves the site of the Donner Camp, where the ill-fated Donner Party was trapped by weather in the 1800’s. You know the Donner’s- they ate each other and what not.
And that alone makes me eat a slice of humble freaking pie.
Winter is going to be an adventure, that’s for sure.
1. Country people instinctually follow the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
I used to wince when I saw homes that had a bunch of rusting cars, tractors, random pieces of rusting machinery and piles of 2X4’s strewn about in pristine pastures. Well, now I get it. I’ve scrounged around our property for 2X4’s to make roosts for my new chickens, I’ve repurposed some strange things in my short time here. You’ll need that crap someday, for some reason.
When you live hours away from Target and civilization in general, not only do you not buy useless crap, you don’t buy much period. You have to honestly factor in the gas it takes to go get that random throw pillow for your couch. And with gas prices even higher in rural areas, you bet your sweet bippy that throw pillow isn’t worth it.
Although, recycling is arguable…There is no recycling service around here. We do our part by using beer cans as shooting targets.
2. Yes, people do wear Wranglers, tucked-in plaid cowboy shirts, cowboy or ranch boots, big leather belts with even bigger belt buckles and cowboy hats. And it’s NOT a fashion statement. It’s what you wear when you are on your tractor or when loading cows onto a truck.
3. People stay out of your business, but they sure as hell are talking about you.
4. The best thing to do for an urbanite new-comer (like myself) is ask questions and listen. There is nothing more annoying than a person who thinks if they read the Encyclopedia of Country Living they know all there is to know about living in the country. My neighbors, whose family have been in this valley for over 3 generations, know more than any book I’ve read and I plan to listen to every word (until I’ve been here long enough to have my own opinions, understandings and ways to do things).
5. You are not in control. Mother Nature is. And she’ll remind you of that often. She’ll change shit up on you real quick, keep you on your toes. And yes, her winds will blow your small children away if you aren’t holding their hands.
6. Chickens do not follow you around because they love you and think the soft clucking noises you make to them are comforting. They follow you because you fill their feed container every morning and think you have more. Same goes for most other livestock, dogs, children and husbands as well.
7. Living on a ranch is WORK. Lot’s of work. And we don’t even have a working ranch. We’re just living “RanchLite”. You don’t have time to whittle on the front porch. You don’t have time to learn the fiddle. I’m busy taking care of 3 kids, running a household, working from home and ensuring my chickens aren’t going to freeze from a freak storm that blows in…on June 4th. My list of To Do’s around here has reached epic proportions.
8. It is slower here. I always felt like I was rushing EVERYWHERE in SoCal. I drove here, I drove there. I ran errands constantly. I was nervous, anxious. I had a tight feeling in my stomach all the time. I absorbed the anxiety that seems to permeate So Cal. I was smart enough to be wary of any romantic notion that I would have more time living up here. I don’t have more time. And I have more to do than I ever have. But time doesn’t race by. It just ticks by, at the pace it is meant to tick. I’ve lost that rushing feeling…It’s subtle, but it is slower here.
9. I have to drive 15 miles to get the kids to school. In that drive, I see MAYBE 2 cars. And a tractor. And everyone waves.
10. I’ve never seen so many old barns in my life. I’m talking barns built in the 1800’s and are still being used. And if they aren’t being actively used, they are left standing (see #1).
11. Country music is not all that bad.
12. It’s DIY or die. You don’t hire landscapers, for example. If something is busted, you fix it. Or you ask a friend or relative and pay them back with a 6 pack and a BBQ. Bartering works well too.
13. I had a tendency to fill in pauses of conversation with conversation. Around here you don’t babble on. You say what you mean and mean what you say. Of course, the women are chatty, but men (especially the older generations of ranchers) don’t talk just to talk.
14. If I said I have a blog, I think I’d be met with the reply of “What the hell is a blog?” or “Why the hell would you want to do that?” (and I honestly ask myself the same questions)
15. Every morning I wake up and despite the crabby kids, the fact I didn’t have time to shower because I was up all night with the baby and I still have chicken shit on jeans I haven’t washed in a while, despite the churning in my brain of all the things I need to accomplish that day, I look out any one of our windows and think “My God, I live here?!?!? What a gift.”
So much has changed since I wrote my first blog post. Might as well start anew.
We now live on a ranch. We bought an 1858 ranch house in the Sierra Nevadas on 10 acres of pasture. We still have 3 kids, 2 dogs and alas no more fish (went to the “ocean” via toilet). We have added 7 chickens to our brood, yet to be named. Goats are forthcoming.
Why would we move from Southern California to the Sierras you might ask? Well, when opportunity knocks….to make a long story short, my husbands uncle poured his heart and soul into refurbishing this 1858 farmhouse and was trying to sell it. He threw out the wild idea we should buy it and move 500 miles away to the country. We pondered. We schemed. We calculated. We planned. Then we said to hell with it, let’s do this. And we did.
While I find great beauty in the beach, treasure the long growing season, appreciate the culture and the arts that dominate the area and miss my dear parents and close friends, I belong in the mountains. I belong in changing, challenging weather. I belong in a town of 200, not 20 million. I was a factory chicken in SoCal, now I’m free-range. (a little ranch metaphor for ya’ll)
Mostly, though, this was a decision for our kids. The day my 6-year old daughter came home from school and asked me if the back of her thighs were fat, I knew we had to get the hell out. I’m not naive- I know living in the country will carry it’s own issues and drawbacks for my kids. While there are more cows than people here and more barns than museums, I can still give culture, art and experience to my kids. And I know that SoCal is not only populated by vain, appearance obsessed, materialistic people- I’m privileged to know some amazing, kind and genuine people down south. But, it’s hard to protect my kids from the pronounced cultural obsession with stuff and appearances. It’s hard to take the rat of of the rat race.
Seeing my kids exploring the pasture, scrambling on rocks, fishing with their dad, making ninja swords out of found sticks, searching for arrowheads, getting eggs from the chicken coop, making flower necklaces from the front lawn, experiencing the rapid changes in weather, seeing new apples grow on our apple trees, counting cows and sheep as we pass them on the way to school makes me undoubtedly know we made the right decision.
I’ve never been so happy to see my kids absolutely filthy from being outside all day long.
So, here we are. Where we belong.