Looking around the country

Normally I do my real estate searching via the Internet. I know I'm missing lots of properties but it's a way for me to get a general idea of what an area looks like. It's also fun to start looking at the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) for an area. They love to post pictures of them operating during the last disaster. One small town in Kansas looked very good...and then I saw the pictures from the DEM. Apparently large areas may be prone to flooding. I have an aversion to seeing all or portions of my house underwater. So I quietly crossed that area off my list of possible areas for a new homestead.

This past week I got the opportunity to do a little traveling. Down through Oregon and into Northern California. It's a beautiful drive. A little less lovely when it's 105°F in Grants Pass but still nice to see that part of the country. I've made a permanent note to self to never drive Hwy 199 between Grants Pass and Crescent City, California again. It's beautiful, wild remote country. But the twisty, little highway hanging above the river in the canyon really eats up the time and gas and tends to make passengers carsick. Ok, the driver felt sick on occasion too!

Driving along the California coast was nice and much cooler than the inland Oregon temperatures. It's nice to think about the bounty of the sea. There's salt to be produced from the salt water, fish, mussels, crabs, and seaweed to be harvested. I also wonder if it would be safe to eat those items or whether we've managed to pollute the water so much that we've created toxic food sources. If we lose power and can't process waste water, will we further pollute the coastal waters? My feeling is that we would see more pollution being dumped there.

There were Tsunami warning signs. Some of them were in areas where you couldn't even see the ocean but it was flat and marshy towards the west; an easy path for water from the ocean to your front door if you lived there. My husband and I began asking ourselves just what is the size of tsunami wave that is used when they determine which areas are in or out of tsunami danger. All the upwards grades were marked 'Leaving Tsunami Danger Area' but all of them didn't seem that safe to me. I'll have to do a bit of research and see how high the tsunami wave was in the computer simulations used to post the signs. I'm thinking it wasn't as high as I'd like. I wonder if it takes into account rising sea levels as various glaciers and ice caps melt. Will they need to move and repost the signs every year to stay ahead of the rising water? As we're driving along, we notice a large power plant located between Hwy 101 and the ocean, on flat lowland. If a tsunami hits, the area will lose power, for quite some time it would appear.

We drove inland and upwards out of tsunami danger. It was dryer. Not arid, just not the lush, squishy wetness of my current location. A nice flat plot of land. An old plum tree grew near the old house. There was a bee hive in an old apple tree. Other apple trees grew on a steep slope. There was a drainage ditch that came into the property and runs in the winter. There's a nice three feet of drop which would make a nice spot for a little hydroelectric generator. In the early morning, I watched four deer grazing on the upper edge of the property. Over the years of suburban living, I've lost my ability to gauge acreage. Six acres sounds big on paper. It looked tiny to me. There are supposed to be lots of survival/sustainability types in the area. It's all about organic in this area. There is apparently a fair amount of bartering going on in the area.

I was sleeping on the floor while I was there. I felt a familiar rippling feeling the first night. Either an earthquake occurred nearby or my inner ear is messing with me again. It's happened before and I've been convinced that the foundation of our house had become unstable. When that trembling unstableness followed me to get my haircut at a strip mall, I admitted that it was me and not our house. This didn't feel the same. Just about three ripples of the earth and it stopped. No one else felt it but me. I love the Internet for earthquake research. A 4.6 earthquake that was nine miles deep near Trinidad, CA doesn't make the news. It's nice to go online and confirm that there had been an earthquake nearby.

At first glance, this little corner of California seemed like a perfectly idyllic sactuary for a retreat. The more I thought though, the more I decided that it wasn't perfect for me. I like warmth. I don't mind hot days. Sure hauling hay or building fence on a 100°F day isn't that terrific but with fluids one can survive and get the job done. I also like snow. I've slogged through mid-thigh deep snow to feed cattle and haul wood. It's not fun but where I lived at the time, it didn't last more than a week or two at the most. This particular area of California doesn't provide me with those weather patterns. While this region may be perfect for other people, I'm not sure it's my first choice for a hideaway. It's a just a reminder that everyone is different and we all have to consider all aspects of our lives when we're making decisions about the best location for us and our families. What is perfect for one may not be perfect for another. Of course, there are things that all good homestead sites have in common: water, good soil, a good building site, etc. I won't enumerate all of those qualities. There are many articles on the subject so I won't reinvent the wheel.

So I'll continue searching for that perfect utopian homestead and perhaps one day in the near future, I'll find it.


It's been a while since I've done any writing. I've been busily growing the veggies out front...picked the first cucumber this week! But mostly I've been collecting. I'm a packrat by nature but lately what I've been collecting is information. My library selections are very eclectic or maybe not to Jericho fans. Some of the topics are homesteading, gardening, solar power, wind power, self-sufficiency, underground houses, nutrition, hydroponics, cookbooks, especially those about camp cooking, vegetarian recipes, cultural cookbooks. I've been collecting little bits of information from all of these books and writing them in my notebooks. Writing helps me remember things and I'm not counting on having a working computer at all times in the future.

The future is uncertain. We're seeing rising gas prices (Ok, they dropped some this week but I'm not going to count on them staying down), rising food prices, a crisis in the mortgage and banking industry due to bad loans, the possibility that we've reached peak oil and the list goes on. So what do we do in uncertain times? We can worry. We can imagine. We can prepare. There are well respected segments of the religious community that teach members of their faith to be prepared. They recommend having a years supply of food stored. That has been taught for many years...before the oil embargo of the 70s, before the S&L debacle of the 80s, before our current uncertainty. I think it's a good idea. After all, I really don't expect food prices to drop anytime soon. So buying and properly storing some extra food can't hurt.

My summer gardening experiments in hydroponics have been interesting. I've determined that during the summer, there is no real advantage to growing my tomatoes and cucumbers in a hydroponics tub. The tomato might have slightly larger fruit that it's counterpart growing in soil. However, they are different varieties so it's a bit hard to determine the size difference. The New Zealand spinach in the dirt is certainly larger than that in the tub but again the spinach in the tub tends to get pinched off and eaten more since it's clean all the time with no grit. Cucumbers I can evaluate side by side. I have one in water and one in soil very near each other so they get almost the same sunlight. The one in soil is much larger and produced cucumbers faster.

I will admit to not being as precise as I should be with the hydroponics. I haven't been dumping my solution as often as recommended, etc. I'm trying to imagine using this setup in hard times. In hard times, I won't be able to afford the nutrients. Talk about sticker shock! I put a gallon of nutrients on the counter and was told it was $118. Excuse me? The sign said $24.95...turns out that was the price for a pint. The tags were in the wrong spots. Needless to say, I went looking for something less expensive. This calls for more reading to find a way to make a natural solution for growing plants. Something that I could make and feed the plants if commercial solutions weren't available. There's that self-sufficiency theme popping up again. Comfrey popped up in several places as a tea for feeding soil based plants. So it's on my research list.

There are several books that were quite informative. Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon was very good and set for some interesting points. This book provides good information on saving seed, growing food in dry conditions, organic fertilizer and irrigation. I hadn't really thought about it until I read this book but think about the lot size of older homes. Homes from the 40s and 50s and even through most of the 70s are on what are now considered HUGE lots. Those lots were the perfect size for a house and a garden spot. Victory gardens were grown during the war to provide food for families. Rationing was in effect. Men were away at war. Times were hard. People grew as much food as possible. Growing a garden then was not the 'hobby' that it's become now. It was something that almost anyone with land did. I'm beginning to itch for more land. Growing a few plants this summer makes me want to plant a big garden again. There are community gardens but the plots are tiny, if you can get one, and just the gas to drive there to water the plants would make it inefficient. Water is a very important factor. If you live in the city or a suburb, your water most likely comes from the faucet, from the water treatment plant. What if these services are unavailable in the future? It will be hard to get drinking water for yourself, let alone water for plants. From this book, I learned about spacing plants for growing in the dry season.

Another book surprised me. I expected a foodie book and instead found some wonderful tidbits of information inside. Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. What would happen if you suddenly decided to eat only foods that were grown within 100 miles of your home? Easy? Maybe until you begin to think about things like salt, flour (wheat), apples, oranges. Imagine spending several weeks at a cabin with no running water, electricity, or nearby store. How would you feed yourself? If it's summer, you may be able to find food in the woods and fields nearby. You may be able to catch fish from a nearby stream. It occurred to me that there's lots of food around most of us. We walk on it. We throw frisbees and footballs across it. We may sniff it and admire it's color. The parks around our towns may hold food that we've never considered before. I shall soon be buying a native plants handbook for my area. I need to discover the food plants that may be growing nearby. Reading the detailed history (as opposed to the high school history book version) of expeditions such as Lewis and Clark may tell us what people in our region were eating at that time.

Our agriculture has changed over the years. Most of the small family farms are gone. The methods of the small farm have been replaced with growing on a mass scale with tractors and irrigation systems. We've come to think of certain regions of the US as areas where corn is grown, or wheat, soybeans, rice. We've been told that wheat only grows in a specific region. What I learned from Plenty is that this is not entirely true. Perhaps wheat grows best in Eastern Oregon or Montana but it can also grow in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Start visiting farmer's markets. Get to know the farmers. Ask where the food is grown. This information may become important in the future. Knowing someone locally who has grown wheat may give you a chance at loaf of bread in the future. It can also lead you to some food that tastes very different than that in the local supermarket.

Maybe it's being the child of a mechanic that makes me want to know how things work. I've been reading more science books and watching some interesting things on The History Channel. People don't often tinker as they once did. We've become a throw away society. If it stops working, buy a new one. I think that those who are mechanically inclined and able to fix things, will be valued if our country falls into hard times.

That is enough rambling for tonight. Hopefully I'll get a chance to write again before another month passes.

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