During the day they were gone, and all was quiet, I took a walk, relishing the peace, taking my chakra divining rods with me. My own inner sense took me back to where it all started, on that path to the seasonal creek and the little waterfall over fallen logs. There was water here, that was obvious, but where could we tap into it?? I started down the path, rods extended, they swiveled and spun.. Then they stopped, joined in an “X”. I found a few rocks to make a pile so I would know the spot. When the guys returned, I showed them where I wanted them to drill next. The rig was moved and carefully backed down the old logging road… and they started once again on the clanging and clanging.
To amuse ourselves while all this was going on, Pete and I discovered that the now abandoned, dry well near the house, had an echo. An echo that changed pitch with the size of stone we dropped down it and it bounced off the sides of the pipe. Like little kids, we spent too much time dropping pebbles, having fun… until the crew sealed the pipe. Bummer.
On the third day of the new site, they struck water at 89 feet. We were ecstatic! And that lasted until they said that now we had to dig the line or pay them to do it, at substantial cost. The distance? Just over three hundred feet, which also meant that the pump to carry the water from the well to the house, would have to be a large, deep submersible. Another bummer.
So we started digging…………..
Moving to the UP I knew I was going to need to make some major adjustments. Yes, I was prepared, even anxious, to learn how to cook on a woodstove, no more quick and easy gas. but that left me with another dilemma…. refrigeration! Since the solar battery system wasn’t big enough to handle a refrigerator, and we didn’t want the utility bill of gas, I figured an icebox was the answer, I mean.. if it was good enough for gramma, it’d be good enough for me. Things changed and progressed from there.
Before I left downstate, I started searching for an old fashion icebox. My thoughts were that up here they might be in use and not as available. (Wrong. Most camps have gas refrigerators, but I didn’t know that then.) The few I found were too small. I saw an ad in the local paper from an antique hunter. I called and gave him my price range and requirements. His guarantee was there was no obligation to buy if I didn’t like what he found. Three weeks later he called, and I went to his house to take a look. He had a ‘commercial’ size, four door, solid oak ice box. It measured 37″ wide x 23″ deep x 53″ high. (Interior space is 10.8 cu. feet. Big by 1900 standards.) It was beautiful! It even still had the brass plate on the front that identified it as a “B.A.Stevens – Manufacturer – Toledo, O”. Cool. The shelves were intact and no damage. He pointed out that one door had been repaired which brought down the antique value. I didn’t care, I wanted it functional. I bought it without hesitation. $550. It was a beautiful piece of furniture regardless of a repaired door or cost.
Once it was at the house in the woods, however, and in use, I realized how inefficient the old ice boxes really were. No wonder there was daily ice delivery! Even with it sitting in the very cool basement, I was buying (lots of) ice every two days, and things were just barely cool. Something needed to be done.
The icebox sat in the basement the several months while the kitchen was completed, but even when ready, we realized the icebox was too heavy for the two of us to move it up the stairs. We ARE talking oak here. What a sight it was come November and the first good snowfall…. We pushed and shoved until we got the icebox back to the walk out basement door. Then pivoted it until we got it close to the toboggan we set in place, tipped it carefully on its side and into the sled. Whew! Once on the toboggan, we pushed and tugged and slid it up hill around the back of the house, then around the end to the front where the porch was closest to the ground, just a step up. Standing it back up, we laid out moving blankets, not wanting to damage the ice box OR the decking on the porch! And once again, tipped it on its side up onto the waiting padding. Once safely on the moving blankets, we then pushed and dragged it 40 feet into the house! Comical, but it did the job. It got moved only once after that, and that was to do the flooring.
Anyway, at the risk of destroying any remaining antique value, I gutted it. The interior was lined with tin to reflect and hold the cold. That’s it, but that was typical for back then. There was absolutely no insulation at all. Out came the shelves. Out came the tin lining. To the sides, ceiling and floor, I put in 2″ thick Styrofoam insulation board, and 1 1/2″ in the doors. Over that, I fitted shower paneling, making a very washable surface, and screwed it in place. I found snap together plastic coated shelves and added three plastic drawers stacked on the side. Everything fit perfect. I still put the ice on the top shelf, but the interior was basically all open. One block of ice frozen in a dishpan, rotated before it melted, kept the icebox at 45-50 degrees. It was easy during the winter to just put a dishpan of water on the porch, let it freeze solid, usually overnight, and switch the pans every morning. It became part of my routine. Problem solved… sort of.
During the really, really cold months (below zero), about 6 weeks in Jan/Feb. I would make ice. Lots of it. We had ordered 1000 heavy duty bread bags that I would fill with water from the tap, twist tie it, and set it into a plastic flowerpot out on the porch, much like the store owner I spoke of else where. I would set up a dozen of these. It would freeze enough overnight to remove the block from the flowerpot form and I would start over. The frozen bag would sit on the porch to finish freezing solid. When there was 3 dozen or so, I would load up my sled and take them to the sawdust filled icehouse. Now, you’re probably wondering why the plastic bags…. to keep the sawdust off the ice so we could chip it for drinks :) and of course it was the only way I knew to create a form.
During April and May when the temperatures warm up to above freezing, and again in October and early November as they start to decline, I put the perishables in a second ‘icebox’ that sat on the back porch. It was constructed much like the antique one, but without the insulation, (my son Jason made it for me… ). I figured, why try to keep things 45* inside, when it’s 45* outside? Plus, having the outside icebox, let me keep some things frozen in the winter, and away from the critters.
Funny story: One May, when most of the stuff was locked in the outside box, we left for the weekend on a much needed entertainment trip…. returning to discover that a bear had eaten my box of wine that I had left on top of the cooler! That bear came back often..LOL… maybe looking for oreos too…. :)
The First Summer
by Deborah in the UP
Days turned into weeks as we fell into a working routine. So much needed to be done and it needed to be done now, or first, or next.
We ran wiring thru the walls for outlets and switches and lights. Yes, we would have power, limited, but power. We added plumbing and drains, even though we didn’t have any running water yet. The drywall went up, finally creating privacy, much to the cat’s dismay. They had enjoyed walking thru walls one end of the house to the other. Throughout the next few months, and into winter, Pete would ‘mud’ the drywall seams, and then I would spend hours or days sanding. It was awful. Messy, dirty, painful work, hard on the neck, arms and back; hard on the eyes and the lungs, even with masks. I would put water on the stove to heat for my shower about mid-way thru the day, clearly announcing this was MY water, so it wouldn‘t get used for something else. Once I had a room properly sanded down, I swept the walls, then damp mopped the walls, then added the primer paint. After that, of course, was painting. Then the trim work, then the flooring. Pete had little interest in the decorating of our home, so all of that was left to me. It made me feel useful to be aiming for a completed room.
Peter wired the basement to accept the charge of the solar panels we installed in the trees behind the house. Batteries, six 6-volt golf cart batteries, wired into a 12 volt system, then wired into an inverter, produced standard 110 electricity for lights. It felt… normal, to be able to walk into any room and turn on a wall switch for light!… and to think we were ten miles from the nearest power lines.
One particularly hot afternoon, we were working on the front porch, shielded from the sun by the over hanging roof. I was sealing the cupboards that I had stained the day before. I was anxious to have the kitchen functioning, so I kept up a tired but steady pace. As I applied sealer, it would dry before I could re-brush the drip out… very frustrating. I commented about my challenge, and Peter went inside, leaving me alone on the porch, presumably to solve the situation on my own, which I did in short order. I had no idea where he went or what he was doing. Little did I know, that he went inside to ‘build’ me a rack to fix the issue, only by the time he came back out, I was done, problem solved. This was part of a long line of conflicts we began to have. We were both problem solvers, only I liked solving my own. He sulked for the rest of that day.
It wasn’t all work. Once some of the critical projects were done, we would take a 2-3 hour walk in the morning after coffee, exploring our woods. We found old logging trails, deep ravines, small creeks… and we began to map our land. One eventful project was to mark our lot lines. We had a general idea, and could find some of the old ‘flagging’, but we wanted a clearer, more obvious trail. Starting at a known edge, we carefully followed a compass for staying on direction, and a range-finder for the distance. A triumphant surprise was to find the survey corner markers! Over the course of a week, we had walked and re-marked our entire perimeter, locating all the corners. Quite the accomplishment for a couple of city kids.
The property took on a new meaning to me. It was beautiful. It had such spirit, such good energy. I felt alive and free and clear when I was in the woods. Gradually, my confidence built where I would go walking alone, exploring certain areas, getting to know my home. It occurred to me at some point, that I was never afraid when I was in the woods, the spirits of the land wouldn’t let anything happen to me. I found my own spaces to go, where I could sit a meditate on my life, something I hadn’t been able to do before.
That same hot summer, before we finally got running water in the house, we would go down to our creek to cool off. This was really more than a creek, it was a small river. Some twenty feet wide, it was never more than three feet deep, and that was in the pools where we would skinny dip on hot days.
It was the next summer, we noticed one end of the creek getting deeper and deeper. Exploring downstream, we found the cause, a beaver dam. Very methodically, we began to dismantle the structure, as it was endangering our bridge, which was our only access to the house. Every day, we would go down and remove more, and each night, the beaver would build it back. I started going alone, as Peter was getting frustrated, and the regular, more frequent attention finally won over. The beaver left. Yet one more victory for us!
Copyright 2010 by Deborah in the UP. All rights reserved. All stories contained in this blog are excerpts from the book Living in the Woods. All recipes are from the series Cooking in the Woods, also by Deborah in the UP.
All too often when someone thinks of a house in the woods, the image that is conjured up is of a one room log cabin, small, cramped, maybe even of a dinky ‘tarpaper shack’. Our home was far from any of that. The elegance of the house often shocked first time visitors!
Peter and I had many long hours of discussion regarding our new house. What it looked like inside and out, what functions it provided, inside and out. We drew many plans, discarded most of them, and finally settled on a very basic design, with internal modifications to suit our personal preferences and needs.
We started with a house design of 40×25, to give us 1000 square feet of living space, and as we were putting that on a basement, actual useable area was double that. The building site we had selected, put that basement into the side of a hill, creating a walk-out feature that turned out to be extremely valuable to us through out the years. The house was a basic one story ranch style with a long covered porch. Our builder suggested we make the dimensions 40×24.. Even number divisible by 8.. A standard building measurement. With everything in eight foot increments, that eliminated much labor of needless cutting and fitting. The front of the house, where the porch would be, faced south, and that porch took on the size of 40’ long by 8 ‘ wide… it was a wonderful porch.. A fabulous porch, one we spent many, many hours on.
I have always had a preference for open spaces and large kitchens. I love to cook and knew this would be a focal point in the home, so the kitchen was combined with the main living space to utilize the heating of the cook stove. That area, on the east end of the house, was 15 x 24 and contained the large stone fireplace and living room, the kitchen plus dining space, approximately one third of the house. A nine foot atrium door opened onto that front porch, while a six foot sliding glass door opened to the back deck. On the east end was a 4×6 custom picture window, which, perched over that walk-out basement entrance, gave us an incredible view of our woods, and in the distance, Lake Superior. The cook stove was installed with it’s own chimney against the north wall, next to the sliding glass door. I had lots of space and an incredible amount of natural daylight.
The other end of the house, tucked into the hill, was the master bedroom, 12×24, with another 6’ sliding glass door that also opened onto the front porch, plus a large window on the west wall for cross ventilation. The north side contained a closet, but it wasn’t just any closet! It was 12 wide and 5 feet deep, held both dressers and double layered clothes poles on either side: his & hers! My first walk in closet.
In the middle of the house was an additional small bedroom 10×10, plus 3’ deep closets, one that opened to the bedroom, one that opened to the living room. Across the hall that connected the two ends of the house, was the bath room. I’ve never had such a large bath room before! Other than the usual toilet and sink, there was a ‘garden tub’.. extra deep for soaking, faucets in the center of the tub rather than at the end. Plus an extra large shower stall. The tub was for the occasional soak, since it took forever to fill! Showers were for everyday use. The shower was unique in itself, as in all the years we lived there, we never had running hot water. Seems that one year, Pete decided that “we didn’t move to the woods for you [me] to have conveniences”… guess running hot water was a luxury only I would enjoy. Anyway, the shower stall had a shelf high up on one side, accessible from inside and outside of the shower. This is where the five-gallon bucket was hoisted, once filled with hot water. A short hose fitted at the bottom with a sprinkler head, provided ‘sprayed’ running water by means of gravity. I learned quickly how to take a full shower, including washing my long hair, in only five gallons of water. It might have been functional, but I missed the water pressure.
In the basement, we installed two wash tubs with a ringer mounted between them. Laundry day was every day. Without running hot water, I had to heat water on the stove, take it to the basement and add it to the cold water from the tap. My hands quickly became raw from the cold. During the summer, clothes hung outside on a line strung between two of our large maple trees, and during the winter, items dripped from lines over the tubs, then finished drying on a wooden rack next to the woodstove in the kitchen. Doing laundry by hand is a real drag, and it got old real fast. Part way into the first winter, we started taking laundry to town to wash at a Laundromat.
In the basement also, was the wood burning furnace, and this was Pete’s to keep going, as I had the cook stove to deal with. One corner of the basement was Pete’s work shop for his stained glass, and the remaining corner was my pantry shelves, a Preppers dream!
The closing on the property was the following month, mid-November, delayed only for paperwork and logistics. We went north only once that winter, staying at one of the local motels, an experience in and of itself. Arriving at that motel, we found a note on the door to the office, that told us what room was ours and that the key was on the desk inside. At the time, I thought it an odd way to do business, but found out later that it was pretty much the norm in the town of only 200 people.
The next morning we drove down to the road leading to the property… only to find three feet of snow landscaping the entrance. So much for our grand ideas of the 4WD truck ride! We wouldn’t be seeing the property for several months.
In early April, 1994, we drove up again, and straight into our land. The weather was wonderful, the air was clean and the trees were starting to bud… and most importantly, the road was free of snow. Little rivulets crossed the soggy dirt road here and there, but nothing that even challenged the truck down. We put up the tent and proceeded to create a semi-permanent campsite where we had parked the first time. Pete cut down a nearby dead tree, and taking two of the larger, 6” diameter branches that forked , set them upright in holes we dug five feet apart. By placing yet a third log across those forks, we now had the beginnings of our cooking fire pit. We suspended a grate from the cross-beam using chains we had brought to hang over the fire. This could be raised or lowered as needed. It wasn’t difficult to find large rocks to encircle the area, and we built our first fire. The weekend was spent exploring the property and our future. As dusk settled in that first night, we sat by the fire, snuggling, and talked until the stars came out.
What we decided on that night, was a “five year plan” to retirement. Grand idea… and grand ideas all too often go awry. When we got back home, we set up a story board, both being organized and anal about details, listing everything that needed to be done, in what order, and how much it was going to cost. We agreed we needed to keep working, and that the five years was a good goal. We would take time to explore the property to find ‘just the right’ building site. After all, it was to be our home.. Forever. Then we would have the basic house roughed in by local help and we would spend the next few years working at finishing the interior ourselves as we could afford it. The idea was to have the house 100% finished before moving in. yeah, right…
We broke ground in mid-August. It was an exciting weekend for us, watching the excavator, who also happened to be the listing agent we bought the property from. It wasn’t unusual, in fact quite normal, for many to hold several part time jobs at once. In an area where winter virtually shut down the economy, one worked hard all summer. With the area cleared of trees, and the stumps moved out of sight, the excavator dug the basement. Having previously contracted with a mason to lay the block and build the chimneys, we had nothing to do but wait. During that time, we finalized arrangements with a local builder to rough the place in, and weather seal it before the next winter. Our visits began to stabilize at every two weeks, as it seemed enough time to see progress. And it was. First we saw the basement done, then the decking, then walls and a roof. Wow. By late fall the unique wavy edge siding I selected, was on and ready for staining. The siding was cedar and didn’t require additional color, but the 5 year sealant we chose added a depth to the natural grain. It was beautiful. We spent a long weekend protecting our new house from the elements. WE finally were working toward our goal. The following visit, we brought the old pot-bellied stove I had saved from my mothers cottage, and hooked it to the chimney where my new wood cook stove would eventually go. With the pot belly and the fireplace going, it was barely warm enough to stay. The interior of the house was all 2×4’s, no walls and open to the roof. We stapled up heavy duty plastic to the ceiling, and I climb into the rafters to gently lay down some insulation to hold in what precious little heat we generated. After hanging plastic on the walls to section off the front area from the rest of the house, the fireplace and stove kept the room at 50 degrees. Warmer than it had been, but it was an improvement, and it got us thru that Fall.
In December, the company where Peter worked for 17 years and held a middle management job, announced it was undergoing major changes in upper management. Although his job was not in jeopardy, he was not happy with the changes being made, and therefore was not getting along with the new managers. It became evident that we would have to up our time-table. A lot.
In February, 1995, we started packing, moving non-essentials into a storage locker in the nearest big city, a locker we added to weekly. In late March, we held a huge moving sale to get rid of the all the household items we had doubles of. Stuff that came from merging two households. Pete’s house was on the market, and we had a firm offer. In April, Pete gave notice at work, and I sent letters to my clients, referring them over to another therapist. It was all in motion, no going back. I sold my lucrative practice, my car, my timeshare, my life.
At the end of April, Pete closed on his house. We had moved the last of everything except absolute essentials to the storage locker a few days earlier. Those few essentials were in the back of the truck now, along with my two cats, who had been given feline tranquilizers for the long drive. From having been to the property early last spring, we anticipated a smooth entry, but it was going to be a very long drive and arranged to stay the night at the motel in town.
The next morning we loaded the cats back into their travel cages and headed to our new home. It was a good lesson on how each Spring and each melt-down was different and varied year to year. We couldn’t get in and had no where to go. It was time to adapt. Part of those last essentials, were a toboggan and snow shoes. So we loaded the cats in their cages, plus a cooler with food, donned our snow shoes and walked in the 1.2 miles to the house, dragging the toboggan behind us. Exhausting.
In a moment of lucid foresight, we had left two old snow mobiles parked at the house the previous Fall. While I got a fire going to warm up the room, Pete started the machine and began shuttling our supplies to the house from the truck. It was a few more days, and the snow melted enough to drive in. We were home… four years before planned. And our work was only beginning.
Living in the Woods
I moved to the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan several years ago. Having been born and raised in Detroit and then living in a ‘rural’ community, I wasn’t sure I was prepared for the isolated life I chose. I could never go back now. My mate, Peter, and I were both from Detroit, both the kids of cops. We didn’t know each other back then, but it was one of the things that drew us together. We each understood the stress of that childhood – and the desire to get away from it. Each of us had moved to a quieter rural area, where we met. But that quieter rural wasn’t so rural anymore, and it wasn’t quiet either.
So we moved to the UP. Yes, I know, it was extreme, but not for me – it was perfect. The neighbors were no longer thirty feet away, they were a mile or two or ten miles away. Perfect.
As “Baby Boomers”, we had it all three cars, six TV’s, three VCR’s, car phones, two computers, a boat, two houses, and vacations to the Caribbean twice a year, but something was lacking. A freedom that doesn’t come being tied to a job or a business. So we decided to become…. Homesteaders.
I did not seek out free land and stake a claim. (Personally I think that’s a myth.) So many think that’s what homesteading is all about. It isn’t . It’s being independent. It’s being free.
I purchased 160 acres of hard wood forest, Pete adding another 80 acres a few years later for a total of 240 acres. Together we self-financed and built our dream home in the middle. Well, it was close to the middle. Wanting to cut down as few trees as necessary, we utilized existing old logging trails to select a building site. We first saw the property in October, 1993, when all the Maple trees were golden yellow and the ground cover was still green and lush. From where we parked, it was a five minute walk down an old logging trail, one that had been used by horse-drawn sleds. The music of running water drew me to a small creek. The steep slope created a tiny waterfall, splashing over fallen logs and ancient boulders. I fell in love with the property on sight, and signed the papers on the trunk of the Realtor’s car. Even though I was the one paying cash for the property, I put both names on the deed (there‘s a lesson here). We were a team, and we were both paying out to build the house. Little did I know that exactly ten years later, to the date, I would be signing papers again, with the same Realtor, on the trunk of his car, to sell the property I grew to love.
Of course we had to give up a few things to live in the woods, such as electricity, phones, cable, etc. I’m kidding! Well, almost. There were solar panels that charged a bank of batteries for limited power, and the cellular reception was iffy, but there was a flush toilet and running water. Hey, it was better than a tent, right? I knew concessions would have to be made. After all, we were ten miles from the nearest power lines and over a mile off the nearest county maintained dirt road. Many of our friends and family thought we were,… well, nuts. We had to be crazy to give up civilization for a life of hard work and deep snows, a life of black flies and black nights, a life of peace and quiet and tranquility, a life of independence and self sustenance. I think you can guess what I thought!
The biggest adjustment that I had to make, next to having an ice box instead of a refrigerator, was in heating and cooking. One of the goals was to be as self reliant as possible, and that meant heating and cooking with the wood we gleaned and cut from our own woods.
Cooking on a woodstove has been a real challenge, but since I just love to cook, I adjusted quickly. I forage regularly for wild mushrooms and in-season delicacies such as fiddle heads, cattail flowers and ramps. And I take great pride in the fact that I store my summer harvest by either canning or drying for use during the long and snowy winters.
The Self-Reliant Woman Test Blog