The Nature of Perspective

We are blessed with the most kind, generous neighbors here. They’ve welcomed us in with offerings of all sorts– moral support, most invaluably– including history and context of the area and its people. Those we’ve met have driven by the place for decades, and all have deeply lamented the recent clear-cut of the long-preserved forest. Part of that forestland is ours.

It’s not contrived optimism to say that I see it differently. Of course I wish the forest were intact. I can imagine, partly by exploring neighboring woodlands, the old-growth trees and native fauna. I can envision the cool dampness, the moss and myriad mushrooms. I know that it was majestic.

But: I consider our perspective a unique boon in that what we see now is not only an incredible improvement on the gnarled hillside we met last summer; it’s an awakening. The emerging vegetation would not have been part of the forest floor. We get to enjoy a different, ever-expanding beauty.

The enmeshed branches of too-small cut timber are increasingly consumed by vine maples, wild cherry, and hazelnut trees. The deer trails through berry brambles– which will soon yield abundant delicious fruit– are lined with heady flowering clover and pineapple weed. The meadows are strewn with daisies, red clover, sky-blue forget-me-nots, and innumerable other wildflowers.

There are unfurling ferns, columbine, and more wild food than I could list, but much of which we’ve been collecting, eating, and cooking with daily. Most of the plants, in fact, are edible, from the wild strawberries to the thistles.

The ugly sporadic burn piles host the most coveted of fungi.

This story would be a different one if the forest were still here. It would be someone else’s story that we would continue; this one is all our own. Ours is a story of regrowth.


No-‘Poo Hair Care

I’m now four months shampoo-free and in love with the results! My hair has never been so soft, frizz-free, quick-drying and easy to brush out. It feels healthier, and if I do say so myself, it looks great.

Shampoo and conditioner were the last products in my shower rack loaded with carcinogenic chemicals. After a year and a half of struggling with acne–brought on initially by pregnancy hormones, and persistent after my daughter’s birth–I ditched the half-dozen expensive facial cleansers that seemed to sustain my skin woes and against all advice began to use our homemade soap on my face. The results were almost instantaneous– finally, clear skin. Add to that the knowledge that I was saving money and sparing my body the exposure to the proven toxins in bath and body products, I couldn’t be happier.

My hair is very, very thick, coarse, and wavy. Since I don’t blow-dry, washing it means hours of wet-head, and if I dare to put it up in a pinch, it will stay wet easily all day long. When I used to blow-dry, the process took at least 45 minutes to an hour and resulted in ultra-frizz. Even washing takes forever. Since I dread it so much, I wash about every 4 to 7 days.

The thought to try out an alternative hair care came late last fall. As cold weather set in, dry scalp was another annoying issue that I hoped a new method would solve. Fortunately, it was. I read an article in Tree Hugger about a baking soda and cider vinegar treatment, and I gave it a shot. With a few modifications, it’s what I do to this day and foresee no change. I’m hooked.

The moment the vinegar goes into my hair, I can hardly describe the silk. I can run my fingers through the coarse locks instantly, and combing is totally optional.

Here’s what I do: We keep a bottle full of cider vinegar in our shower rack, as well as an enameled metal camping mug. We keep a box of baking soda in a bathroom cupboard. When I’m planning to wash my hair, I grab the mug and shake about a tablespoon of baking soda in (that’s for my heavy-duty hair; my husband uses about a teaspoon). Then I put it back on the shower rack. When my hair is wet, I fill the mug– right under the shower head, so it gets mixed well– with about a cup of water and swirl it around to be sure none is stuck to the mug. (Reminder from third grade: residual baking soda + vinegar = volcano!) I squeeze a bit of water out of my hair to help absorb, and pour the baking soda right onto my scalp. I scrub a bit with my fingers, then rinse really well.

Next I add about 2 tablespoons of vinegar. (Again, considerations for hair quantity.) I mix with another cup or cup-and-a-half of water, give my hair another squeeze, and pour it over. I let it just drip down into my hair, then rinse immediately. Yes, it smells like vinegar at first. Expect it, and you’ll get over it fast. It doesn’t bother me at all. And run your fingers through and you’ll forget the smell. After a good rinse, there is zero residual odor, I promise.

When I do have any dry scalp or flakiness, the solution is simple. About an hour before I am going to wash my hair, I rub about a teaspoon or so of coconut oil into my scalp and give it a good brush to distribute and open the pores. Then I proceed as usual. Results are immediate.

It takes about five weeks for the natural scalp oils to regain their rhythm, which better prevents frizz. In the first couple of weeks, I used a tiny amount of coconut oil rubbed into my fingers to tame the fluff. It can be done wet or dry. But when I applied it wet, it tended to be uneven– some areas still fluffy, others visibly oily. Once the natural rhythm of oils returned, my hair stopped looking greasy, no matter how long I go without washing.

My new hair regimen is incredibly affordable. An 80-cent box of baking soda and few-dollar gallon bottle of cider vinegar goes a long way. And the coconut oil I’ve used regularly has amounted to probably a tablespoon or two at most. Plus, all ingredients are always on-hand at all times, at least at our house.

This post was shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

Up Close

Forest land brims with energetic life, beckoning us to be still and let the sounds and creatures and flora creep slowly into our awareness. One of the most magical aspects of our new home is its likeness to our most beloved place on Earth, the family cabin. To have woods and a chortling creek in our own front yard is an immeasurable blessing.


Our Corner of the Earth

This was the first time since beginning this transition that returning to California felt like leaving home. Maybe it’s because this time we moved all of our treasured and most frequently used books: cookbooks, field guides, reference books on animal husbandry and gardening. Maybe it’s because the crisp, piney mountain air had begun to do its work on our lungs. Or perhaps the work we did at the property this trip began to truly make it our own.

The little house is arranged with enough furniture to fulfill most of our basic needs; enough so that we are questioning what we may simply leave behind. I still need my desk. We have yet to convert the range to propane, so we were still cooking on the induction burner and smoker. But the essentials, we found, more than supported us. The bare property, I think, with its spectacular scenery and rich potential, could keep us happy with little else.

The weather was temperate all week, with a few downpours of quenching rain. With my daughter on my back or playing in the grass, my husband and I raked more than a dozen trailer-loads of leaf mulch from under the white oak, Norway maple and sycamore trees and hauled the piles to the area we selected for our garden: a spread of field between the sheep pasture, the cluster of outbuildings, and where the house will be built.

As we sweated in the chilly air, we both felt incredulous that this is where we would toil and grow. The beauty was overwhelming.

My husband used the chainsaw to cut a fallen tree into five-foot lengths and hauled them down the mountain while I dragged and rolled down what I could. The work was hard, and only a glimpse at what we can anticipate. We left the property feeling satisfied that we’d accomplished much from our list, but we have a long, challenging journey ahead of us. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Things I’ll Miss: Valley Skies

The flat, featureless Valley boasts hulking skies that make the Earth feel just as tiny as it is. The stars are few, thanks to city lights, but the blanket of smog alights each dawn and dusk in spectacular displays. Storms churn enormously and clouds paint pictures and tell tales overhead.

(A series.) It’s easier as we prepare to move to value the positives of this place, where we’ve existed as foreigners for the past few years. Our differences with the people here, with the land, with the weather, are great. But we’ve found common ground in places, and I will spend the months leading up to our final departure examining it, and attempt to make peace.

Among the things I know I’ll miss when we finally depart from this home are the Home Place, Autumn lemon blossoms, tomatoes in November, the back gate, and spectacular Yosemite.

Going Home: Part 1 of the Move North

We’ve just returned from the first leg of the move to our Oregon property. The trip was a whirlwind, filled with the ups and downs that were mostly expected, some less so. We had some weather-related surprises, and I broke my finger on day-2.

When we drove up mid-day on the 28th, the highway wound along rivers and creeks so full and brown and powerful, they were washing into people’s yards and lapping at homes and outbuildings. Each of us was imagining the worst– that our bridge would be consumed, the buildings threatened, that our innocent, chortling creek might have grown into a wintertime monster.

We were relieved to discover that our creek was still blue-gray and not particularly full, even with streams across the property feeding steadily into it. If our creek ever flooded its banks, the towns below would have long since been washed away by the larger waterways.

Over the next few days, the rain stopped and temperatures plummeted into the teens. Moisture was sucked from the clay soil into towering ice formations. I spent hours each day photographing the land, the forest, the crystalized grasses and frosted leaves.

The entire place was quiet but for occasional rooster crows from a distant neighbor’s and birds in the cedar and redwood trees. We explored the outbuildings. Two small shacks were a surprise to us, clinging to the bank of the creek and buried in blackberry brambles. They appear to be cabins of the early 1900s. A large tree had crushed the one most accessible, and it and its contents had been abandoned. A chest with a broken lock contained photographs and hand-written letters with postmarks from the ’60s.

I documented everything.

One of our dogs got into a snarling scuffle with my dad’s on the second day after their breakfast. I lunged into the mix to separate them, which everyone should know (and I better than anyone thanks to prior related injuries) you never do. The dogs were both fine, not a scratch on either. I, however, did not come out unscathed: my ring finger was obviously broken between the last joint and the tip. I didn’t feel it then, thanks to the pulsing adrenaline, but I could see it clearly and I felt it soon enough! I was hindered by acute pain and a splint for the remainder of the trip.

We set the house up to be comfortable, sparsely furnished with the essentials, except for a stove since we have yet to install a gas line. We cooked on the smoker, induction burner and toaster oven: spaghetti the first night, then smoked ribs and mashed potatoes, chili, and refried bean burritos (we used the recipe I posted prior, but in lieu of water I made a broth from the rib bones, so they were not vegetarian but especially delicious!).

Every day I gathered wild greens for fresh salads: dandelion leaves, buds and blossoms, chickweed, dock, and cat’s ear, dressed lightly with olive oil and vinegar.

While we did not get any new fencing up as I’d hoped, I did get a small plot of garden turned, amended and planted with garlic and shallots. I mulched it thickly with leaves from the Norway maple, and laid branches across it (unattractively) to prevent the wind from carrying the leaves away.

On the last full day I cut immense, years-dead broken limbs from a plum tree near the house. It felt like a great accomplishment to begin restoring a tree in such poor health. I saved a beautiful abandoned bird’s nest from the snarl.

When I photographed the end result, my memory card showed an error. But I didn’t know until I began to upload on our drive home that the malfunction had deleted every file but the last eight: thousands of photos, none of which from the past ten days had been backed up.

So the second, far more painful lesson I had to relearn: back up precious work often and use multiple memory cards.

I’ve been consoling myself that my photos were not of a one-time event, no cherished memory left behind. I can take new pictures on our next trip. There may not be the unique frozen earth. The wreath I made of ivy, yellow-tipped cedar and holly and hung on our new front door may have withered. But there will be scenes and wreathes to replace those; many. There’s an entire future to play out there. A home to be built, and life to create. And plenty of time for new photographs soon enough.

Happy New Year, everyone!

After The Rain

Most people probably don’t give grass a great deal of thought or attention. At least not usually. I’m sure I didn’t before we moved to the Central Valley of California.

It always gets hot here, topping 100 degrees for great stretches of the long summers. I remember visiting my grandfather as a child and marveling at the porch thermometer that read 92 degrees at 10 pm.

But we moved here just as this historic drought settled over the state, so it’s not just the heat. It’s that we haven’t seen rain, not more than a sprinkling or a rare ten-minute downpour, at any time of year. The ground is cracked and hose water just rolls into little black snowballs in the dust.

Over the past few weeks, there have been two or three momentous smatterings, so light and brief as to warrant little attention if they weren’t so unusual and so desperately needed. I didn’t think they could possibly ignite life.

The lack of grass, or weeds or wild greenery, has a more profound effect on life and attitude than I would have expected or had ever considered. The dull gray earth here, accentuated by the widespread use of herbicides around the abounding agricultural crops, is numbing. It’s ugly. It’s sad. Our free-range chickens leap into the backyard to eat every green morsel from our garden, and the sheep and goats mope dumbly between feedings.

Last year, in late-winter, a light rainfall extracted a comparable and fleeting flash of green, so I know it won’t last. That’s okay. Our new home will provide us with rain and grass and mushrooms sooner than any California rain will.

And in the meantime, there’s this.

I’m stunned and thrilled that the wild onions held a spark of life all this time. In a few weeks, they’ll be pickled with rosemary and honey.

If the mustard persists, we’ll be enjoying fresh greens soon.

Even an opportunistic squash seed seized the moment of satiety.

And one more survivor I did not expect, a calla lily whose flowers are enormous, dark purple curiosities with large black stamens. It’s been dormant– I thought dead– for two years.