“At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers….The great concepts of oneness and of majestic order seem always to be born in the desert….”
-From Travels With Charley
In 2008 I purchased 20 acres of property in South central Oregon near Christmas Valley. A geographical heyday! Centrally located amidst Fossil lake, Fort Rock, Oregon Sand Dunes, Crack in the Ground, Lost Forest and all good things for a scout such as myself to wander around and find stuff. I have big plans for this little spot of heaven.
However, my first days there were not so easy. It has required me to consider a whole new plan of action, and a new look at homesteading. I can’t help but think about you, reading at home, entertained from your comfortable chair, indoors, and warm, or cool as your roof would have it.
My first trip out 2008
I filled up my truck with gas and drove off with 200.00 worth of dried goods including beans, dehydrated hummus, cous cous, hot cereal, and granola along with 1,000 pounds worth of other supplies for an adventure in remote home building on the property. I arrived in the evening at dusk to the grassy hills and sandy soil of the my high desert; affectionately called Bunch Grass. First business, to get the supplies out of the camper. I brought a small tent that was going to be my temporary shed to house all those supplies , supplies that I thought I needed, the wind was ferocious! After some time I did manage to get it pitched.
I tried to park my camper on the property but I was afraid of getting stuck, so I opted to stay on the dirt access road….no one would be driving this way anyhow. It was sunny and I felt optimistic. That first night I was so happy, I enjoyed some whiskey, music, and unloaded my supplies outside for the night.
The next morning arrived with a bit of a shocker: First thing, a man drove up in an old jeep full of guns and introduced himself as Buz. He asked me if I had a gun to protect myself. I told him I did, though I didn’t, in case he was the one I needed to protect myself from. He then asked if I was actually on the correct lot, among thousands of BLM acres and private land I suppose it was possible for me to be wrong. He mentioned that some folks nearby had actually put in a septic system on a lot that did not belong to them. He also warned me that if I accidentally caught the sage brush on fire to get out of dodge and don’t look back! He seemed pretty cool but I was alone and didn’t want to give out too much information.
After he left I saw that during the night the wind had blown my “shed” over, and blew it all night long until it was separated into a few strips of what looked like nylon flags. I also had brought some garden plants to start a first year garden, but sadly they went down with the tent. A 20 degree night made translucent corpses of them hugging their pots.
The next few days proved challenging; though the day temperatures were in the 70′ and 80’s, the evening was still dropping to near 20 degrees. I took note of what was tolerant of the cold, and moved on to other things. I planned to get some kind of structure up by the end of summer so I got started right away.
For the next couple weeks I labored during the day between naps, made sun charts, dodged gusty winds, locked myself out of my camper in town where I knew no one, avoided being trampled by a herd of antelope, dined with some “neighbors”, and spent way too many hours devising an efficient fire for cooking. Indeed, cooking over a fire was a bit of a problem. As an addicted coffee drinker, hot water is important not only in the morning but in the evening as well. I already had to make adjustments with several kinds of powdered milk and soy products, which were terrible, but I was determined not to allow this cup of warmth to be taken away from me!
I must have restacked and mortared my bricks with mud a hundred times! Making chimneys and air ducts, flows and flu’s, but without forgiveness. Wind, exposure, I had a lot to learn.
Then the real desert climate kicked in……..hot scorching sun beating down on me certainly intending to cook me for lunch. Several days of 90 degree weather left me burned, burned out, and held up in the only shade available for miles……my camper. I don’t know if you noticed but my camper is covered in metal. Camper in the sun = tin can.
As quickly as it came, it went. The weather turned from a frying hot sun overhead to a wind storm that blew for days, basically sand blasting my burned layer of skin that was coming off anyway. So then I was held up in the camper afraid I would blow over like the wall in the wild that I was! The wind was blowing so hard I could hear and feel it between the metal sheets of skin on the camper, it would swirl under the cab over and vibrate the whole truck, and to top it off, most of the food that I brought with me was to be cooked and I had no cooking facility inside. Snacking was slim to none.
After the storm I woke up one morning and heard the quiet. I lay in bed with renewed hope that things would be right and that I was not crazy to have begun this endeavor. From the light in the window it looked like a bright and promising day. But when I sat up to see the glory….I found 3 inches of snow on the ground.
This was the deciding factor for me, too exposed to the elements was the problem here. I needed a better plan that provided better protection and that meant leaving my temporary kitchen behind until the following summer. I definitely could not survive near 0 degree weather without more preparation!