"So ... Miss Winnie, what do you think of the forest?"
"Well, the pine needles kind of tickle my toes...."
"Oh, yeah : ) "
"Yep - and the other day, I had a tiny grey fox take a nap behind my front tire ... he snored little, but he was cute."
"Ummm ... do think you could move the fire pit a little closer to my rear end ... I'm still getting used to this chill in the air .."
So we finally made it to the mountains : )
By the time we hit elevation, we'd spent the majority of our money getting the old ship to sail (we were a few thousand over expected budget, and our nest egg had been scrambled along with our piece of mind on the tedious drive up). And so it became that our idea of rolling off into the forest and living as woodland gypsies had become an only option rather than just a playful idea.
Our candle endeavors have long since outgrown the small space of our Winnie's counter top, and we've both agreed that we need our neat and palatial playhouse back for nesting and cooking and closing our eyes, so after a bit of scouting, we rented the entire second level of a big old industrial warehouse. It's a nondescript tin cube on the edge of town near the train tracks and nestled against a little pine covered hill. The houses and cabins on this end of town are quaint, and since Jack Frost blew in, they always have the most delicious scent of smoke twisting up from their chimneys. It's like walking through a Christmas movie for two kids who've been in sunny Southern California for so long.
When we first got into town, we followed our directions to the new house my little brother (the Math teacher) and his wife had bought. They're p&j, too .. Paul and Junli. My sister and her hubby are another p&j as well .. Pat and Jennie. What are the chances ? ! ?
The Winnie and the Trucka couldn't have been more out of place. Paul and Junli live in the kind of neighborhood where you get a ticket from the HOA if your trashcan sits on the curb for two minutes too long, and a common builder resulted in everyone having the same powder coated front porch lights ... which are always left on to ward off bad guys.
Enter the Winnie plus two weary and frazzled artists with wrinkled clothes and sleep in their eyes. No doubt, the figurative cup of coffee had been dropped by neighbors on both sides of the street.
Our back axle was still leaking oil, and since his street was at such a severe angle, the puddle ran and looked twice as bad. We had the back tires blocked with chunks of firewood ... since the brakes had gone all bipolar on us back at the Pound, and people passing by in mini vans or being pulled along by their smiling Golden Retrievers, looked at the Winnie as though she was a dead elephant. Pee U !!
"Wait ... she's actually quite beautiful ... on the inside."
I was getting bad flashbacks to the latter days when we were living in the Winnie in Venice Beach and the neighbors started going crazy on all the people who lived on -their- streets in motor homes. We've gotta get the hell out of here. (Yes, this is a theme with us ... we'll, really, with me. Juwels thinks everything's fun and games and positive intentions : )
We slept an entire day, and then my brother showed us a few spots in the forest where he thought we could park ... for a while ... but he always ended by saying, "... but ... they'll prolly chase you outta there." (Apparently, they don't want people just carting off into the woods and living free off the land ... I tell ya, we were born in the wrong century. Bring back the times of men in tights, whizzing arrows and split red apples. We wanted to tumble wash in the river and dance 'round the campfire.)
The next day we pulled off the curb in the burbs, hosed and scrubbed our oil stains off the otherwise spotless blacktop in front of the house, and made off for the south end of town. We had a general forest in mind, and we knew from reading a sign the other day that we had to drive at least one mile into the woods before camping was allowed.
Juwels was up front in the trucka, and we kept pace on our walkie talkies.
I noticed a cop pull off the side of the road behind me a ways back (I'm seriously cat nip for these guys...) "Babe," I called over the talkie, "what's the speed limit here?"
"I don't know ... 45 I think."
"Here we are! Here we are!!" Juwels sang over the speaker as she pulled off the main road ahead of me.
"Remember," I said, "once we get onto the gravel road, you can't make me slam on the breaks for any reason, okay? The Winnie's not gonna stop."
(In the rear view you can see the little camera we use to shoot this blog .. as well as our product shots. It's a champ, but the holidays have been kind to us, and soon we'll be upgrading to something a bit more reliable. Long time in the making ... can't wait to share every pixel : )
We pulled down a long dirt road and passed a trailer park. An old guy watched us go by. Dogs ran back and fourth against their wire fences barking at our dust cloud.
Zip Ziiip. We crossed some cattle gratings as we entered the national forest.
"It's so beautiful out here!!!" Juwles said.
I was impressed with how well the old Winnie handled on the lose gravel and dirt. I was just puttering along behind Juwels, but it seemed that her weight really pressed down into the earth and kept us grounded around every turn.
"Let me know if there are any big rocks or potholes in the road up there, okay?" I called to Juwels.
"Okay! Isn't it beautiful out here?? Look at these lovely flowers lining the side of the road!"
Thump - THUMP. I hit a huge rivet in the road which made the CD player turn off. "Babe .. don't forget to tell me about the bumps up ahead."
"Oh .. whoops .. sorry. It was just that one." She was too busy scanning the trees for hobbits, talking flowers, or something mystical. "There's a little bump coming up here. Stay left."
I could see her eyes in the rear view watching me swerve around it. "Thanks."
We passed the one mile marker, so we could pull off anywhere. "What about that spot over there?" I'd ask.
"No. Too close to the campers across the way.."
Another mile went by. "How about there?"
"Umm .. not enough trees .. it's all out in the open."
Another turn. Another twist ... "Just a little farther. We can always turn back and go to one of these other sites." She said, at the wheel of the tiny trucka.
"Babe, you do realize we have to drive all the way out here every night when we get done at the studio, right?"
"That's great! I love this drive!" She said.
She was right, and as our days would soon be filled with buying old shelves and ridiculously heavy desks and tables to heave up onto our second story studio, this drive home would turn out to be one of the points of the day that we looked forward to.
It's amazing to see what creatures are stirring at 2 or 3am on these dark and empty dirt roads. Our first sighting was a tall and lanky jack rabbit. Juwels had never seen one before. "WHAT is THAT!!" We skidded to full stop just ahead of him. He looked like a little dog with these tall rounded ears, and he didn't know what to make of our high beams, jumping a few lengths this way and then turning around and going back the other way. It was a surreal sight through bleary eyes at the end of a long day.
We just sat there watching him dance, but in the end, we clicked out the lights so he could get his bearings and head off to whatever tea party he was late for. On that same road we'd see, leaping deer, galloping elk, and a pack of tiny grey foxes. The little juveniles played with our presence, running up ahead and then veering into the darkness, but then they'd cut back onto the road here and there, looking back at the truck and no doubt feeling the rush of the chase.
(The Ponderosa Pines out here smell like sweet vanilla. There's a faint scent of it everywhere when you're deep in the forest, but if you just nestle your nose between the split brown bark of one of these trees, and it's like you just opened a French pastry oven. Magnifique !! Most trees only have a few pea-sized kernels of sappy resin ((which we collect and burn as incense)) but we found this tree that was literally dripping with it. Gobbledy goodness .. great balls of resin!!)
Finally, about two or three miles in, I saw a little turn off that looked interesting to me, so I called out to Juwels over the two-way, "Hey, flip around back this way. I see the spot!" I cranked the wheel to the right and pulled off onto a more narrow red dirt road.
Just a few hundred feet down the way, I saw a nice little opening in the trees. A spot where we'd get shade for some of the day but full sun for our solar panel at other points. I pulled off the road and drove through the tall grass. Fallen branches crunched under the tires, and I couldn't help but smile the smile of a boy jumping on the bed with his shoes on.
I saw Juwels coming back down the road just as I was shifting into park. I shut down the engine, and listened to the light hum of the wind through the trees.
We had arrived.
We spent quite a while tucked away in that forest, and I'm guessing that our out-of-state plates may have saved us from the toils of the territorial forest ranger (who we'd heard about soon after arriving) but all we experienced out there was peace and beauty. On new moons, when the sky was cosmic black, the stars scintillated amongst the tree tops. Full moons cast soft shadows of the trees at our feet, and we'd take walks in the foggy midnight meadows. "Did you hear that !!??" Friends and family came out, and we all warmed ourselves by the fire as the dogs ran off in this direction or that, barking at night critters and rustling the grass. We'd bring in a few gallons of water from the studio when we needed it, but everything was so simple and available. The feeling of granted tranquility out there was something that we'd only before experienced at the end of a long meditation ... but it was everywhere and ongoing. Can't wait till next Spring : )
One morning, as we sat at the kitchen table waiting for our French press of loose leaf tea to brew, Juwels spotted two baby deer bouncing through the tall yellow grass alone. Boing. Boing. And then I noticed a little creature with a different trot; it was another cute and cuddly fox. He seemed to be tailing the deer, but headed off in the other direction soon after.
The fresh Mullein grows chest high in these parts. They've got such a nice soft and fuzzy feel to them ... See those buds way up there at the spire? One evening, when we were gathering kindling for the night's fire, I spotted a chipmunk scaling one of these bean stocks straight to the top. The whole thing bent down and arched over, but he just hung on almost completely upside down and feasted on the delicate seeds inside. Too cute : )
(A bird's eye view of our solar panel on the roof top. Just a few warm rays through the treetops to keep our music playing, computer running and lights aglow.)
At the far end of the field, right next to where we'd park the truck each night, I spotted another chipmunk hanging out on this tree stump. The next morning, there he was again, and studying him closer, I could see that he had something else up there with him. As I walked over to investigate, he bolted down the stump and disappeared into a burrow, but his companion remained: a large mushroom .. about half the size of him. It had this tough, deep red skin and was riddled with gnaw marks and little pin pricks where he'd been holding it steady.
I went back to the Winnie into some of Juwels' amber glass jars, and scooped up a bit of raw sunflower seeds. It didn't take him long to sniff it out, and he soon found my offering. He ate some, but as the days went by, and I'd leave more and more out there for him, I realized that he couldn't be eating all of it, and that he must have been socking some of it away for the winter. What a responsible little critter. I left him raisins, hemp seeds, dried cranberries, mulberries, pumpkin seeds, and Himalayan goji berries. And as it's now snowing, I like the idea that he might be strolling around to his seed cellar, comfortably dressed in his house slippers and a terry cloth robe to snack on a few of those seeds and berries that I left him. He must be throwing some lavish dinner parties with these exotic tastes and treats that the forest simply doesn't offer. Merry Christmas, Alvin : )
Juwels tried to get a picture of him, but he's no dummy. She made us late for work as I was running the car and threatening to honk the horn, as she crouched by his feeding stump, but all she got was this sideways glance from the little guy.
Well, the Spring and Summer have come and gone, and as some thrilling dark cloud thunder storms and buckets of rain started to fall on our roof top, we thought it best to get out before we needed a paddle. In fact, just at the base of the narrow road that I'd originally pulled off to find our camp, a low spot in the road had quickly turned into a small pond. We wanted to wait until the sun came around and dried it up, but then in rained again, and the mud thickened.
On the morning of our departure back into civilization, I had plotted a zig-zag path through the trees which I intended to drive the Winnie along to keep us on higher ground and avoid the pond. I setup markers with branches and explained the route to Juwels, so she could walk along side of me and make sure that I wasn't going to peal the roof off on a tree or anything. I drove the light-weight truck along the route first as a tester, and even there, it was tight, and I felt the tires sink into the damp and spongy soil.
Juwels was not convinced, but she was going to let me have a go at it. As I backed up from the space that we were in, careful not to drop a wheel into the deep fire pit, I hit the brakes, but they were rock hard, and the Winnie just kept rolling.
"Okay, stop. Stop!" Juwels called out from behind me as I closed in on a thick tree trunk.
I didn't bother telling her the brakes weren't working ... there was no time, and it would only send us both into a panic anyway. Somehow, came to a stop just inches from the tree. Eash ...
This killed my confidence for the zig-zag .. where I'd be doing a lot of breaking and turning, so as I got out of the field and onto the road, I pointed the nose toward the pond.
"What are you doing?" Juwles asked.
"I'm just going to charge it through the water."
"You think she'll make it?"
"Yeah." I said, trying to sound as confident as possible.
"Do you want to lay down some branches, so you'll have traction?"
"Nope - I can't plot and plan anymore. It's driving me crazy. I'm just gonna charge it."
There was nothing solid in the way after the pond, so provided I made it through, even if the brakes were slow, I knew I'd have time to stop.
I revved the engine.
"Wait," Juwels said. "Should I get the video camera?"
"Wish me luck."
"Good Luck, BayBee !!!!"
I picked up some speed and debated whether it would be better to cut through the outer edge of the pond even though there was a large hump that my dry tires would have to ramp over, or if I should keep it level and plow straight through the middle. Before I knew it, I was spraying mud from both sides and cutting straight through the center. The Winnie dug deep grooves through the mud, but ripped through with little trouble.
With the snow and wind and ice blowing in, the Winnie would need a place to keep her feet dry, and we happened upon a great and serendipitous one ... which we'll tell you all about later, but for now, we're gonna crawl up into the frigid crow's nest, pull the sheets over our heads, do the running man until the temperature warms above 40 .. night, night, love,