Susan, (my wife)
Scott (our grandson)
Welcome to our home and life. We live on a 20 acre, off-grid homestead in the mountains of northwestern Montana.
We began this life because we wanted to be free of the cash-based economy and the accompanying enslavement to a “steady” job where we were only slightly better than indentured servants of the 1600’s. We wanted to declare our independence from the grocery store and from food that had been planted in “dead” soil, nurtured with petroleum based fertilizers, bathed in herbicides, and insecticides, then picked green, injected with artificial coloring and shipped half-way around the world to be sold weeks or months later in the “fresh food” department at our local grocery store! We especially wanted to give a one-fingered salute to the gas pump and utility companies (we’d already done that with network TV!).
In short, like a teenager on his eighteenth birthday we wanted to declare our independence. A person who’s reliant on others for the necessities of life will always be subject to and dependent upon the people and companies who feed, house, and protect him. Whether it’s the grocery store, the utility company, an employer, or the government.
Compounding our frustration was the simple fact that all of these entities are extremely complex in operation and the break down of even a small part could deprive us (and the U. S.) of necessities for daily existence. Oil embargoes in the Middle East have left Americans waiting in long lines for rationed (and expensive!) fuel. The irresponsible actions of the government and banking system plunged us into an economic downturn that may take decades to recover from. A large part of our agriculture relies on a steady influx of illegal immigrants for planting, cultivation and harvest. The government’s response to even moderate emergencies is woefully inadequate. I shudder to think of how long it would take to react to any wide-scale disaster, terrorist attack or unrest. The entire system we depend upon for our very existence seems as fragile as a house of cards just waiting to collapse with the first stiff breeze. The truth of the matter is that we don’t have much confidence that the “machinery” of our world is reliable enough to trust with our lives and livelihood.
Not only were we seeking independence we wanted security as well.
We summed it up this way: "We want to be able to live our life in relative comfort and security without depending on outside resources."
Our adventure began in the last week of July, 2003, when we took possession of our 20 acre homestead in northwestern, Montana. It hasn't stopped since! We began with 20 acres of logged-over mountain property and two dilapidated buildings. Both were in need of a gallon of gasoline and a match but my wife said that she could clean them up (and she did!) so the work began.
This was our kitchen the first month while we cleaned out the cabin shell.
This is what the cabin looked like on the day we took possession.
The inside had been trashed by vandals, vagrants and pack rats while it stood empty for six years.
The roof leaked and the insulation had fallen to the floor. Vandals had destroyed everything that would break.
The chinking between the logs had missing sections allowing the mosquitoes easy access so Susan made mosquito netting for our bed using scavenged wedding veil material. The kids slept in backpacking tents set up inside the cabin near the bed. Boys (2) in one, girls (2) in the other.
At the time we still had four children at home. Home was a 16 X 32 foot log cabin that needed a new roof, the walls chinked, the floor replaced, and whole pile of windows installed. We also needed to evict the current residents … a colony of pack rats.
As we progressed in our cleanup and restoration we began to move inside the cabin. Here we have most of the windows finished. The new roofing is on and the new flooring is leaning against the east wall. You can still see gaps in the chinking in the north wall near the front door.
Now we've moved the “kitchen” inside. Susan cooked on either a campfire outside or used a propane, single burner camp stove inside. Here she's using a Coleman camp oven for baking. The solar driveway lights stacked against the window on the west wall are used for reading lights by the kids. It was cheaper than flashlights and safer than oil lamps.
The neighbors offered some advice that we adhered to: have all your outside work finished by the end of October. That gave us about 13 weeks to completely remodel the cabin, cut ten cords of firewood, build a root cellar, and dig the outhouse hole. It would all have to be done by hand. I was still working a full-time job and we had no cash reserves. We put our “town home” up for sale, rolled up our sleeves and went to work.
By the end of October we were snug and warm in our cabin in the woods. We had ten cords of wood cut and stacked for heat and cooking, no running water (we hauled our drinking water from town seven miles away), an outhouse, a root cellar, no electricity and six of us living in a cabin with 512 square feet of floor space. We were thrilled!
We have the windows in, roofing on, a new back door in place and now we're ready to put in the wood stove and chimney. By now we're living in the cabin full time. We haven't begun cutting wood yet nor have we had time to begin cleaning up outside the cabin.
The following summer we built a 12X16 foot, 1 ½ story addition for the kids and put a new door in the southeast corner of the original cabin. We've moved the stove to it's present location in the southeast corner of the cabin. A few years later (when this photo was taken) we'd increased our solar capability to 565 watts.
We built a deck on the front later. About half the lumber used was scavenged from various sources.
Our first deer harvested at our new location. This guy was shot near the cabin on the first day of hunting season out first year. Note the firewood stacked in the background.
We found ways to overcome obstacles. We encountered this boulder while digging the hole for the outhouse. After several unsuccessful attempts to remove it we finally set up a tripod and lever arrangement to lift it out of the hole. These are the four children who made the move with us. From left to right their names are: Tristan, Tim, Emily and Becky. Tim and Becky are Twins. (That's me in the hole.)
Emily, Becky and Tristan playing a game of Uno by kerosene lamp light. We didn't have any electricity the first couple of years.
It wasn't all work. This was taken on our way to spend the night at a restored forest fire lookout on top of a mountain. We could easily see the peaks of Glacier National Park to the east. At night there was not a single, man-made light visible in any direction and not a sound to be heard except those made by nature or us.
In the years since we made our move we've learned a lot. We'd like to share some of that knowledge with the readers of this blog but we're still learning and we want to hear from you as well. Your comments are always welcome whether they are ways we can do things better, words of encouragement, different ways of looking at life's issues, and even short accounts of your own, similar experiences. Your interaction is greatly desired.
Joy is meant to be shared and burdens are never so heavy as when carried alone. So please, join with us as we share our lives with you.