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    The Road


April 26, 2012

Guerrilla Homesteading 101: Let it Rain

They are predicting drought here this year, and it finally spurred us into action on setting up rain catchment to assure our garden gets water without pushing any rationing limits. Since our town is on a number of small municipal wells, water quality can greatly decrease if the aquifers run low, increasing the concentration of things like boron and sulfur. Also known as stink. A few days before a predicted storm, I had a couple of days off, and set out to start saving the rain.
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June 11, 2007

Deepwoods salvage. The tank on my tank.

To hear my neighbor tell the story, fifteen years ago, the sheriff, the army and the DEA came rolling up the narrow dirt road to our side of the mountain and raided the entire community. Helicopters floating in the air, HMMWV’s in the road, machine guns and loud speakers. Often, Ryan and I will be walking around our parcel and wonder at what kind of chaos must have occurred to leave the place in such desolate shape. Off the side of one hill lies a stack of half a dozen aluminum framed windows, the animal pens are littered with old tin cans and random trash, ranging from the skeletal remains of a baby stroller to some very impressive aluminum machine parts. When possible, I salvage what I can, and thanks to some dedicated British WWOOFers, the animal pen area has been cleared of junk and rotting wood, leaving only the old coop and a grove of ancient Yerba Santo.

On their last day there, I promised something different than the incessant clearing and foundation work we had been doing. With three able bodied young men to assist me, I knew the time was ripe for some serious salvage.

Looking down off the side of the hill approaching the cabin, you can see an impressive length of ¾ inch PVC running from a culvert to a deeply wooded spot nearly half a mile away. There, overgrown by poison oak, surrounded by decade old trees was a thousand gallon water tank, doubtlessly used by the previous tenant’s marijuana cultivation system. Shaded by a grove of madrone, the tank was in remarkable condition and I had been figuring out how to get it out of the woods and next to the cabin where it would be the main storage for my rain catchment and fog harvesting systems.

We began the morning by walking tooless up to the tank, amazed at how invisible the road had become. The poison oak was everywhere, ranging from little spouts springing up from the duff to enormous vines, brushing dangerously close to our faces. After a winding trip up the hill, we found the tank and proceeded to scout out the path of least resistance.

The easiest way to get it out involved clearing a six foot wide swath through the woods, then abruptly turning west towards the drive way. Of course, once we got set to clear, the chain saw wouldn’t work, so I grabbed my cordless reciprocating saw, a brush cutter, a set of loppers and strapped my hatchet to my belt. An hour later, we had a passable road to the tank, which led to a six foot drop off beside the drive way. All that was left was to free the tank from the poison oak, and the thirty five foot madrone that had sprung up between the tank and the clearing.

The chainsaw would have made the task simple, but since we didn’t have it, I told the boys to go relax a hundred feet down hill and proceeded to get down to work with the hatchet. Now, this is not your standard deep woods hatchet, it’s an ultra light gerber camping hatchet. Fortunately, it’s light weight and short handle is offset by the fact that I keep it razor sharp, so wedging the tree and girdling down to the heartwood was easy. However, upon reaching the hardwood, the work slowed. Hearing my pauses become more and more frequent as my shoulder began to ache and a blister formed on my hand, the boys shouted up, “need some help?” I told them to send up one person, and a few seconds later, Tim arrived with his wry smile.

I showed him what we were doing and explained how the tree would fall. I pointed to a large tree to the left of the path of the fall to run to when he heard the crack. And we started at it again. Five minutes later, we shoved on the tree and Tom let out a bellowing “TIMBER” that echoed through the valley below as the tree fell neatly across a strand of brush I had decided not the clear for just that reason.

I limbed the tree and tied some of my climbing rope into a harness around the tank. Pulling it free from it’s foundation, we set it on end and used the downed tree to get the tank up and onto the trail we had cleared. It wasn’t easy work, but compared to clearing the trail, it was simple and not as exhausting. Once we reached the main trail, it became a downhill battle, and we split up, two men to push it down hill, two to make sure it didn’t go careening into a stump or branch and puncture.

Our goal had been to get it right to the edge of the roadside, and leave it there until Creek returned with the big brown truck. Looking down at my truck and back at the trail we created, I asked the guys if they wanted to give it a go and take it all the way. Their response was an immediate and resounding “YES!”

To get the tank onto the truck, we had to stop rolling it, and instead begin to tumble it, end over end until we could slide it onto the roof of my SUV, a 94 chevy blazer, which could have easily parked inside the tank. As we worked, we joked how the story would improve with age, about how the mountain lion that moved into the tank had chased us, how the tank and started to roll down the hill prompting a Raiders of the Lost Ark Moment and how the tank would get larger and the car smaller until we were pulling down a 20,000 gallon tank and slapping it on the roof of a Mini.

It took four 25 foot tie downs to get the beast strapped on properly and then the cameras came out. The appearance is farcical. My truck, which I once considered large was dwarfed by the immense tank and the only thing that let us know it was safe was knowing that the tank probably only weighed 100 lbs. I had used low four wheel drive to back my truck up the side of the driveway, and had only two feet of road between us and the hillside below. I carefully maneuvered the truck back onto the driveway, and Tom hopped in.

A few minutes later, we were parked in front of the cabin, still laughing at the absurdity of the incredibly large tank on my now dwarf sized truck. We maneuvered the truck around for a few pictures of the group before unstrapping it and rolling it off the side.

In place, we clapped and patted each other on the back. It was the Brits’ last day at work with me, and we had accomplished a lot, though this was the crowning grace, as we had started the project together, worked past various obstacles and completed it. Our spirits were high, through we were quite tired, and I drove everyone up the hill for a much needed Tecnu shower to rinse off the poison oak that covered us from head to toe.

Huge thanks to Dave, Tom and Stu who spent way more hours than they needed to, working way harder than they needed to to help make my dream of living in the cabin in the woods a reality. I’ll miss you guys and look forward to the kind of trouble we can get into when I get out to the other side of the pond for a visit. Another game of Kings Cup is definitely in order.