Thursday, July 31, 2014

Time Traveler--Summer 1977, Year of the Tent

Ready for more hippie child family history?  Good.

If you've been following the Time Traveler posts, you know we moved to Idaho from California in July 1977 in a van with a goat.  We arrived safely at our heretofore-unseen new property in Idaho, which was basically just 20 acres of forest, 25 miles from nowhere, where any phone and electric lines had yet to exist.  Which was kind of the whole point.
This is from 2012.  If you look closely, you can see a dark gap in the trees. That was our driveway in 1977.  It's grown over now and you have to walk in, but I used to stand out in that turn-out IN THE DARK at 6:40 a.m. and watch for the bus to come down that road.  At age 7.  No, that wasn't scary, but thanks for asking.

We pitched a tent to live in while we started building our house--a pole structure that my dad had carefully designed on the backs of various napkins late at night.  Dad set poles to soak in 55-gallon drums of creosote about halfway up the driveway, and got started.

There were five of us at the time, because we had my parents, 7-year-old me, my 2-year-old brother, and Patrick, who was one of the nomadic 70s friends who lived with us on and off through those years.  He had come along for the move from California, and he doubled as a big brother/babysitter for us, a carpentry/building assistant for the house, and a drinking partner for my dad.

We camped out in a square 4-man tent, all five of us, until like October, and then we moved into the one semi-finished room of the house, which would later become the kitchen.

I remember keeping our food cold by packing it around blocks of ice in a big Coleman cooler, and I remember packing gallon jugs for water, which Mom tells me we did for 7 years.  SEVEN YEARS? YOU GUYS.  OMG.  It makes me want to go and stand in our shower right now, just thinking about that many years of no running water.  So, that's why I recall taking baths at other people's houses...because we did it for. SEVEN. YEARS.

Oh sure, we were able to bathe at home.  In a metal tub.  With water we heated on the wood stove.  We weren't entirely heathens.

This is probably 1979, two years later, and yes, there I am, packing water.  So, yeah.
I also use the term "semi-finished room of the house" loosely.  It was "finished" in the sense that it had a wooden floor and ceiling. The walls, however, were clear plastic, I guess because LIGHT, (besides, who'd use black plastic for walls? There'd be no windows.  Everyone knows this).  Dad had nailed a blanket in the doorway, so, other than not sleeping on the actual frozen ground and having wood heat (and even more smoke) from a temperamental potbelly stove, plus a little more square footage to put all our sleeping bags on the (not earth) floor, it wasn't a huge improvement.  Still, at the time, it felt like we were pretty Uptown Now, with the added bonus that the chickens and goats couldn't get in as easily any more, mostly because they had to come up two steps to get through the blanket, and that's just a nuisance if you have four legs, or those little chicken legs.  Ever see a chicken go up stairs?  

I also remember having to duck outside the blanket when brushing our teeth, to spit, so obviously we didn't have anything inside during that first winter that would qualify as a sink or a drain.  Mom had been doing dishes outside on the ground, sometimes with chickens supervising, (not even kidding, check out the one next to her right elbow), but of course now I can't remember HOW Mom did dishes in the plastic-walled room that winter..Buckets?      Mom? How the heck, woman?  

Dad had definitely improved on THIS situation, by October.  I think.  I'm also really sure he never did dishes, ever.

This also should make it self-explanatory that my mom and I both severely dislike camping , unless it involves a microwave, running water, and a door that locks.  It may have been an adventure for me, and probably definitely was one for my dad, who spent a lot of time drinking and scribbling on napkins, but I can't imagine being the "mom" in that situation.  sorry, mom!!   Someone needs to build a statue in her honor, I'm pretty sure.  Or a fountain, with actual running water.

So, to wrap it up--by the end of that first year, 1977, we were definitely up off the ground and safely behind the locked blanket/door, and the goats were outside where they belonged.

Which reminds me, I also distinctly recall having problems with mountain lions being attracted by the sound of those stupid loud screaming Nubian goats, because Nubian goats have two volumes: loud screaming goat sounds, and WE JUST GOT OUT AND ARE RUNNING DOWN THE ROAD INTO THE WOODS AND YOU'LL HAVE TO CHASE US THROUGH 20 ACRES OF UNDERBRUSH ALL THE WAY TO THE RIVER HAHAHAHAHA.

More to come, but right now I'm inspired to go do dishes, laundry, AND take a shower.  Don't forget to appreciate the simple fact that you can turn on water INSIDE your house...


  1. I loathe camping so this reads like a horror story to me....

    but you had screaming goats and they're funny. at least on youtube..i'm sure living with them wasn't as funny

    1. I know. Even though I remember it, I find it hard to believe we actually did that! And my kids are like...whaaat?

      The goats do sound that hilarious, but yeah, they're much more annoying when they're in your backyard.

  2. I've known a few people with similar stories that didn't turn out as well... Mostly people from the city who, right about that same time, decided to move to Southern Humboldt county and grow pot. Very few of them could handle life in the wilderness, and almost none of them ever made a dime growing pot. Turns out it's hard work, and the odds are long. My dad, who worked for the Forest Service, used to laugh at them sometimes, saying that they reminded him a little of the moonshiners of his youth in Oklahoma, only in his estimation, not as well suited to the task.
    That was, of course, before that damned 60 Minutes episode, after which everybody out there was all of the sudden armed and paranoid. I moved to Oakland not long after, in '84.
    And yes, modern household conveniences are, in fact, awesome.

    -Doug in Oakland

    1. Ah...yes, everyone was growing stuff back then, and I missed the 60 Minutes episode but can definitely vouch for the fact that they were all armed and paranoid! Lol. Dad was a gunsmith and our nearest neighbor was an ex Vietnam demolitions expert. And he was one of the more *normal* neighbors...!

  3. Maybe I haven't camped for long enough to dislike it, but I really don't mind washing my hair with a water bottle or keeping wet wipes in a plastic bag for using the "facilities" for a week when I've been backpacking. I could see how 7 years would be a little long though.

    PS-I always wanted to breed a pygmy goat with a fainting goat because who wouldn't want a cute little goat that passed out when you made a loud noise to keep as a pet? It'd never run off because if you yelled at it it would fall over and you could put it back where it goes. :)

    1. Wouldn't that be funny? (I almost said wouldn't that be a scream?)

      Pigmy goats seem super cute, but FAINTING ones? Oh. Just, yes!

  4. I'm going to suggest this again. Write a damn book. Seriously.

    1. You're right.

      Maybe sometime I will collect all these tales into one place and put a cover on it. It'll be a better read, because of course, I'm leaving out a lot of the more colorful details, for public consumption. The full details are actually probably harder to believe, in some places...

    2. and those details would probably make the book more interesting. Publish it under a pen name if you are worried about offending anyone.

    3. I could be the Artist Formerly Known as That Almost-Famous Cake Decorator... ;)

  5. Yes, we did have to spit the toothbrush stuff out the front door/blanket, whatever, until we got some of the kitchen built. We put in a sink that had
    at first had a bucket under it to catch used water, that we would recycle to
    wash out socks & such. Nx upgrade was a "French drain". That was actual
    pipe that only ran the used water outside & over the bank down to the garden area. Such memories. You do remember quite a lot for being 7-9 yrs
    old. Wonderful stories to retell into old age.

    1. I do remember the bucket under the sink thing. And the screaming "Don't get water in my eyes" hairwashing dramas with the rag over my eyes. What a nuisance I was! ;0)