Reminds me of The Road
Get it? Bee People?! Ha. Doug (if you recall, we met him at Paradise Green) was very good at being involved in communities and finding things that interested him. He presented Nick and I with the idea of going to a “Beginning Bee Keepers Gathering” in Venice, held by the non for profit group: Honey Love.
^Doug, Nick and myself being goofy beeople.
We were so excited to get off the farm for a day: we jumped right on the idea. I am so glad I did. I learned so much about bee keeping. If you haven’t seen “The Vanishing of The Bees” I would highly recommend it. We need bees. Not genetically engineered “super bees’, but your everyday bee. We learned that everyday bees are healthier and live longer lives because of design, while super bees get sick and die. Nature is amazing. The best bees are city bees because they have SO MUCH diversity from which to pollinate. If you live in a rural area: I highly encourage you to look into having a small hive. We learned the magic of bee pollen and honey. If you ever have the chance to go to a community event like this: please do! It will help you see what you are capable of doing to better the world!
^Typical farm breakfast with LOCAL HONEY!
Once again: I am late to the party. We left off around the end of January. We took our time driving through some beautiful farmland in Southern California before we came upon sleepy Hemet. Hemet is where Nick’s grandparents live and had some space for us to stretch out in. We did some odd jobs for cash: it’s amazing what you can find on craigslist! After some saving, we bought ourselves a solar panel for the van. It was pretty clear that if we took our time moving around, we would only be charging the deep cycle battery partially, making it difficult to run the laptop or even a small light for very long. So Moby got an upgrade! Once we were rested and ready, I began searching for WWOOFing opportunities in SoCal. WWOOF is WorldWide Opportunites on Organic Farms. The premise is: you volunteer to work for a farm and in return are given a place to sleep, food to eat and all the knowledge you could desire about how that farm functions. This fits in with my ideals in life as I know Nick and I would love to be self sufficient in the next life.
The first I found was called “Morning Star” and they invited us to dinner before any commitment, stating that: “We are a very religious farm and some people find that it’s too much”. We went to a Saturday night dinner with them, knowing only that. We found out that they are a Twelve Tribes of Ham group. They teach there children on property and build their own structures, as well as farming. They do some commercial business and farmers markets and even sell their semi-famous “green drink” at the Coachella music festival (which Nick and I tried to work: but that’s neither here nor there). The evening was spend singing and dancing to traditional Israeli music and I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t swell. It was neat to be surrounded by such community. We decided that we could not, in fact, pray 3 times a day and that we’d continue searching for a farm.
Finally I heard from a farm in Valley Center called “Paradise Green”. This was an older avocado farm about an hour outside of San Diego and they wanted us for a month. I jumped on the opportunity to sign us up!
view of the young orchard, looking down the hill.
I think I’ve been delaying this post, because there’s no good way to sum it up. Luckily when we arrived, there was another WWOOFER there: Doug. Doug was easily the best part of the experience. Doug had similarly *if not more seriously* packed up his former life and come out to SoCal. While on the farm he built himself a bike and a good sized trailer and left us about 2 weeks in for another farm. I found his pedaling very inspirational and it’s given me a new dream to live on my bike for awhile in life. Doug basically showed us “the ropes” as it were. Later we discovered those ropes would be better put to use strangling ourselves ;)
The Farmer and his wife were in a water battle with the state. WIth the hilly nature of inland Southern California, it’s very difficult to get adequate water to the avocados. We were surrounded by about 5 other farms dedicated to farming avocados. Our farmer, since he was really only interested in feeding his family, had begun tearing out most of his avocado trees in favor of diversity. He truly specialized in exotic fruit. Chirimoyas, sapotas, pitahayas, guavas, and pomegranates just to name a few. Chirimoyas taste like creme brulee or icecream and sapotas are amazing. He also had macadamia trees, plenty of citrus and still a large avocado selection, as well as a small vineyard and 30 or so fruit trees (apples, peaches, lemons, etc) in his young orchard. This all sounds so wonderful in type: I will hate to burst your bubble later.
We were usually up and working by 7 a.m. to take care of the fowl. The farm had 10 muscovy ducks (in Florida I called these “Turkey Ducks” they have a rough red skin around their eyes that reminds me of a Turkey!), a goose and a gander, 3 hens with 12 babies and a rooster and 6 domestic ducks. We would let them out to roam the entire farm (4.75 acres) freely, clean their pens and date the eggs. In our time there the goose laid 20 eggs! We didn’t get to see any hatched eggs which is my only regret about leaving when we did. Visually, my favorite were the geese. They were American Buffs and quite a pair. Personality wise, I dug the domestic ducks, though the Muscovy ducks are much quieter. They almost purr like a cat. Logistically: chickens are the way to go if you’re looking to farm. One of my favorite tasks was weeding the garden and throwing the snails and slugs to the ducks. They LOVE them.
^ Aggressive geese because they are broody. Both the gander and the goose will be exceptionally protective when preparing and starting a family.
^Marking eggs and washing them to ensure we only ate what they weren’t sitting on daily.
In our time there, we laid quite a bit of watering and sprinkling pipes and all the labor that goes with it (trench digging, gluing and fitting pipe, etc). The watering system here left something to be desired. The farmer’s wife had even told us early on “It’s a constant battle between being conservative with water and not starving our crop” and I can believe it. They had confided in us that some summer months their water bill can reach $8,000 a month! Most watering (yes, even of large and mature trees) was done by hand because of poorly laid out and poorly maintained water systems. I’m on a mission to learn from every experience and as Norm says “everyone is an example: it just depends on what kind of example”. I learned about how differently I would do things on my farm. We watched the baby chickens start to die off from Merack’s disease, something easily preventable with a vaccine within 24 hours of hatching. I know that the idea of organic and vaccination don’t always travel together. My stance is: if you RELY on the chickens for food supply, you ought to get the vaccine. Nick buried 16 chicks at the hands of disease and poor planning. We also helped terrace the vegetable garden, weed the vegetable garden and the pitihaya (dragonfruit) patch, and pick fruit daily. There were also less organic practices of “gophering”. The task we did most was weed whip. If I never see a weed whip in my life again: I can die a happy woman. Since the farm was on such a steep hill, this was really the only way to “mow” and it became important as tall grass went to seed, so as to keep their dog safe.
Fuzzy, the beautiful Samoyed dog, was the best part of my day to day there. He followed us around, mostly got in the way (since he wanted to LAY in the cool dirt you were digging up!) and found rip avocados on the orchard floor before I ever had a hope of finding them.
Accommodations were two meals a day cooked by the farmer’s wife (and I have to admit, she was a great cook with mostly supplies from their land!) and breakfast we made for ourselves since they were rarely awake by then. We were also expected to sleep in a shipping container. I would usually get down on this idea, except for the high grade lock on the OUTSIDE of “the box”, as it was called. So we chose to sleep in the van; this gave me new found love of Moby as our sanctuary. For the remaining 2 weeks without Doug we were the only WWOOFers there. I also know, many of you are wondering about gnomie. We left him on the farm to greet future WWOOFers.
^ Gnomie, safe inside “the box” which could comfortably sleep 4-5 people at once with a cold water only bathroom.
When we arrived there, the farmer’s mother-in-law was staying with them because she was passing away. Nothing too sad about it really, she was 97 and had lived a great life. The farmer’s wife had wanted her there for her final days. The farmer was terribly insensitive to this and it was evident by all. He had maniacal work tendencies, mostly when it came to working with power tools or fire. I can’t tell you how many times we felt unsafe working near him. He spent about half of his days teaching himself to weld while Nick and I worked alone and his wife stayed with her mother. Dinner was often the most time in a day we would spend with the farmer and he could be classified as a Tea Party member. He didn’t grasp women’s struggles, but harped on his struggles as a retired “old person”. He didn’t want to pay taxes but collected Social Security. He was constantly paranoid about the government but didn’t think voting was terribly important. He seemed a walking contradiction and wasn’t very good at having conversation with differing opinions. In our 4 weeks there, we had 3 days to ourselves. One with Doug in Venice, one at the San Diego Zoo and one when it was just raining too hard to get any real work done. We typically worked 10-12 hour days and all-in-all the work felt thankless. There is always something to be learned and we learned ALOT. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I would also be much choosier for my next WWOOFing experience.
The craziest day I was there was the day the farmer’s mother-in-law died. We woke up early to do our normal fowl and garden watering routine. When we got into the house to make our breakfast, around 8:00 a.m., the farmer’s wife was awake and it was evident she’d been crying. She stated “Mom passed away early this morning.” She said it with a slim smile and I know she was a mix of happy and sad, it was impossibly hard not to want to hug her. Her brother and his girlfriend happened to be there at the time, which was nice for her. At breakfast the farmer came downstairs and said to his wife (in front of us ALL): “don’t you think you ought to call someone and take care of the body?”. We were so beside ourselves with his audacity, we snuck out of the house as soon as possible to give everyone space. That day, the farmer happened to have a welding lesson with an unlicensed welder (wrap your mind around that). They had also had a small gas leak, so the gas company was coming out “any day” to fix it. The mother-in-law had been receiving hospice care (so she had a bed and other things for her use until she passed). Of course, the farmer didn’t cancel his welding lesson to be supportive. So in this NARROW and STEEP driveway with no clear turn around: the gas truck, the hospice car, a body transportation car, the farmer’s two cars, the welder’s car and the brother’s car all fight for space. Easily the most uncomfortable day on the farm!
^The farmer’s wife had a small area of the garden that was just hers. I like to think that’s where her mother hangs out now.
^these boots are made for climbing, hiking, walking, running!
As we’ve traveled around Southern California- we’ve tried to spend as much time OUTSIDE of the van as possible. While we were at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous we met Johnny and Jen who run an incredibly useful website called www.freecampsites.net . We have used it almost every day since we left Q-town.
In using it we found some excellent free camping at the South Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. For $15 we could enter the park for 7 days (though- I’m not sure that’s actually policed if you only use the south entrance) and 7 days we used it! The park is named after the Joshua Tree *not the U2 album as Nick suggested ;)* which is not actually a tree at all. They’re in the cactus family, and are not restricted to the park. We saw them all over 29 palms.
^ impostor trees!
We went all over the park, checked out most the trails and climbed all over the rock. The rock is the most amazing part of the park to me and I’m sure I left part of my heart there. We picnicked on the rock and listened to the Grizzly Man soundtrack as we drove through the desert at sunset at night. The park spans two distinct deserts: the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Dessert.
^ Most the rock formations are in the Mojave Dessert
^Skull Rock. Can you see it?
^ the extent of my height bravery for the day
^Nick was much braver than I was this day.
^ Lunch near White Tank at Joshua Tree
So far (though the trip is young), my time at Joshua Tree was my favorite. We had campfires at night, listened to music, star gazed and just enjoyed the outdoors. After a week with the park, we said our fare wells and headed down Box Canyon Road toward the Salton Sea.
The land surrounding Box Canyon Road is predominately BLM land, we learned through the signs along side the road and our friend’s awesome website. We were in a bit of a time crunch (again! How does this happen to people with no commitments in life?) so we only stayed one night and two days in the area, but you can stay for 14 nights and then move 25 miles *though NO ONE comes out to check* and stay for another 14 days. You can continue to do this forever if you’d like. The only things you need are current vehicle tags and insurance and maybe permits for wildfires (depends on states). The Park Ranger at Joshua Tree had told us about Ladder Canyon (a trail in the Painted Canyon) which she dubbed moderately strenuous. We had to go.
Basically, this trail is a loop through the canyon that is maintained by volunteers as the land doesn’t actually belong to anyone. There are about 7 ladders in various stages of disrepair, which just added to the fun of this hike. Some are metal, some are wood, the wooden ones are usually missing rungs. We packed a lunch and went for it.
^if it always looks like we’re wearing the same clothes- it’s because we are. We live in our van!
^behind me is the longest ladder in the canyon and thankfully in tact! It’s about 20 feet up to the next layer of canyon.
^Nick checking out the view
^Nick coming up one of the shorter ladders.
It didn’t take long to complete the trail, and we were there by 9:30 am, so we beat the crowds we saw entering as we were leaving. If you’re ever in the Joshua Tree area- take this 30 minute drive to the Painted Canyon. You won’t be disappointed.
Through some research, Nick stumbled upon Slab City. Slab City is located in Niland, California on land that belongs to the Bureau of Land Management- which really means it belongs to you and me. We went to the Bluegrass Festival in Blythe with some new friends that we met at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous who had been to Slab City before and told us we were about a week away from their talent show (talk about right place, right time!) We all decided we would meet back up there in about a week.
We blazed right through Niland the first time, thinking you’d be able to just SEE or FEEL a place of this magnitude. After circling back and passing California’s happy cows TWICE (the smell lingered in my nose hairs for days), we finally found the road to Salvation Mountain.
^The picture is blurry. The image is even blurrier. How can you put thousand of cows within an inch of another cows excrement with good conscious?
Driving through the small city of Niland pretty accurately foreshadowed what we were going to experience. The city is small and most of it’s businesses are dead. The road in is surrounded by desert, a few vehicles well off the road and at least 20 feet from their neighbor, lots of unique art and a genuine donkey and cart (and I’d been waiting since my stint in Nevada to see a burro!). Then, there it is: you can’t miss it. Salvation Mountain. If only impressive for it’s magnitude- you will still be impressed. Leonard is the creator and unfortunately we didn’t get to meet him. We did meet many people who had met him and had only nice things to say about what a creative, devoted and carrying man he is. The mountain is made of plaster, hay bales, I saw some poles in there, a few dozen car windows, and thousands of gallons of donated paint. Scripture is everywhere. I am awestruck. It’s not my religious bone growing in it’s stillborn shell, it’s my admiration of his dedication to create something.
^Hard to size the perspective.
^my favorite part of Salvation Mountain. Love IS Universal.
^Leonard’s home. Behind it is the part of the mountain utilizing car windows.
Further into the city within a city you start to see it all come to life. Everyone has created their own home (and almost all are more spacious than my minivan! I have small mobile home syndrome!), some have created their own yards. There’s a welcome booth, a few restaurants (which operate on donation and community effort), a large outdoor stage with lighting and a P.A. system that runs off of solar. There’s a library (all donated material), and art gallery (Sandi was the local artist), an Internet cafe and even, what the locals call, a Walmart.
As you can see, everything is in the eye of the beholder here. If you see trash- it’s trash. If you see potential treasure- it’s there waiting for you. There are dogs everywhere, which made my pet owning heart ache. Nick had to hold me back from trying to scout out a puppy. Luckily our friends here all have pets and we got to borrow them for a few days. There are no restrooms, which wouldn’t have been an issue for taking a leak- but it just FELT so disrespectful. This is where people are living. The highlight for me was making community effort dinner with our new friends. I’m really working on getting past the things that tend to make me uncomfortable and going with the flow. Being unsure of yourself, can only lead to being usure of everything around you. Nick and I decided to take a hike the day after the talent show. We will probably return again, when we’re of clearer mind, expectations, and hopefully an RV!
On our last night there: I had burned out my hip flexor with a long walk (I’m fighting some sports injury) and was beat- so I hung out for a bit and went to crash. Nick stayed with friends and enjoyed more of the show. As I walked home, there was a dead cat on the side of the road- I don’t think it could have possibly been hit- everyone drives so slow and aware here… I felt that was a pretty clear sign that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (which is not to say that’s always how it is- everyone stumbles into places and situations in one light or another). We had been warned (jokingly) about rigs getting burnt to the ground— but had sincerely taken it as a joke… until our last night. As a man played guitar at sunset, between songs he states “well isn’t this a lovely evening here in Slab City? A beautiful sunset and someone’s rig burning down!” and sure enough, plumes of black smoke spilled from a distant rig.
We made it, and we are DEFINITELY in the desert! It’s sunny, dry, and DUSTY here. Nick hasn’t let me drive since Florida… so I’ve been DeeJaying. Luckily he doesn’t complain about my music selections, but to be honest- I’M tired of everything we have. How does that happen? We took 20 Gigs of music from my dad’s library!
^It’s not the cleanest segue, but cactus make me think of my dad!
Our first day here we met Angelica and Jason (they are also young and from Florida!) and Bob (the creator of RTR *Rubber Tramp Rendezvous for those that are uncouth ;)* We slapped on some name tags and tried to meet people (though we were both tired and feeling a bit out of place!), then we took a long walk around Dome Rock.
^ sporting the name tag and some curly hair.
We learned quite a few things here. Mostly that it’s VERY important to have a chair if you hope to fit in, leading to making friends! We hadn’t planned on using space in our van for chairs and we didn’t want to spend the money on them just yet- a chair is a pretty important social mechanism. I plan on writing a separate blog on things of this nature. It’s all new to me! There’s no bathroom *which I knew about, but thought, being outdoors, I would have plenty of places to go… it takes a while to get out of eyesight from your neighbors…*, which is really dampening my spirits. 4 miles to the nearest truck stop. We walked this one evening- that’s a bit much for a bathroom break! This has caused us to rethink our “rig”. Most people here have legitimate rigs! Small Rvs, or larger vans- I have major envy! We went into this wanting to be so “stealthy” we didn’t think about some of the other accommodations we would miss. We’ve also been forced to be honest with one another about our objectives on this trip. You would have thought we did that earlier in the game, no? I think we were blinded by the EXCITEMENT of a trip like this. I desire to be outside, in nature, where I can pee any old place. Nick desires to be nearer civilization, enjoying some city aspects. We’ll just compromise!
^ A couple larger rigs, and a BREATH TAKING sunset
Every morning we go for a walk and there’s a seminar you can attend if you want to. We went to the budgeting seminar, solar power seminar, healthcare in Mexico seminar and workcamp seminar. All of them were so insightful. We frequently drove into town for little things, to do laundry, shower ($6/per person to shower! Bah! It WAS the most rewarding shower I’ve ever had though!), refilling water and to use some regular ol’ plumbing.
^ Nick on an early morning walk
One day we drove up to Lake Havasu to check out London Bridge and again, get out of the dust bowl!
^ Can you believe it cost $6 billion to move this from London to Arizona?
We were lucky enough to have my wife be in Las Vegas while we were in Quartzite, which is a few hours north of us. So we took the drive to visit with her, see Sin City and use a hotel shower!
^New York, New York in Vegas.
Vegas left a bad taste in my mouth on the whole. Consumers running amok, homelessness is rampant and you can’t go anywhere without being confronted with sex. A homeless woman asked me if I had any money. I don’t, so I told her no. She then asked if I had food. I happened to have a grapefruit still, from my grandparents tree in Florida *a truly organic grapefruit!* and she snubbed her nose at my offer! It shouldn’t have bummed me out, but it did.
We made it back to Quartzite to finish out the RTR and go the the Big Tent RV Expo where we were hoping to make some connections to find work. We finally conquered Dome Rock (I wish I knew how tall it was?) After three attempts at doing it, Brian (a fellow rubber tramp) gave us the clue to the puzzle! After hiking all the way to the top, I had to pee (if this is TMI, you might not know me very well), so I decided, no better place than the top of a conquest! I dropped trough and peed…. all over my underwear. My life is riddled with complicated irony….
^At the top with a wine skein from my pa
^BAH! My finger makes an appearance! Our van is down there in front of Nick’s body.
D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-DRUM ROLL PLEASE!!!
The best part of RTR was making so many new friends and some important connections at the Expo! We have our choice of summer work (Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons or Northern California) and a winter job if we want it! Talk about taking a load off my worried chest! Next up: SLAB CITY!
I’ve mentioned that we are headed to Quartzite, Arizona for a small gathering we found via the interwebs called Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. We decided to head up Florida and across I-10. We spent a night in a parking lot and beat feet to Houston. I’ve been to New Orleans before and hope to go again, but we were on a mission. I need to make it to Quartzite by the January 10th and we left Florida on January 6th. So that means we were only in the Sunshine State for 7 days. It went quick and I didn’t get to see everyone. Luckily, I DID get to teach a class with Stephanie (which, I’ve missed more than I thought I would!) and see many of the people I love.
We made it to Houston and stayed a couple of nights with a high school friend. He and his girlfriend were SO very accommodating. They took us to an Art Car Museum *cars dressed up like art!*, the plaster presidential heads, the Rothko Chapel and the Menil Art Exhibit. My camera battery was dead and I didn’t take my phone- so this post is a bit lackluster! I think I must have been in a haze from being on the road, and driving straight through. I had a really great time and hope to meet up with Sean and his lady again!