Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure #1

Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004
From: Molly Morgan <morganm@sdsc.edu>
Subject: Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure

Dear Family and Friends -

As some of you receiving this message already know, or as many of you do not know, in early January Rick purchased 80 acres of undeveloped land in coastal Northern California. It was something that happened rather quickly and without a great deal of searching, but since then we have spent a considerable amount of time making adjustments to our lives as we decide what to do with this land.

It occurred to us that some people might want to be kept abreast of what happens as we embark on this new adventure, so this email is an invitation for those who are interested to be put on a list to receive updates periodically, maybe once a month or so. We will put pictures on Rick's website so you can see what is going on and provide links in the emails. We know many of you already receive too much email, so this is strictly an "opt-in" invitation -- if you write back to us and ask to be put on the list, we'll do so, and if we don't hear back from you, we won't bother you with any additional messages. You can still check Rick's website any time if you want to see photos.

Following is a brief version of what has happened so far. It's still pretty long, so if you are not interested, please feel free to delete this at any time.

Why did we get this land? Molly has intense interests in sustainable living, intentional community, and a lifestyle much more in harmony with, and connection to, the natural world than we are able to achieve in San Diego. (If these phrases don't mean much to you, more on this below.) Rick is interested in facilitating the exploration of these ideas and also having a "keys-in-hand" exit strategy for when he decides to escape from the political climate in the US and retire from full-time work in San Diego. A year and a half ago we started looking for living opportunities in British Columbia and have not abandoned that idea, but the 80 acres in Northern California will get us closer and give us an opportunity to start learning and experimenting as either a temporary destination or a final one.

Where is this land, and why did we buy there? The land is two miles from the ocean in the southern part of Mendocino County, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive north of San Francisco. We are in the unincorporated area of the town of Point Arena, population 440. The nearest good-size towns, Santa Rosa and Ukiah, are each about a two-hour drive away. There is a public airstrip nearby, about ten miles away from our land, and it takes us about three and a half hours to fly there from San Diego in Rick's plane (10-12 hours to drive). If you want to see a map so you have a relative idea of where this is, here's a link: http://www.amazingpossibilities.org/moatcreek/source/pointarenawestcoastmap.htm. Our land is on the first rise of the mountains from the ocean, and a cleared area on the land is about 800 feet elevation with a spectacular ocean view.

The short answer to "why there?" is: we have friends in Point Arena and one thing serendipitously led to another. A couple, Jan Edwards and Bill Meyers, are people who have been involved in the same peace and social justice work as Molly has for the last couple of years, and they have become good friends. During casual conversation while they and another couple were visiting us in San Diego last August, we talked about living up there and looked at some real estate listings online. The following month we visited Jan and Bill, and while there decided to meet with a real estate agent and look at a few places, one of which was the 80 acres. Jan and Bill also introduced us to their friends Leon and Mindy, who had just finished building a beautiful passive-solar design house with solar power. Rick and Leon really hit it off, discussing various aspects of solar power and building one's own home at length. They also introduced us to John and Robbin, the people who live on the parcel of land adjacent to the 80 acres. While Molly was travelling for two and a half weeks in October, Rick flew up two more times to hang out with these folks and meet others, to get to know the area better, and to walk around on the land and check it out. Then Leon and Mindy offered to let us housesit for the week of Thanksgiving while they were back east, which allowed us to do more checking things out while seeing what it's like to live in a solar-powered house. We really like all these people and they have all been extremely generous in encouraging us and helping us, which made us very interested in being there. So at the end of the housesitting trip, Rick decided to put in a low-ball offer on the land, which was accepted on December 4, and they closed the deal on January 7.

What's the land like, and what do we plan to do with it? The land is hilly (near the top of the first major upslope from the ocean) and forested, but it was heavily logged in 1995 or 1996, meaning there are still trees on it, but no large redwoods or sellable trees, and they left lots of big slash piles, bulldozer tracks, and skid roads on the land. (Loggers only want the trunk of the tree, and not all of that, so they cut off the branches and tops and leave them there. Also, if there are trees they don't want in the way of a tree they do want, they just bulldoze the unwanted trees over. All this unwanted tree matter is bulldozed into big piles called slash piles. Often these are burned, hence the phrase "slash and burn." The skid roads are made by dragging a tree sideways behind a tractor to make a path big enough for the trucks and other heavy equipment to pass through.) These areas are now mostly overgrown with low brush as the forest starts to reclaim the land. The soil on the land is mostly sandstone and clay, so the forest really has to work at it to grow in the first place. About an acre and a half, terraced into two levels, was cleared in the area with the best ocean view. That spot is reached by driving just over a mile on a dirt road, some of which is in great shape and some of which is not. This part of California gets a great deal of rain in the winter, when it gets cold but never really freezes; summers are generally dry and pretty hot, but we've been told that when the fog comes in over the ocean it acts like an air conditioner to cool things off.

"Undeveloped" land means: no electricity, no gas, no cable, no phone, no water, no well, no sewer, no septic field, no buildings. Just land with trees and bushes and critters on it. In order for us to stay on the land while we're there, we purchased a used, 30-foot, fifth-wheel trailer and a used four-wheel drive pickup truck, which we leave parked at the airport while we're gone. We also purchased a second-hand (but never used), 6.3-kilowatt generator that runs on propane. All of this we purchased in December before Rick had even closed on the land, and each item sort of showed up in our life and came to us with minimal effort and for good prices. We also bought a new chainsaw and new chipper to start cutting up and grinding up the slash piles -- the chips give us something better to walk on than mud in the winter and dust in the summer, and the smaller pieces will start to compost faster than whole slash piles. Rick did a great deal of online research so he knew what kinds of gear we wanted, plus other people offered us advice and their experience so we could avoid their mistakes.

The trailer was put in a temporary spot in late December, and in early March, during a brief respite in the rain and thanks to our new neighbors finding us someone with the appropriate tow truck, it was relocated to the ocean view site. Two weeks later we took delivery on two 2500-gallon water tanks (which were subsequently filled with 3800 gallons of water) and a 250-gallon propane tank. Last Friday we had a 10x12 shed installed, which is now the home for a new composting toilet (a great Canadian design, of course). In late May we will put six solar panels on the roof of the shed, and a whole bunch of batteries (also great Canadian products) and an inverter and other electrical system gear will go inside it. In early May we also plan to get phone service, which will entail us running cable through the trees for about 2000 feet (really, no kidding).The local people have been extremely friendly and helpful so we were able to easily hire these services and get all this stuff installed quickly.

What's next? We have no immediate plans to build a house there, although we might in a year or two. Rick has installed a weather station that records data, even when we're not there, so we can get to know the weather patterns. A few weeks ago we hired a local forester while Molly's dad, John, who is also a forester, was visiting. We walked the land with them for a few hours, starting to learn about how to help the forest regrow in a healthy manner. Eighty acres is a piece one-half mile by one-quarter mile, so it will take us awhile to get to know it all and start to make plans. We are interested in learning how to be good stewards of the land and letting it tell us how we should best do that, so we are in no hurry.

In the meantime, we are hoping folks will want to come visit us there to see the land, share in our visioning of how best to care for it, and maybe help with some chipping :-). During the day you can enjoy the sound of the wind in the pines and the ocean in the distance, and on clear nights there is a breathtaking view of the stars. We now have the basic necessities there and since the rainy season is just about over, we can start to do a lot of work and continue exploring the land. For visitors, the trailer has a comfortable foldout sofa (as reported by two guests so far), so we can have a single person or a couple stay with us, but people can also bring camping gear and just pitch a tent on the land. For those who are not so enthusiastic about rustic living, there are accommodations five miles away in Point Arena, ranging from a basic motel to lovely hotels with fireplaces and ocean views. When folks let us know that they want to visit, we will work out transportation.

What was the stuff at the beginning again? "Sustainable living" broadly means cohabiting with the plants and other animals in your area and getting your needs met in a way that allows everyone continued living into the indefinite future (e.g., not polluting, not using resources faster than nature can replenish them). We may take a course in sustainable and natural building methods in September, which means using as much local material as possible and doing as little harm to the environment while you accommodate your own living needs. The trailer is an example of transition technology to more sustainable living. Solar power is also transition technology, but much closer to the sustainable end of the spectrum than fossil fuel. We have a great deal to learn about all this. Fortunately for us, people have been developing the skills and techniques for decades (in some cases, for centuries) that we can now benefit from.

The land is zoned to prevent sprawl, so it cannot be subdivided and only one house can be built on it, although we can also have a barn, a studio, a toolshed, and other outbuildings that are not intended to be habitations. This is a very good thing, but it has an impact on Molly's ideas about intentional community, which basically means a group of people who share a stated set of values and want to live in some kind of shared lifestyle. There are many kinds of intentional communities -- urban and rural, religious and secular, large and small, residence only and residence-plus-business(es)-- and there are over 1000 of them in North America alone. The communities Molly has visited so far all have a shared community building where people eat together and gather socially, and separate, small dwellings for the people who live there. Other aspects of their lives include organic gardens, land stewardship, sometimes animals (chickens and goats), living sustainably, and educating the public about how we can transition to lifestyles that are more in harmony with the earth while still getting the needs of a sophisticated population met. But most importantly intentional community is about building relationships with each other, healing and growing, learning how to effectively resolve conflict, and finding the balance between community needs and personal privacy. We are just beginning our investigation into what all this means, but Northern California has a lot of people doing this kind of work and providing related support systems for it, so we are looking forward to meeting more of these people and seeing what might work for us and what might not.

Are we planning to move from San Diego? No, at least not right away. Rick is in no hurry to sell his San Diego house, and he currently has a full-time consulting gig with the Classroom of the Future Foundation, designing and providing support technology to help teachers in the classroom, which he enjoys very much. Molly may very soon begin spending most of her time in Point Arena, with Rick flying back and forth, but we also have several trips planned in the upcoming months, so we'll be taking it all a day at a time.

This brings you pretty much up to date. We anticipate that folks receiving this email who are interested in what we're doing will have questions, so what we'll do is collect them and answer them in batches to the list whenever we send updates. Let us know if you want to be on the list within a week or so (although we can add people any time), and we'll send the next update just to those who are interested so the rest of you aren't bombarded with unwanted email.

To view the pictures of our progress so far, go to http://www.amazingpossibilities.org/moatcreek/
hugs to all,

Rick and Molly

(continue to Adventure #2) (link to index of pictures)