Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure #2

Date: Sun, 4 Jul 2004
From: Molly Morgan <morganm@sdsc.edu>
Subject: #2: Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure

Dear Family and Friends -

This is the second issue of our email newsletter about the land in Mendocino County that we are enjoying and exploring. We received a lot of enthusiastic responses to our first message, and we are gratified to know that so many people are interested and cheering us on from afar.

Infrastructure update - Phone service.

The first weekend in May we got phone service. Continuing the trend for this project so far, we had extraordinary service from Pam, the SBC engineer in Fort Bragg, a town about an hour's drive north of Point Arena. (SBC is the phone company.)

As you may recall, getting phone service in the trailer would involve us running phone cable a little more than 2,000 feet through the woods. Rick had checked into what kind of cable we needed, but it turned out not to be easy to obtain. The phone installation was scheduled for a Monday, and on Friday night at 7:30 pm we got a call from Pam, who working late. After learning of our dilemma, she offered to GIVE us almost 3,000 feet of cable from the phone company's supply yard, and she was even trying to figure out how she could personally drive it down to Point Arena over the weekend! We saved her some trouble by saying she could drop it off at a our friend Alis's house in Fort Bragg (without asking Alis first, or even knowing if she was in town). Alis was very gracious about taking delivery of all this cable, and Pam even dropped off some connectors, connection boxes, and handwritten instructions. The next day we flew to the airport closest to Fort Bragg and Alis drove the cable to us. We loaded up the plane and flew to Ocean Ridge, still in a state of wonderment at all this generosity and helpfulness.

(We asked Pam how we could pay for the cable. She told us it would cost more to figure out how to do that -- the phone company doesn't sell cable -- than it was worth. Amazing!)

On Monday morning the phone installer showed up, attached a few wires, and turned on the service at the pole nearest to the road. His work was done and ours just beginning. We had earlier bushwhacked through the woods and marked the most direct path (after a few false starts), and now we had to get the cable through a culvert, along the side of the road, and down the path to the trailer. Since Rick was still healing from arthroscopic knee surgery four weeks earlier, he did the brain work (connecting the three reels of cable) and Molly did more of the back work, unrolling the spools of cable (which weighed about 30 pounds each) on the ground. In the middle of this process, Rick had to be on a conference call, so he took the phone up to the pole and plugged it in while Molly kept working on unrolling the cable through the woods. Finally we made it down to the trailer, where the connections were a challenge (fine wires and a tight space to work in), but Rick finally got it to work. Dial tone! It was kind of exciting.

Three weeks later, when Molly was on the land alone, the phone started periodically not working. One minute it was fine, the next it was dead. It worked at the pole (a 15-minute hike from the trailer, but better than no phone at all), and there were no apparent problems with the cable in the woods, so when Rick arrived a few days later, he reconnected the wires at the first junction box between the three cables. He had to do this a couple of times over the next few weeks before the problem was solved. Oh, the joys of country living!

Infrastructure update - Solar electricity.

Then, on June 3 and 4, our solar system was installed. Rick helped the workers, including building a 5x3x2-foot box for the batteries, which are enormous (125 pounds apiece!). The rack to put the panels on the roof of the shed was backordered, as were half the batteries, but in two days the guys did enough to get the system up and running (the solar panels are on a sloping part of the ground behind the shed that happens to be just the right angle for summer sun). A local contractor, Mendocino Solar, did the installation and we're quite pleased with the quality of the referrals and the work folks have done for us. The missing components have now arrived, and we're scheduled to get the work finalized on July 5. It is quite exciting to see how much electricity the solar panels can generate even when the weather is overcast and gray.

We are now experimenting, learning how the electricity we use affects the reservoir batteries. We have numerous gauges, meters, and computer-controlled displays to monitor the system. Previously, the only kind of electricity we had without running the generator was direct current from the 12-volt batteries in the trailer -- meaning no alternating current outlets worked. The solar power system provides for both direct and alternating current, meaning one thing we can now plug in is an answering machine! It is a big improvement for people to be able to leave us a message when we're in the shed using the composting toilet, or out chipping.

Basically, we now have everything we need to live comfortably on the land, which will give us more time for exploring, getting to know the place, and figuring out what our role here is.

Bushwhacking and interesting discoveries.

One thing we had never found was the SE corner marker of the property (the other three corners had already been located). Rick has a handheld GPS unit (Global Positioning Satellite -- a gizmo that tells you where in the world you are) and with that handy assistance we were able to get a better indication of where to look for the corner marker. After bushwhacking up a steep creekside area on the far side of the road, we found it! Now we have a better sense of where our property line crosses Moat Creek, where a couple of our neighbors draw their water (which is not legal, but...). Rick is now creating a map overlaying the corners of the property and the plot points of the road onto the topographical map, which will be helpful for everyone (especially Molly) to better understand what we have on our land.

One of the challenges we have is that we do not have a legal easement to use part of the road we must drive on to get to the trailer. We hope to obtain this after winning the confidence of the people who own that land, but in the meantime we are also scoping out possible routes in case we have to build another road (not an optimal choice either environmentally or cost-wise, but as good an excuse as any to go hiking around). There is an old logging road below the home site that is still in pretty good shape and might be put to this purpose, so we set out to see just how close the end of it comes to the current road. We separated, investigating two possible routes to the main road, but were able to stay in communication with very cool little walkie-talkies. On Rick's route, he tripped over some barbed wire and tumbled into (we later found out) poison oak! He was itching and oozing for more than two weeks on the insides of both arms, his chin, two fingers, and parts of both thighs, but we're happy to report that he's now healing up just fine. A High Priority Project is now going to be researching poison oak removal!

Between the two of us on that day, we found three more spots on our land that have been used in the past to grow, um, medicinal herbs, including one that is very near the road and well camouflaged. We are slowly getting used to this. Another cleanup project for the near future.... As we poke around, we are occasionally finding junk like chicken wire, water pipes, plastic sheeting, and old beer bottles, which we haul out to recycle or toss, as appropriate.

Growing Soil.

Molly has been taking a composting class and learning a lot. As we mentioned before, there are two terraced areas where our clearing is. The trailer is on the higher spot, and Molly is planning to try for a garden in the lower spot. It is very flat and quite large (100 feet long and 60-70 feet wide), but the soil is so infertile there that it's almost like being on the beach. In order to put a garden there by next spring, a lot of soil amendment will be needed. In the next edition of the newsletter, we'll let you know how this project is moving along.

Your Questions.

A few of you, when you wrote back, had questions, and as we mentioned in the first message, we'll try to answer them here.

What kinds of trees are still left on the property and what kinds of wildlife are in the area? The trees are mostly bishop pine, redwood, and Douglas fir. We also have some tan oak, manzanita, and madrone. Since the land was heavily logged eight or nine years ago, the dominant tree is bishop pine, which are not a very strong trees, and in the heavy winds of the area, are subject to a lot of breaking, making them even weaker -- and leading to some very weird shapes as they grow. Occasionally the bizarre shapes are quite beautiful, but most of them, frankly, are rather ugly. We have dozens of standing dead or almost-dead bishop pine near the trailer and in many other spots all over the land. Near Moat Creek, where the terrain is very steep and the loggers aren't supposed to cut because of watershed protection, we have some bigger redwoods, but in all the other areas most of them are small as they try to regrow after the logging. The growing conditions are not terrific in any case -- crummy soil -- so the forest really has to work at it to be here in the first place.

In May we were delighted to find the forest dotted around with beautiful purple wild iris, which lasted about a month, and also big rhododendron bushes, which bloomed for about two weeks. There is also a beautiful orange endangered lily (apparently the deer like to eat them). We also have ferns, at least three main types of grasses, and several other ground cover plants we don't know the names of.

As for wild life, all we have actually seen so far is deer and rabbits. (Lotta deer; the first thing you have to put up if you want a garden is a deer fence.) We also have evidence of a burrowing animal, maybe moles or gophers, but haven't actually seen any yet. Friends have also seen mountain lions and a bear. Last week Molly had a field mouse in the trailer, so we bought an electronic gizmo that is supposed to make it intolerable for them to want to hang around. So far, we haven't had to use the mousetrap (whew!). We are hoping to see more wildlife as time goes on, but so far, we haven't seen too much on our land. And not too many birds, either -- primarily crows and turkey vultures soaring on the wind, but also occasionally hawks and woodpeckers. If we do something like put in a pond or learn what critters like to eat and plant some of it, we might attract some more forest friends.

Have you located a spot for a well? Do you or your neighbors have information as to where water might be located? Our neighbors who know this piece of land pretty well feel strongly that we have plenty of water. There are boggy spots in a number of areas, and at least two spots we have found so far with active streams draining into Moat Creek. We think Moat Creek flows all year round, but the flow in the drainage streams is down to a trickle, so they probably dry up in the summer. One experiment we may do this summer is dig a hole in one or more of the boggy areas, line it with stones, and see if it fills up with water to find out if it stays wet all year. We are using a very small amount of water. We do not have facilities to do laundry there, so we either bring it back to San Diego or go to the laundromat in nearby Anchor Bay. We have no garden. And the composting toilet doesn't use water, so the only water usage we have is drinking, bathing (which only requires one or two gallons per sun shower if you turn the water off while lathering), and washing dishes (also a very small amount). So the 3,800 gallons of water we had delivered a few months ago will last us a long, long time, and if needed, we can get another delivery by truck.

Digging a well can be an expensive proposition, and we've been told you can be on the waiting list for many months. At present, this is ok. None of the changes we've made to the land are permanent -- everything we've put there to make life comfortable can be removed as easily as it was put in (the shed would be the hardest thing to take out; it's pretty heavy). We probably won't dig a well until we're pretty convinced that the current spot where the trailer is located is the best building spot, whether we build anything there or not. (Having a well increases the value of the land.) There are higher spots on the land, which might possibly be better building sites, but we don't know whether the work involved in clearing another site would be worth it -- but we want to check it out first.

This area gets an average of about 40 inches of rain a year, almost all of which falls between October and April. So water tables rise during the winter and then steadily decline throughout the summer. If we drill for a well, the best time to do it is in August or September, when the water is really low, so we probably won't do it for another year.

There are plenty of new pictures on the website, which is http://www.amazingpossibilities.org/moatcreek. The new pictures start with image #73.

hugs to all,

Rick and Molly

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