Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure #4

Date: July 1, 2005 (Canada Day, eh?)
From: Molly Morgan <morganm@sdsc.edu>
Subject: #4: Rick and Molly's Moat Creek Adventure

Dear Family and Friends -

It has been seven months since we've written -- sorry for the long delay! Part of the reason is that through the winter we did not spend very much time on the land. We were in Ottawa for the Christmas/New Year's holiday, and after that good flying weather did not often coincide with Rick's availability from work. So for several months the trips we were able to make were few in number, short in duration, and often focused on spending time talking with folks rather than getting very much work done. However, some important developments have happened. New pictures start on the website http://www.amazingpossibilities.org/moatcreek with picture #131.

Resolution of Boundary Line Adjustment (BLA)

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, after we achieved a comfortable temporary living situation on the land, our number one priority was to resolve the boundary line problem with our neighbor, Riley, whose house and garden are on our land. If that was the only piece of the puzzle, it would have been a relatively simple effort to swap the same-sized piece of land on each side of our shared boundary, file it with the county, and call it a day. But the story was more complicated than that. Way more complicated!

In order to grant his wife a divorce a few years ago without losing his land, Riley had to take out a big loan and take on land partners, John and Robbin, who agreed to arrange a loan and pay off his ex-wife in exchange for a 25% interest in his property. (John and Robbin became our friends during our land purchase and really helped us understand the community.) The loan was interest-only with a huge balloon payment in five years at an exorbitant rate (13%), so if anything bad happened and the loan went into default, they risked having the loan holder foreclosing on the land and logging his 140 acres that hadn't been logged in 30 years and probably has a half-million dollars worth of trees on it. Bad? Well, the relationship between Riley, John, and Robbin had seriously deteriorated such that they told us they hadn't spoken to each other in two years despite living together in a 1,000 square foot home. And the house wasn't up to code and had been cited by the county years ago. And we learned that two previous attempts to resolve the BLA had gone nowhere. So there were lots of risks and complications.

Rick offered to refinance the loan so that risk would be off the table and to work out the details of the BLA, if we all could just agree to resolve this. And over a period of many months from January to November, we had a number of conversations with all parties, plus an attorney, a surveyor, our real estate agent, and a boundary line adjustment expert. A big stumbling block to solving the problem is that neither piece of land can be subdivided -- meaning that Riley couldn't split his land in half to give his wife a divorce, nor can he just give 25% of his land to John and Robbin to dissolve their partnership, nor sell a piece of it to get out of debt. A sale had to be all or nothing. We hoped that we could find a way to get everyone's needs met fairly in some sort of negotiation that turned on the boundary line adjustment.

And -- we did! One fortunate turn of events was that Riley's daughter, who'd just returned to the area after living in Japan for two years, was very helpful as a go-between in talking with everyone, especially her dad. She was the one who actually suggested the idea that Rick finally turned into a proposal that we all agreed to -- couldn't her dad exchange more land to get himself out of debt?

So, here's the deal. Rick gives up about two acres for Riley's home and garden with a great view of the ocean in exchange for Riley giving Rick 63 acres of ravines with a couple of creeks and some forest . Rick forgives the loan, takes on Robbin and John as land partners, and pushed through the refinance and BLA process. Our BLA expert, who's handling all the paperwork for us, ran the idea by the folks at the County of Mendocino and no one saw any problem with this plan, which just amazed us. Apparently, as long as both parcels of land stay below 160 acres, the minimum parcel size for Timber Production Zone, they don't care. So after we made the agreement, we filed the paperwork with the county, which will later go to the Coastal Commission, and in a year or less we expect they'll approve it and it will be a done deal. This happened in February, and at this point we're just waiting.

This turn of events was not one we could have even guessed a year and a half ago when we bought the land! And we didn't mention it in our earlier newsletters because we didn't know how it might turn out. Since making this deal with Riley, we have begun to figure out what our partnership with John and Robbin will be like. There's a lot to sort out and discuss, but we can't take any definitive actions (like filing for building permits) until the BLA is finalized and legal. For now we're just focusing on figuring out what we all want and how we can make this work. This will be a major part of our updates in the future!

We are Visited by a Bear

But we didn't actually see it. During one visit last winter we noticed that our composting bin had big dents in it! The only thing big enough to have caused this is a bear, which we assume pushed down on the top and then moved on (nothing really interesting in that bin). A few weeks later, when we were walking through the woods, we found pile of bear barf (we assume) that smelled strongly of apples.... and Riley's garden has very productive apple trees that bears have been known to visit. We later heard that county wildlife officials had trapped and relocated a bear from our area, although this wasn't confirmed. But we haven't seen any bear signs since.

In other wild animal news, Rick recently saw a bobcat cruising across the road.

The only other critters we've seen have been mice. We finally gave up on non-killing efforts to keep mice out of the trailer and resorted to mousetraps. But we put the dead mice near the edge of the clearing and they disappear quickly, so at least they're not being wasted in the food chain. We haven't completely eradicated mice from the trailer, but at least now we don't have mouse droppings on the kitchen counter!


We had two more burnouts of the same problem component in our solar power system in the spring months. As we mentioned earlier, our solar power provider has been just wonderful to deal with, making the trek to replace the unit and working with the manufacturer to try to solve the problem. We think we have it licked now. (Technical detail: the manufacturer, Outback, had a few other customers with similar failures, put their best engineers on this for a couple of weeks, and found a microcode glitch that, under rare timing conditions in our configuration, could short out two high-power transistors; new code, problem solved!)

Twice we've lost dial tone on our phone because a critter has chewed the line. When it goes dead in the trailer, we have to walk along the entire line in the woods until we find a place where the bad spot is and Rick splices and repairs it. This is an inconvenience that will be nice not to have at some time in the future when the phone line is trenched!

The heavy winter rains have resulted in discovering that our trailer has leaks in the roof. We have learned that in trailers, where you see the water damage is not necessarily where the leak is. We also had a leak along one of the slideouts, which did a bit of damage to the kitchen floor. We did a temporary repair on that one using duct tape, but we need to get it all fixed before next winter. A local repair person (local: two hours away in Ukiah) has told us the roof will not last another winter, so it will have to be towed to the shop for a couple of weeks for repairs later this month.

More wood splitting

Our projects while on the land haven't changed -- we're continuing to clean up the slash piles and have split a LOT of wood, which we continue to give away. Rick is now thinking of purchasing a log splitter, which makes long-term financial sense against the cost of renting. The splitter, unlike the chainsaw and chipper, is a machine that can be used by one person, and Molly is proud of having rented the splitter and done a big pile of wood all on her own! Molly is the champion splitter now, and we've racked up over 12 fireplace cords from just two of our slash piles. One thing that moved the slash pile clearing project along was using the truck and a chain to pull some of the more buried logs out of the dirt so we could cut them. But some logs are just buried too deep for the truck, however, so Rick decided he needed more power and a better tool, which leads to the story of....

The Day AAA Paid for Itself

Rick has been wanting a tractor for months. Then in the ICO (Independent Coast Observer, the local weekly newspaper) there was an ad for a second-hand tractor for more money than we wanted to spend but with more implements than we probably needed. Rick and John (with Molly tagging along) went to check it out one Saturday a few weeks ago, after which both did some research on the model (a Kubota L3450, 36 hp diesel), what a reasonable price would be, and so forth. And the following Saturday, after some final negotiating with the seller, we bought it! It took the better part of the day for Rick and John (with a little assistance from Robbin and Molly) to attach the backhoe to the tractor (the woman who was selling it didn't know where all the parts were, as her husband had just passed away, so there was a bit of a scavenger hunt) and then to make sure we had everything for the other implements. We loaded all the parts (including a 50-gallon drum of diesel fuel) onto our pickup trucks, both ours and John and Robbin's. Then began the convoy to Moat Creek -- the tractor only goes 10 mph, so it took 90 minutes to go about 12 miles. Rick went first, driving the tractor, followed by Molly in one truck and John and Robbin in another. We started the trek about 4:45 pm on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. For the first part of the trip, we had to go several miles down Route 1, the scenic (gorgeous ocean views) main north-south road and popular with tourists.

Things were going fine for about 10 minutes until a CHP (California Highway Patrol) car went by going the other direction. (We've hardly ever seen any law enforcement vehicles of any kind around here, so it was amazing timing.) He was Not Happy with us. The law in California says you have to pull over as soon as it's safe to do so if you have five cars behind you and let them pass. We were doing that, but because he didn't realize two of the vehicles following Rick were in the convoy, he thought we weren't doing that. Fortunately, John, the local, sweet-talked our way out of it, and we proceeded on our journey after getting an official ass-chewing for being a traffic hazard (the cop's words).

As you can see in the photos, the tractor has many attachments -- loader, backhoe, fork lift tines, rototiller, posthole-digger, mower (for mowing wide swaths in big fields). The woman had already sold the box scraper, an attachment for doing road work that has a scarifiers (fancy name of big teeth that hang down) for breaking up the hard ground, a box for gathering up the loose stuff, and two blades for smoothing out what's left behind. But that turned out fine because John and Rick later went to a dealer in Santa Rosa and bought a heavier-duty one for a good price. It was an exciting day to get the tractor on the land.... but not as exciting as the next day would turn out to be.

Rick wanted to start using the tractor for slash pile work, so the next afternoon, he dived in. We looped the heavy chain around various trunks and stumps in the slash pile (one at a time), looped the other end around the fork lift tines, and that tractor pulled them right out. It was way cool! But after at least half a dozen successful pulls, Rick was working on a bit of a slope and the fork lift tines, with a big, heavy log attached, slid toward the downhill slope . . . and . . . slowly . . . over . . . Rick . . . went! It happened very slowly and the tractor had those big bars over the top as rollover protection, so Rick was able to walk off with nary a scratch. Molly, who was undoing the chain on the previous log and had her back turned during the whole thing (and didn't hear anything because we both had hearing protection on), turned around to see the tractor on its side and Rick standing next to it. Yikes!

We called John for advice. Woke him up from a nice Sunday afternoon nap. How does one get a tractor right-side up?? His first question: Do you have AAA? Well, yes, Molly said. "The towing company in Elk does this all the time," he explained. Elk is about half an hour north of Point Arena and has a population of maybe 40 people and three yellow tow trucks. So Molly called the toll-free number for AAA. The conversation was entertaining after the operator answered.

"Hi, we need to get a tow truck. We have a tractor on its side."

Pause. "I don't think we do tractors," she said.

"Yeah, you do. Look for your operator in Elk, California and give them a ring. It'll be the only one there." So she did. She then tried to do her job, asking the usual AAA questions ("What's your closest cross street?" is particularly hilarious for our location) until Molly convinced her to just patch her through to the towing company. And about an hour later, the truck showed up, and the winch did the job! Check out the pictures to see this whole saga.

The next morning Rick flew back to San Diego so John came over to do an assessment of the damage on his own, which was amazingly little. Kubota clearly builds tractors with heavy duty steel that can take being rolled over and back again. In fact, the engine and hydraulics were still working while the tractor was on its side! The only damage was where the backhoe rubbed against a tree and broke off two hydraulic hose attachments. So, Rick and John used the opportunity the following weekend to repair those fittings, replace all the fluids and filters, check all the hoses, essentially doing an 800-hour maintenance checklist, and the tractor runs just fine now.

Other Updates

The plane has a home in Point Arena. In May, a hangar became available at Ocean Ridge, the little airport Rick flies into up here. It's only about a foot wider than the wingspan of the plane, but Rick and John will put some rails into the ground so that it will be easy to get the plane in without smacking the wing tips. At the back of the plane behind the wings there is a lot of room for storage in the hangar, which John and Robbin are starting to put to use.

Since April, Molly has been spending most of her time in Point Arena, with occasional trips back to San Diego. Rick's Classroom of the Future Foundation job is continuing to make San Diego his primary residence, but with the better summer weather he is coming to Point Arena almost every weekend.

Late in the spring Molly learned of an opportunity to do a work-trade at Emerald Earth, the nearby intentional community where she took the natural building class last fall. In exchange for work, Molly gets to live in the community. Molly will spend the months of June, August, and October living at Emerald Earth in a big tent and doing 25 hours of work gardening, building with sustainable materials, and just generally helping out with what needs to be done. It's turning into a very fruitful learning experience, and some of the connections Molly makes here may be very helpful with our plans if we build a house on the Point Arena land.

That's it for now!

hugs to all,
Rick and Molly

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