“A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.”
Willa Cather O Pioneers! 1913
“A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.”
Willa Cather O Pioneers! 1913
I have made it clear to my son’s Boy Scout Troop that I would like to outlaw camping between the months of November through April. I love to hike in the winter, no problem… so long as I am moving, all is well. I like camping… in the summer when conditions might turn adverse, but they will more likely be fine. However, camping in February in the Pacific North West, on the boarder of a rainforest, nearly guarantees foul weather. So with the proposed February backpacking campout, I had my misgivings, but I diligently checked the weather forecast and lo a window of clear sky from Saturday to Sunday morning…. perfect.
The drive up the peninsula along the Puget Sound was perfect, but as we drew near our destination the snow and rain mix came sporadically which was ominous. We turned off into the Dosewallips area and came quickly into old snow, 6 inches of old wet snow.
Now if you could see past what promised to be a cold and wet experience, the Dosewallips river was breathtaking; a true mountain river running blue in it’s rapids with great boulders scattered in the midst of it so perfectly like they had been placed there by the mighty hand of God. The trees were classic rainforest, completely engulfed in mosses and licorice fern and the running water trickling through the forest converging into little riverlets and waterfalls and rushing toward a union with the Dosewallips.
Our intention was to hike up to the Dosewallips campground about 5.5 miles, but conditions on the trail were slow, and some of the boys and maybe an adult or two were struggling at about 1.5 miles. So we were flexible and went back to the Elkhorn Campground around the 1 mile mark. At this time I could barely feel my little toes, and I knew that when we stopped walking, I was going to get cold really fast. We had all dressed in layers and adjusted those layers to keep from overheating. The worst thing to do is to work up a sweat and then stop in the cold.
Once we reached camp everyone naturally started setting up their tents. As I looked around I saw 2 methods for setting up in the snow. Some tents were set up right on top of the snow, others stamped down the snow thoroughly before setting up. With both methods observed I can attest that stamping down an area is essential. The snow melts as you lay on it, and for those who put their tents on fluffy snow the ground becomes uneven, causing unevenness in the ground tarp. This created areas where the melted snow ran in between the ground tarp and the tent which led to wet sleeping bags and very unhappy campers.
The next order of business was fire. A group of boys were dispatched to dig a latrine while the rest of us gathered firewood…. very saturated wet firewood. As an interesting side note, one of the adults on our trip was in the Army and had been dropped during his survival training in the wilderness (I’m not sure how long) but the story I heard was that when they dropped him he was given 2 matches, and when they picked him up he still had one left, which he has framed in his home. So I went with this gentleman to gather dry tinder. We went to the evergreen trees and looked up. We couldn’t cut anything of course, but we looked for dead bits and branches that came away easily. The first cedar we found had all kinds “needles” turned rust colored that we gathered and bundles together tightly. We also found some dead small branches up underneath the trees that we broke up and bundled. These tight bundles create greater mass and less air so that they don’t burn up too quickly, and a slower burn will help dry out the wetter wood. Now the larger logs that we gathered also needed to be cut into small pieces so that they would catch easier. This fire, in the rain, with wet wood needed plenty of feeding and tending. We used an army issue plate to fan the fire (save your breath if possible), and diligent gathering and stoking. Here are the results:
When it’s hypothermia weather, cold and wet, fire is a lifeline. Once the coals were developed we could dry out the things that had succumbed to the rain and I thawed my little toes.
Which reminds me, my shoes were definitely sub-par. My hiking boots fell apart right before the trip, and being a busy mom I didn’t have a chance to drive to the city and get a new pair, soooooo I went in my tennis shoes. I know, not too smart, but I truly did not anticipate snow. Now, what is that Boy Scout Motto? Be Prepared? Oh, ya. So just because I didn’t anticipate it does not mean I shouldn’t have been prepared for it. The good news is I had plenty of wool socks and I had a plastic garbage bag. I cut little booties out of the garbage bag and put those down in my shoes before putting my stocking feet in there. I also dried my shoes by the fire every chance I had. So I did just fine but it would have been far better to have a sturdy pair of waterproof hiking boots. Your feet really are everything when you’re out in the wilderness.
On our Boy Scout outings the boys plan their own meals and cook them. They make their plan and provide a shopping list for an adult to go pick up. If it’s not on the list, it isn’t purchased or provided. I bought my son a hiking cookbook. It considers weight in the recipes and lists all ingredients and tools needed to create these items. My son was not present at the planning meeting so he had no idea what he was walking into, however I’m not sure if it would have been any better if he had planned, considering he has never read the cookbook I provided. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Three things I noticed about their food… it was heavy, they had no cooking oil, and they did not have the proper tools to cook. For example, pancakes for breakfast with no surface to cook them on, and no oil or butter to ensure that they did not stick. They cooked them in a mess kit pot and the cakes would not turn and ended up a goopy mess. My son said he felt like he had eaten gruel all weekend, but the lesson is that next time he goes on a trip like this he will think about weight, oil and cooking implements.
The adults on the other hand had beef stroganoff for dinner with real steak, and fresh baked cinnamon rolls, pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The cinnamon rolls were made in a homemade light weight Dutch oven. Coals went underneath a round pizza like plate, three aluminum legs held a second pizza plate on top. The center was wrapped in aluminum foil. Then more coals went on top. Using this contraption the cinnamon rolls were baked to perfection. Then the top section was removed and the bottom pizza plate was used to cook the pancakes. Here are some other great ideas for homemade ovens: http://usscouts.org/cooking/BackpackDutchOven.pdf
One last note about this trip. While camping I was reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and in the first chapter Laura tells about her father’s method for smoking meat. His smoker was made out of a hollowed tree with a door in the front and a little roof on top. He would hang the meat on nails inside the tree, then build a fire out of fresh green hickory wood chips and then close the door and let them smoke for several days never letting the fire die. On our drive home we saw this by the roadside:
In the greater scheme of history, cookbooks have not always been readily available for the common household, nor have the books (or blogs) with housekeeping advice that is now so plentiful for the modern household. More often, a girl learned from her mother how to cook and keep house. Diets were simpler and regional. If you grew up in Norway for example, you learned from your family and neighbors how to cook Norwegian food. For those who could write, some recipes were written down, but often learned by heart as well. The first American cookbook, according to The Pioneer Village Cookbook” by Ann Chandonnet (2010) was called American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons and wasn’t published until 1796. Here is her recipe for Simmons’ Pompkin Pie,
“One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.” (hmmm)
During the 19th century, cookbooks and books on housekeeping started to come into use more regularly, but were still rare. Another interesting book in this area is The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child first published in 1829. It contains interesting bits of advice like this:
“Barley Straw is the best for beds; dry corn husks, slit into shreds are far better than straw” (who knew?)
“Keep a course broom for the cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things” (I remember this one every time I take my good broom outside). But the volume has all sorts of advice ranging from keeping an immaculate apartment, preparing the cheapest cuts of meat, raising children (play is not encouraged, children should learn to enjoy being productive so that life is more pleasant in the long run), cheap dyes, and of course recipes like this:
“Cider Cake is very good, to be baked in small loaves. One pound and a half of sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider, one teaspoon full of pearlash; spice to your taste. Bake until it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.” Notice the lack of precision in this recipe. These sorts of recipes also assume that the cook already has plenty of baking experience. While these old cookbooks are fun to read some of the recipes are not advisable to try… health codes have changed.
What we would now call a recipe was known pre-20th Century as a “receipt”. A receipt could even be used to describe any set of how-to instructions including this wonderful excerpt from a fundraising “Kokebok” I found. This book was pulished by the Ladies of the Sons of Norway Lodge #44 Poulsbo, WA in 1966, but the excerpt is attributed to being much older.
For your enjoyment I will print it in full:
“A “RECEIPT” FOR WASHING CLOTHES BEFORE THE 20TH CENTURY” provided by Mrs. Paulmer Slind
This is the original spelling.
1. Bild a fire in the back yard to heet kettle of rain water.
2. Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.
3. Shave on hole cake soap in bilin water.
4. Sort things, make three piles. 1 pile white. 1 pile cullord, 1 pile work britches and rags.
5. Stur flour in cold water to smooth then thin down with biling water.
6. Rub dirty spots on board, then bile – rub cullord but don’t bile –
7. Take white things out of kettle with broom stick handle then rench, blew and starch.
8. Spree tee towels on grass.
9. Hang old rags on fence.
10. Pore rench water in flour bed.
11. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.
12. Turn tubs upside down.
13. Go put on clean dress– smooth hair with side combs–brew cup of tee– set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.
I so enjoy reading these bits out of the lives of our predecessors. I can see right into the day of an American family as close and fresh as any American novel, bringing history more fully to life. They tell a story of love and care, principles and economy, of the joy of a hard earned rest at the end of the day and a slower pace of world.
I thought today I would share my simply kitchen and bath cleaning regimen. For bathroom and kitchen cleaning I use primarily two ingredients: Baking Soda and White Distilled Vinegar.
Baking Soda is great for toilets, sinks, bathtubs and anything that needs a good scrub. I buy most things in bulk and consequently a bag of Baking Soda may be used for both cleaning and cooking. I didn’t want to always be dipping into the same bag for grossly different tasks. So I “decant” into jars. I keep a jar in the baking cupboard and another jar in my cleaning kit. The cleaning jar is a regular canning jar that has holes punched in the top (with a nail and hammer) to make my own shaker. As a side not I like Classico jars for this, in fact if I have to buy a can of pasta sauce I usually buy Classico because they use real Atlas jars that can be reused to can your own pasta sauce. Now you can simply pour your Soda and scrub.
For a simple spray I find an old spray bottle. Be sure that your bottle is clean and fully rinsed. It is not advisable to mix vinegar and bleach as it creates noxious fumes. My cleaner is one part water and one part vinegar. I also add to this a few dashes of lemon juice and occasionally some scented oil to make it more pleasant. But remember the vinegar smell evaporates quickly when used. I use this mixture for countertops, fixtures, appliances, toilet seats, linoleum floors… just about anywhere. Vinegar is a natural antibacterial agent and it’s cheap!
Another use for this mighty duo is a good sink cleanse. According to my roto-rooter guy it is a good idea to flush your sink drains once a month to prevent build up. Go ahead and pour some baking soda down the drain, then chase it with a cup of vinegar. It will make a satisfying fizzing noise. Then after your solution has sat for a bit boil a kettle of water and pour it down your drains. That should keep things running smoothly.
Don’t forget to use baking soda and vinegar in your laundry. Baking soda in the wash cycle will freshen clothes and vinegar in the rinse will do the same as well as soften fabrics….this is a great safe option for cloth diapers, but NOT if you use Bleach.
I could go on, because the uses seem endless, but just these little ideas will make a big difference on the pocket book.
Every once in a while our steady Pacific Northwest rains and mists turn into storms as they did last night. It was near dark and the winds were whistling down our chimney and I thought, “Time for a walk”. So I bundled up and grabbed my reluctant husband and headed for the hill for a bit of exercise. The hill is the road stretching up behind our house. It’s long and it’s steep and from up there the hills beyond stretch on and on to the horizon. Last night the Douglas Firs, straight and fearfully tall swayed drunkenly in the high winds. The rain coming in sideways blasted my face and when we reached the top I threw off my hood and thought of Whitman:
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15755#sthash.or3dDIsf.dpuf
It was dreadfully exciting. There was a moment that I looked up into the trees and envisioned a widow maker careening down on us, and that maybe Josh and I shouldn’t walk so close together, you know, so our children don’t become orphans. So I ran down the hill like a reckless child, just this side of maintaining control. I love free entertainment. Free as the air we breath and my two feet beneath me.
My mother is a gardener. I don’t mean this lightly. Most days if you try and call the house and ask for Mom they’ll say she’s outside. I call during a cold day with a heavy mist, she is out in the garden and maybe if it’s a torrential downpour she’ll instead be in the greenhouse. But just as often she’ll be in the garden fully rain-geared because the more weeds you pull in winter the easier the summer will be. In the summer she goes out after dinner and is only driven indoors in the late NW daylight by the relentless mosquitoes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that a little bit of “homesteading” comes natural to me. At the very least I watched my mother work hard on the land and enjoy it. She instilled in me a work ethic and showed me that things like gardening don’t necessarily stop for any season. And though it’s taken me a while, I enjoy gardening now too.
I grew up in the country building fires in the fireplace, riding and keeping horses, and growing our own food but I never thought I would need these sorts of skills to survive. Life does take unexpected twists. It might be that the skills I learned when I was young, and have built on over the years may now become completely necessary.
I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Instead, after college, I went into the family furniture business and then fairly quickly I had a family of my own and discovered that I didn’t have the gumption to leave the family business; not with the stability it gave me and mine. Fast forward to the Great Recession and our stores took on a steady decline. Furniture stores and factories folded under the initial pressure but we held on for dear life until 2013 when the end became inevitable. I’m still not sure how it happened, and I’m still in shock because we had worked so hard for so long. It was like a death. And to make matters worse, my parents, brother, sister and brother-in-law, all made their livings there. I was the first to go… and I try not to take that personal, but I was the first. My job, mostly in communications and media, was taken over by a third party. So as of September I was unemployed for the first time in nearly 22 years. And my entire safety net, my extended family were soon at loose ends too.
At first I was scared and thrilled. I could choose a new career now, one that I had always wanted without letting anybody down. I even thought I might enjoy being out of work a little. I would spring clean the house and do some writing and work in the yard. In the beginning I dedicated myself to looking at jobs and dreaming of new careers, dragging out my rusty resume skills, and working the garden with renewed necessity. My income was instantly cut in half so I needed to immediately adjust by cutting bills like slimming down the phone service, grooming the cocker spaniel myself, cutting the kids hair, growing more food and canning it, making all our meals from scratch, splitting wood to cut our winter bills and analyzing every expense until nothing extraneous existed. That was month number one.
There’s a strange madness that goes along with drawing unemployment for me. First of all, I hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the help (which I did earn) and I know not everybody qualifies and I should be grateful. But confession, I’m not. I don’t like the way being of officially unemployed makes me feel. First, you feel the pressure to get back to work quickly. At my first scouring of want ads here, there, and everywhere I quickly learned that there are not many openings in communications or writing in my area. Many writing jobs wouldn’t qualify as a true job search entry anyway. So, I’m left applying for jobs in which I’m not that interested, and that I’m not at all qualified to do. I might have had overinflated self esteem but I honesty thought I was a desirable employee who can do just about anything and I was really confused that the local fishery sent me a rejection letter. And the rejection letters are the worst. I get a least one a week and they keep coming. Now the unemployment people want me to be spending more time on searching for a job, and I’ll try, but honestly I need the occasional mental break from rejection and to do things that are life affirming, creative and productive. I want out of official unemployment and am considering how to get out, even if I’m never hired.
So to keep from going crazy I started making things, studying old time country skills, writing, traveling, and even dabbling in community building. These are the sorts of things I want to tell you about. I don’t have much going for me in the traditional career sense, but I’m making do, and discovering what calls to me in the making of it.