Saturday, June 30, 2012


So, I says to Brent, I says, "I need a place to have a fire at night." 

"Okey-doke. Let's go to the rust pile." This, I'm learning, is where all magical things are found.

He pulls out an old steel garbage drum, fires up the blow torch and cuts off the bottom third.

Then, he puts in a few side holes for aeration:

 And just like that, a new fire pit!

Of course, we had to break it in right away and get us some firewood. So Brent's grandson, Levi (age 12), drove us to "the bush", an area of our land that is pretty wild, with the Pembina River running through it. In rural areas, most kids start driving on the farm pretty young. Mama Iva tells me stories about her driving the truck at age 10, barely old enough to see over the dash, so she could help the men in the fields.

Brent brought a chainsaw, Levi, an axe, and I just picked up whatever was on the ground. Then, we emptied out all the firewood that was stored in the basement of the old house - Brent passed it to us through an open hole and we loaded in to the back of the truck so it could dry out. I'm also keeping additional firewood in the old kitchen behind my camper - the house may be unlivable but it's handy for storage. 

Levi, in action. And yes, behind him is yet another cool pick-up truck (circa '71) that lives here in the yard.

Just in time for company!

And later, a fire all to myself....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Watery Debate

As I watch Colorado suffer devastating wildfires and endure triple-digit heat, I ponder a recent conversation that revealed two very different perspectives on the value of water.

Marc Piscotty/Getty Images North America
Here at SCRANCH, I am in charge of securing my own water - Brent has made damn sure about that. About once a week or so, I fire up the '57 Chevy that carries the water tank and I park it near The Mae Flower. In about 20 minutes, Mae's 30-gallon tank is filled to capacity and I'm good to go. I filled 'er up today and it's a grand feeling to have a fresh water stock. I only started enjoying hot water last Saturday so I'm living large, daily showers and everything.

Securing water for the tank was one of my first tests of farm girl independence. After Brent taught me how to drive that '57 beauty (when was the last time you used an engine choke?), I headed off down the road, bouncing and creaking, to the neighbor's spigot, where they let me fill up to my thirsty heart's content. Obtaining all 300 gallons took about 45 minutes so I just sat, read and listened to bird song in the duration; it's one of my favorite 'chores.'

When I returned back to the farm and went to fill up Mae, I noticed that the valve on the tank had a pretty big leak. Watching that water spurt out onto the wooden truck bed and down on the gravel, pained me something awful. So, I fetched a bucket and caught the water, dumping it back into the tank, so it wouldn't be wasted.

Later, that day, I told Brent about the leak and how I'd caught the water.

"Well, you don't have to worry about the water leaking out. But I'll just dump out the tank and put a new valve on, it'll be good as n-"

"You are NOT going to dump all that water out! I just filled it up!" 

"Whoa! It's not that bigga deal, Heather. It's just water. Holy Moly." 

"Well, where I come from, water is a VERY big deal! I've lived in two drought-prone states, California and Colorado, and they both fight over the same river for their water. I'm telling you, you BETTER not dump out that water!"

"Well, up here in the north, we don't think about water like that. We have plenty of-"


Off on a watery tangent, I went on to describe the "Use Only What You Need" signs all over Denver lawns, imploring citizens to use water sparingly and how some communities offer homeowner tax breaks for xeriscape yards sowing indigenous plants with low-water needs.

Then, I told him about the LA fines for letting water run out on the sidewalk, how neighbors will turn chronic water wasters in via 1-800-DIAL-DWP. I described water-saving "lawns" in LA - flat cement painted green or just plain ol' astro-turf. (I showed an example of the latter to Kirk when we were in Beverly Hills, he couldn't believe it.)

"....and we were trained in school to turn off the shower when we lathered up our shampoo, something I STILL do! YOU CANNOT JUST DUMP OUT THAT WATER!" 

"Okay, okay! Jeez!" 

Poor Brent. He'd tripped a wire I didn't even know I had. Later, he told Manny (my neighbor/cousin who let us borrow the water tank) about the valve leak. Manny's response?

"Well, just dump out the water and get a new valve on there."

"No can do," Brent tells him. "Heather got pretty upset about that so we just have to hope she starts taking long showers and doing lots of dishes. This could take awhile."

Manny was mystified and remains so.


Average rainfall from places I've lived: 

Long Beach, California: 12.94"
Hermosa Beach, California: 13.17"
San Francisco, California: 22.28"
Denver, Colorado: 15.81"
Neche, North Dakota: 18.25"

I can tell you that the only complaint I had about living in Colorado was the lack of moisture, which came as quite a shock after moving from the foggiest neighborhood in San Francisco. Instead of wearing wool in July, I had a water bottle strapped to my side, swallowed fish oil tablets every day, squirted eye drops, watched my hair go flat and occasionally, applied a Q-tip of olive oil up my nose before bed so it wouldn't bleed. 

Being back in a land of humidity is wonderful - my hair, skin and eyes thank me every day. And I haven't watered my garden a single time since I got here - but that's tomorrow's 'chore.'

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The New Arrival

This is Brent, freaking out.
The other night, I found Brent like this - leaning up against his truck, staring off in to space. Rarely does one see him be still or silent, so I had to inquire:

"What's going on?" 
"Wellll, I finally bit the bullet and bought a new grain bin," he said, with a groan. 
"That's great! Right? Why don't you sound happy about it?" 
"Because I bought a used one and they are going to pay for shipping and, well, I'm not ready for it." 
"When will it be here?" 
"Tomorrow. I have no gravel down, no cement floor and I have no idea where to put it." 

Once again, I was no help at all, so I did what I always do, took his picture. Good news is, he no longer notices.

Sure enough, the next day, I was about to head to Walhalla to return a DVD ("The Debt" - loved it!) and buy me a popsicle when I saw a "WIDE LOAD" come creeping down the highway. I headed back, grabbed the camera and well... I took more photos.

About this point, I realize that the new giant bin is headed straight for my garden and then I start freaking out. But what am I going to do, start screaming like a banshee? "My BABIES!!!" No. I just had to hold my breath and hope that Brent would have enough foresight to protect my wee farm.

Holy shit, this was close! The big ass truck is right on the eastern edge of the plot, up alongside my will-they-or-won't-they-grow watermelons. Just looking at this image makes my stomach lurch a bit.

I wondered how the hell the bin was going to get upright but I'm slowly starting to realize just how big a role hydraulics plays in farming. 

The bin will stay there until Brent can prepare a proper spot for it, like a cement base or gravel floor. In the meantime, he worries, "I hope it doesn't blow away." I'd love to say he's kidding but the winds can be quite fierce and if it's watermelons won't know what hit 'em.

Meantime, the SCRANCH skyline now has a modern, updated look!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

When in Doubt, Look Up

I'm not gonna lie. There are moments when I wonder what it is I am doing here.

Yesterday evening, I was so tired and grumpy, covered in insect bites and staring at my camper toilet that will not flush. Facing reality, I grabbed a shovel and went into the field, looking for the best spot to dig a hole. I never thought all that pooping in the African bush ("going to the bog") would come in handy but there ya go. It's not the first time, I have pulled from past experience here in NoDak.

Anyway, I have to believe that I am here for a reason and even in my heart, which is missing family, friends and Kirk so much, knows that it may all be clear someday, even if it's not today.

One day, Brent looked over at one of the grain bins and said, "Now why is that roof door open? Must be all the wind." Then, I watched the big man scramble up the side, climb onto to the roof and shut it. When he came down, he said, "Good view of your garden up there. You should take pictures."

And so I did. Except that I almost didn't. I started to go up the ladder, got to the top and then remembered that I am afraid of heights. So I came back down, walked a few steps away and heard my inner voice yell, "Chicken!"

Not sure if I've ever made this clear but my inner voice belongs to a 9-year-old boy who is an asshole. 

So now, every week, I manage to lug my ass to the top of the bin and get a few aerial shots of the garden. These were taken June 13:

Western side, facing North
Eastern side, facing North
While I was up there, I grabbed a few shots of the farm:

Facing south

Facing west

Facing east - my trailer is now parked in front of the house.

I took some shots a few days ago, June 20, showing some progress, though still hard to tell:

 This shot cracked up me up:

Evidently, when Kirk planted the lettuce, both ends of the seed packet were open. "I wondered why I ran out of seeds so quickly!" So, we'll have a big giant tuft of lettuce outside the approved lines - heavens!


My favorite conversation from last week:

Brent: "I need a favor."
Me: "I owe you about 6,000 favors so yes, please start cashing in." 
Brent: "Well, I need to store a body."
Me: "Somehow, I always knew this question would come to me. I just never thought it'd be here." 
Brent: "Not sure how you feel about that..."
Me: "Hey, if it means company, I'm all for it. Plus, I'll bet he's a good listener." 

A friend of Brent's had died in a motorcycle accident and the son wanted the hearse stored overnight somewhere for fear of .... not sure. Anyway, in the end, the son changed his mind so no stiff guests for me.

But if anyone out there needs to hide a corpse, I have the space - dry ice not included.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Big Move

This was the view out my front door tonight and really, if I found a pot of gold here on SCRANCH, it would not go to waste. Hell, I spent all the gold already just to get here.

Monday was a big day. I went for my first big run since I got here - 3.3 miles straight north, up a dirt road, pretty much to the Canadian border, then home again. I'm hoping to expand this mileage and run at least 3x per week. Hopefully, I won't get run over by a tractor.

Then, I marched into the bushy area between the two houses - what used to be a gorgeous garden when I was a kid - and attacked all the dead branches with a clipper and a hand saw. I emerged several hours later scratched up and bitten but victorious: My first burn pile!

Sawing above my head, I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut, lest I ingest chunky plumb tree sawdust. Keeping my yapper shut is good practice for me anyway.

But the big news on was Time. As much as I loved having The Mae Flower behind the super-testosterone shop and astride the rust pile looking out to the church, her time had come to move on up to the west side.

Goodbye, Rust Pile!
The overall plan for me, as far as Brent is concerned, is that I should be as self-sufficient as possible, requiring as little or no trailer movement. Poor guy - he wants his life back, pre-Heather!

The move toward this ideal began one early morning, when I was awakened by Brent and his young electrician friend, Deanie, digging up the yard to lay down new electrical wire to Brent's childhood home. (My mom calls is "Perry's house" - Perry was Brent's dad.)

Deanie - multi-tasking.
So my new spot would have its own electrical box - done. Next up, sewer connection so I don't have to driver Mae to some dumping station to get rid of my dishwater and sewage. Although Brent hasn't lived in the house since the mid-80s, he knew that exactly where the sewer was and, hey, why couldn't I connect that way?

So, Brent and my cousin, Glen, got together and spent the afternoon building me my very own above-ground triple-pipe connection to the rural sewer system.

I felt kinda silly just standing around watching these two men - both of whom I have known my entire life - work so hard on this project. Out of the kindness of their hearts, they created a system to help me deal with my shit, literally.

Meanwhile, Brent tried to make me feel useful by having me fetch screwdrivers and whatnot but otherwise, I just kept taking photos. In situations like these, I'm not good for much else.

At long last, the connections were made and the levers pulled...the whooshing sound of nearly two weeks of waste water build up successfully sent to its proper place. Success! This means that whenever the levels get too high, I just walk outside, pull a few tabs and the issue is dissolved.

And then, just like that - meaning two days later - a rainbow appeared.