Transition Whatcom

Back in 1999 I went in on 20 undeveloped acres of land in rural Whatcom County with some friends. Our plan was to create a small community, start with one shared house and expand out to several dwellings over time. I moved my converted school-bus, w/skylights, bedloft, propane appliances and great storage, onto the property early in 2000 and started clearing garden space. As it happened, the land partners found themselves unable to occupy the land for various reasons, seasons went by, and I continued to plug away at homesteading, mostly alone but occasionally with friends or a crew from our Permaculture group. I continued to clear small trees and brush by axe and hand, cut trails, leveled a few campsites, planted fruit and nut trees and harvested a heck of a lot of food, both domestic and wild. It was my little slice of Eden, my Walden. For several years I hauled all my drinking water from a spring on the property and harvested water for the gardens from the roofs of sheds and outhouse. Life was tuned to the rhythm of nettles and Thimbleberry, of eagle and Western Tanager, coyote and mountain beaver. My best friends were a cat, a Weather Radio and NPR. I timed my supply runs to beat the snowstorms by minutes, then hunkered down in a pristine white world, going out to take in the purity, to dig carrots from under the snow and to follow the tracks of critters I hadn't known were my close neighbors. I gloried in aurora borealis on many autumn nights and drove up through thick fog to find it swirling about my feet, drowning the lights in the valley while the clear sky above was lit with stars as thick as cream. Bliss.

But after staying there for most of 8 years I still did not have the capital needed to improve infrastructure and  tendinitis prevented me from building any permanent sweat equity. Though it was achingly beautiful during the warm June rains, lush and gorgeous as any jungle, I found myself to be equally achingly lonely. I could not do it alone. Nature in all her beauty was swallowing me whole. I retreated to the city.

After awhile I found some renters to care-take the place. They promised to keep things up, consult on some projects, maintain trails and gardens and keep the bus clean and dry. After a year I found that the entire place was neglected, degraded, piled with trash and every lease agreement had been broken. It broke my heart to see it disrespected this way and to top it off my favorite giant spruce had come down in a storm but I don't expect Nature to follow My rules. I moved out the renters, cleaned up most of the trash and gave it a rest for a few years. I go out there once in awhile to see what flowers are blooming, harvest some berries, get some pure well water and to clear the brush away from the fruit trees and trails. I'm feeling ready to let someone else have a try at it though I'm not advertising, just putting it out to the universe that I am ready. If someone comes along that has a vision and respect for nature, that doesn't mind paying a little rent and keeping up some gardens and trails in exchange for some creative space in the near-wilderness then I wouldn't mind buying them some recycled construction materials to build their hut, yurt or whatnot. The bus needs a good scrubbing and a great deal of love to be habitable. Perhaps an enlightened mechanic would get it running in lieu of rent. I hope that someone will find it and experience the joy I found there for so long. I may get back to it yet in a few years. Meanwhile, the deer are doing the pruning as the eagles and ravens watch over my little piece of heaven which I sometimes called "Rich's National Park", as I took inspiration from the wilderness campsites I visited in the North Cascades. Aho!

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Comment by Megan A. Barnes on May 17, 2013 at 11:52pm
Your post is beautiful, a dream, I tried to live something similar to yours, after living in the City but Single parenting was a tough juggle and simple demands of nature did not work for our survival, so I've entered a part of the Rat Race(for now)...I will keep my ears open and pass to you any perspective Garden Tender~Tenants:-)
Comment by Richard Chrappa on May 13, 2013 at 4:38pm

Thank you Heather and Garrett! I'm not in a position to sell even if I cared to but I would never sell to a developer. This land has become sacred to me; I planted seedling forest trees there that I hope to see in their maturity. Last weekend I camped there and heard the unearthly calls of a mated pair of Barred Owls. Yet another unique experience that ties me to the land! One of these days I will lead an edible plant walk there. There is a staggering amount of biomass and a great diversity of edible native plants. Now would be a good time to do a Spring Plant Walk to point out what all the wild edibles look like in their flowering stage! I'd be willing to do this as an evening activity after work sometime as the weekends are already booked up til June!

Comment by Heather K on May 13, 2013 at 12:42pm

Richard your story is beautiful! 

I am thankful you still are caring for the land even when you are not there physically.

I have gratitude towards those who help preserve our wilder forests & meadows by the 'privilege' of  pay land taxes, rather than selling out to developers.  May the ideal person emerge to care for your wild permaculture park.

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