Ramblings: Equinox, Light and Dark, Day and Night, and Keeping Things the Same or Not

Although I’m still in recovery phase and sometimes reduced to typing one-handed, I need to write like I need to breathe, especially when I have so many things queued in my mind to share!

Yesterday (at the time of writing this) was Spring Equinox.  It was beautiful here, and mostly sunny:

The Upper Columbia by Northport WA

The roads have rivulets running through them and every day I look out my window to see the patch of exposed earth expanded and the snow, in retreat.  The morning silence has been replaced by a morning song that makes my heart giddy with anticipation.  Yesterday was especially alive.  I saw Loons returning to the pond next-door for the first time; and familiar Stellar Jays back in the trees that skirt the house.  I also made friends with this Robin, who stretched its wings and pulled at the long stalks of dried grass, but didn’t fly away even when the dogs came out barking.

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We decided to make Equinox a relaxed, family-focused day.  There was a nice breakfast, conversation and music, and hanging out on the deck just to enjoy the invigorating warmth of sunlight’s visible resurrection on earth.  A brief wind swept through the valley, across the hills, and took the power with it, altering dinner plans.  Of course the vote resulted in forgoing the granny stove and firing-up the BBQ, which then necessitated a “quick trip” to the closest store – 12 miles and 25 minutes north of here.  And there commenced the first part of our adventure – getting down the hill and into town, a large portion of that road being unpaved and water-logged, in the little Hyundai rental car my husband had driven home while the 4×4 was getting fixed from its rather fortunate intersection with a guardrail.  (Fortunate because the guardrail didn’t waiver in its charge of guarding against the cliff and deep river below.)  The Hyundai, too, didn’t waiver.   In fact, we couldn’t believe how well it did in this environment and it was nice not to watch the gas gauge dropping as we drove!

The trip was as breathtaking as ever; we hadn’t been for almost a month and the changes were striking.  They have the river at the lowest I’ve ever seen it in preparation for all the melt water, to the point that it is mostly divided in two:

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When we got there the store had a sign on the door, “Closed due to a power outage.  See you tomorrow.”  I hadn’t thought of that!  The beauty of small-town life!  I voted for returning home and firing up the granny stove, but was out voted.  Thus we continued on to the main town, now nearly 40 miles away down the other side of the river.  The highway we were driving on is only a mile due east of “our road” which lines the west-side of the river, but  the two roads seem to be a world different in terms of, well, everything – the forests are different, the topography is different,  the geology is different, of course the views are different…even the play of light and shadow looks entirely different to me.

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We took the the time to stop directly across the river from “our hill.”  Our hill is the land immediately on the other side of the water, on the left. (Above)  The spot where we stopped happens to be a popular boat launch.  There is a map for this place that demonstrates the circle formed by the north and south bridges, the highway and our road, encouraging travelers to drive the scenic circle – the very thing we were doing, even if that hadn’t been our aim.  It seemed strange to encourage travelers to do this, however, given that a third of the trip would be across a washboard of non-maintained dirt; but OK.  It is exceptionally beautiful country and the school bus drives that section of dirt road everyday, so why not include it in the scenic route I guess.

From this map I also learned that it’s exactly 66.6 miles for us to do the circle – from our door and back around.  Seemingly a strange and particular number for display on a map.  Also my anniversary numbers, so maybe it was fate.  However this wasn’t the distance for us right now, as when we got to the place where we’d need to turn to cross back over the river (at the southern bridge), we went the opposite way, another 15 miles further east to town.  All said and done our “quick trip to the store” turned into a four hour expedition.  In the end it was still a day of fun and we had our BBQ.  We even splurged on a seven-layer chocolate cake from the bakery to add to our celebration.  We enjoyed the glorious day, and witnessed the awakening world first hand.  Of course everyone was up until Midnight…

Speaking of which.  I think I know our “neighbors” on the hill are rather suspicious of the fact that we don’t set our bedtime by the sun.  We were told, kindly but pointedly, that going to bed at sunset is “going to bed on time.”   In testament to this, there are no outside lights here, on the property or anywhere around, really.  The previous owners assured us that there is simply no need;  “everyone is in bed when it gets dark.”  In fact, I can’t think of a home with a bright porch light that isn’t a vacation home.  Even the two large bridges remain unidentified by miscellaneous lights or reflectors; even the busiest roads are kept pitch black at night.  I thought I had lived in the middle of nowhere before, but this is truly the rugged, wild wilderness complete with mountain lions, wolves and bears.  There are times when everything is simply the same shade of dark; a little light could be a handy thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m definitely not a move-to-the-country-and-light-it-up-like-the-city type of girl; I prefer the light of the stars.  But I assure you that the Fed Ex man delivering a package in the middle of winter would have really appreciated better a bit of visibility as he traipsed up through the woods.

While most of the westernized world is just coming back around to the notion of living off-grid, here they have never forgotten it.  The oldest generation of locals tend to have spent their childhoods on a remote homestead in one of the lush valleys or carved out of the woods and hills.  The back-to-the-landers came and filled in some of the spaces, mostly in the 70’s.  People my age were raised by them.  The grid didn’t even exist on this road until the mid-80’s.  So it’s a new thing.  And if that sounds sarcastic, it’s truly not.  The large workshop is better supplied with hanging oil lamps than it is with electric lights, and that’s something I love about this place.

So no sooner had I concluded that the seeming local resistance to too many light bulbs was a product of their strong off-grid genetics, I realized that even then it boils down to just what the previous owners assured, "everyone is in bed when it gets dark.”  Which is simply another way of saying, “we live by the sun.” Because, you see, we’re not talking about a heritage of off-grid systems with the modern benefits of LEDs and large solar arrays; were talking about woodstoves and oil lamps, generators, 12-Volt and/or the occasional small solar panel.  And the barnyard stirs long before daylight does so it just makes sense to go to bed with the sun, or soon thereafter.

When you go to bed with the sun, what constitutes getting up on time, I wondered?  It turns out that for most of year, for most of my neighbors that answer is 4 am.  That might explain those strangely popular early morning drop-overs!  And this may actually be one of the few places where Daylight Savings Time, though I detest it, manages to make sense to the majority.

Although my husband works more than a full-time job, with strange hours to boot, and although it was a Saturday, one of our favorite folks up here half-jokingly let us know that not being “up, at ‘em and ready to converse” with him at 7 am (the time it happened to be when he stopped in for coffee) could only mean we were “living the life of Riley.”  His tone didn’t make it sound like a positive thing.  He made it sound like we’d put ourselves in danger of catching the plague; dejected and full of warning.  As he climbed back into his old farm truck, I wanted to interject that it was quite an assumption that I even had a functional comprehension of some idiom from before my time, especially at such an hour of the morning, but I held back the feistiness.  I really just wanted to crawl back into bed while the sun was still low enough behind the trees  to not wake the kids.  And I didn’t feel guilty for it, either.  We are quiet and hard-working, but we are night owls all the same.  I’m not up partying; it’s like my brain kicks into gear as soon as the sun goes down.  Should I blame a childhood spent in Las Vegas?  I don’t know.  But I do strangely sleep best with sunlight streaming through my window and my greatest moments of inspiration tend to unfold from epiphanies at a quarter-till-three in the morning.  I have always been that way.

The previous owners both kept full-time jobs as they shaped the 20 acres of productive homestead from raw forest land – of course that required getting up at four and going to bed with the sun. Yes, we’ve put in our own hard work to get to this dream of ours – but good neighbor doesn’t know that.  To him it must look like we have it rather easy coming up here and living a schedule shaped by our preferences as much as by our needs.  

On the undercurrent of this is that we are the first to buy one of the established homesteads up on this hill; literally the first family to come live among the originals who migrated here together as back-to-landers in the 1970s.  That explains a lot.  At the heart of it,  good neighbor simply wants to assure the blood, sweat and tears that he witnessed being poured into this place across thirty-odd years aren’t wasted.  He wants us to see the true value in what we have.  He worries when we’re “burning daylight” with sleep.

The previous owners were nice enough to leave us with a folder of pages that constitute a basic manual on how to run the place.  And perhaps more importantly; how not to offend. The pages tells us how to keep the lights and water running, the house warm and the critters at bay.  When it comes to not setting ourselves apart from the neighbors, it illuminates the appropriate timing for certain events (like shoveling out the mailbox and burning leaves).  But then, stressed by letters large and bold is this:  “Don’t forget to make it your own.”

It’s a sentiment I truly appreciate.  They have passed the torch and it’s up to us what happens next.  They are fully anticipating their energy to change form.  Now, just knowing that the other so-called “newcomer” we’ve met has lived on our road for 19 years and owns two of the ten businesses in town, I’m guessing they may be predominately alone in their thinking – but it is at least nice to know that they aren’t expecting us to keep  things the same.  I believe they recognize that we have our own big dreams.

While we plan on living within a functional, bioregional network of others, which naturally requires a certain foundation of integration, (which I am eager for and strive to remain conscious of), we are all about doing things with a new mindset. I think there’s been plenty of opportunities to see by now that problems aren’t truly resolved by the same mentality that created them and the time has come to shake-up the pattern.  In other words, if the powers-that-be are saying the answer is ‘Z’ – I say scratch that and let’s try A, B, and C first, instead.  We need new solutions born from new directions of thinking.  We need to transcend the ingrained construct.  We need to satisfy our hearts by valuing ourselves above material gain.  Thus we appear to be charged with cultivating the potentials that make our lives truly our own, in true service to our actual needs and what actually fulfills us.

The former owners looked at these acres of wild woods and dreamed of its potential as a homestead.  We look at this homestead and dream of its potential as a sustainable community.  Stay tuned.

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