Hello, All! We’re ashamed to admit it’s been a whole year since our last post… Here we are in 2020, and wow! Just, WOW!! April 2019 seems like a lifetime ago with all that has taken place for us personally and in the big wide world we all share. At this time, we are sending our sincerest heartfelt wishes to everyone for good health and happiness while the planet and all of humanity endures the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sure there is plenty more to say here on the topic of global health crisis and the virtues of off-grid living, but we’d like to instead focus on a personal recap as a reflection and, we hope, as a much-needed distraction… So, here goes our year-in-review!
After we returned from our adventures in Ireland, life changed pretty dramatically for us at Sahalee. Namely, we started playing with fire. (Insert maniacal laugh here.) Thinking about the fire risk in our local forests and more closely on our fifteen acres around the yurt deck was terrifying as we headed into the Spring season. We knew we had to make wood clearing an active priority on our property to reduce flammable materials, and we wanted to become better educated about how we as landowners could work more closely with local fire agencies in the event we did have a wildfire start nearby. As it so happened, the opportunity came up for us to take part in a 2-day Prescribed Burn Workshop for Landowners hosted by the Forest Stewards Guild at the enchanting Fort Union Ranch in May. That was the tipping point to a series of unexpected and significant events that will be shared over the course of this post…
At the workshop (coinciding with Ben’s birthday), we assumed the role of wildland firefighters complete with yellow shirts, packs, and drip torches working side-by-side with leading professionals in the fire business. It was an amazing experience learning the basics of how to plan and execute prescribed burns on private land in real-time. It was a mentally- and physically-grueling undertaking to go ‘hiking with fire’ as we practiced LCES – Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes, and Safety zones – intentionally starting fires and then watching them burn.
You can view more photos of the action on the stunning ranch to give yourselves an idea, but we both came back ‘fired up’ to play a more active role in preventing and responding to wildfires in New Mexico- Especially Ben who’s always had a dream to be a real firefighter!!
The relationships we made there with the good people of the Forest Stewards Guild, Nature Conservancy, Western Landowners Alliance, New Mexico Prescribed Fire Council and more provided encouragement for Ben to proceed with more in-depth training and fire studies. By August, Ben was officially on board as a volunteer member of Cuba Fire Rescue and took advantage of the local training opportunities for both structure and wildland firefighting. With this commitment to the local volunteer fire department, it became apparent that responding to emergency calls from Sahalee wasn’t ideal. On good days when the road was dry, Ben can make it to the station in about twelve minutes. On other days, he has no choice but to stay behind.
With Ben’s new pursuits in fire and Carey working on economic and community development in town a few days a week with Americorps VISTA, we were essentially living double lives at this point… This turn of events had us now thinking about buying a little place in town that would help us work around inclement weather (saving us the expense of hotel stays or 2-mile uphill hikes when were were stuck out), serve as a storefront office for our consulting business, provide parking and storage space, and potentially give us an additional revenue stream as a vacation rental for New Mexico’s growing outdoor recreation economy. Major life decisions were being made, but at no point did we consider moving away from Sahalee and our off-grid dreams.
While we passively looked for Main Street real estate, life went on off-grid… Ben pulled in a few pounds of potatoes from his third attempt, we put up a new cover over the woodpile and started cutting firewood for winter, moved the outhouse, started the workshop, changed out a CV joint on the Ranger, replaced the spark plug wires and distributor cap on the Toyota, upgraded our water filtration, started using a REAL refrigerator, tried making adobe bricks, upgraded the yurt straps, and spent plenty of time on the deck watching the epic hummingbird circus.
Not to say that we stayed put the whole time… We took time to go backpacking in the Gila, enjoyed another slam-tastic Dead South concert, hosted family and friends, drank a few pints, and visited favorite places like Pittsburgh, Echo Amphitheater, Ghost Ranch, the Santuario de Chimayo, and raced exotic cars in Las Vegas. Oh! And, we had the pleasure to share a delicious meal with Yurt Daddy and Coco at Bruno’s when they passed through town.
All that being said and done, the fire focus and community work continued. Carey started a website and newsletter series for Cuba’s business community, staffed the Cuba Visitors Center, and successfully organized a kick-off expo for MFG DAY in New Mexico. We both worked the Sandoval County Fair and parade in August and the Cuba Fiestas in September. Ben attended the San Juan TREX to continue his fire credentialing, and we attended the Fire Adapted New Mexico Learning Exchange in October at the nearby Girl Scouts’ Rancho del Chaparral with other residents and fire practitioners. We had just about resumed our old citified stride by the time the holidays came, whereas we made it to Gunnison for Thanksgiving, spent an always magical snow day at Tamaya, had a quiet Christmas in Abiquiu, and made it to midnight on New Year’s Eve with fireside fondue and great friends.
At the start of 2020, we dove right in with the inaugural run of the ‘Sahalee Sluicers‘ (t-shirts coming soon). This winter was the best sledding year yet with great snow, more established runs, and an upgrade to our flying saucers. Mark was brave enough to fly on in and down the hill with us as we perfected the 3-seat bob style, and we closed out the evening with another round of fireside fondue. A new tradition!!
Shortly thereafter, another door opened. Well, make that several doors. The first being that Ben was offered the opportunity to apply for a full-time seasonal position with the US Air Force Wildland Fire Module at Kirtland AFB through his associations with the Forest Stewards Guild. We had a few weeks full of application drills, interviews, and anticipation. Finally receiving word of his acceptance, Ben started on a 6-month contract reporting to base February 3rd, shortly before we made a quick trip to Florida for a big barn wedding and fun-filled visits out-and-about with friends and family. (Radar came with us. Carey wore a bandana over her face on the plane amid coronavirus concerns. Ben did not.)
Just around the same time, our offer on a sleeper property in Cuba was accepted and we went ahead with appraisals, surveys, financing, etc. YIKES! In the weeks ahead of closing, we stayed in a couple of fine Airbnb‘s near Kirtland to save Ben the 90-min. commute from Cuba (one-way). We took full advantage of learning the neighborhoods, and were quick to find our favorite urban spots where Radar was welcome. Even so, we were getting pretty antsy to move back to the hills.
On March 16, heavy with anxiety about the mounting pandemic, we relocated to our new old adobe casa where we proceeded to stay for thirty days to abide by the just-enacted home isolation orders made by the Governor of New Mexico (now in effect until May 15). The bonus of the whole deal, however, is that we have plenty of home improvement projects to give our attention to at the new property, which turns out also has an adobe casita- another place to renovate! (Stay tuned for more about our new Cuba casa and casita.)
Admittedly, it was pretty tough going for us to leave Sahalee and to live on-grid for so long of a stretch. (Although, hot showers, washing clothes without going to the laundromat, and sinks of warm soapy water have been luxurious.) And, so here we have ‘come full circle’ back at the yurt for the time being. The future has yet to be seen, but we know that we have preparations to make for our next off-grid season… Finishing the workshop, vehicle maintenance, cutting and hauling firewood, sealing the deck, rainwater catchment, solar hot water heater, stocking food, building trails and fire breaks, and the list goes on.
Ben is set to resume his assignment at Kirtland in the coming weeks, and is eagerly awaiting calls to respond to the next fire emergency. Carey will be continuing to rehab the new place in town and looks forward to hosting visitors when the quarantine ends. As always, we offer an open invitation to all for when the time is right. Taking one day at a time, we hope to be making more regular blog posts and wish the very best for you all during these strange times. Peace!