A few months ago, Jeremy and I made a very big purchase—we bought 29 acres of clear-cut forest land near Wind River along the Columbia River Gorge. This was something that happened quickly in many ways, and very slowly in others. As long as I can remember, I’ve always imagined my permanent home as someplace rural with lots of green land and trees and big open skies all around. That’s the kind of environment I’ve envisioned for raising a family, and the kind of place that always just felt like home in the corners my mind. For a long time it just seemed like a pipe dream, I was living in Los Angeles for years and then about 4 years ago Jeremy and I bought a house in Portland and moved back up to Oregon. We moved fairly close to a lot of hiking trails along the Columbia River Gorge, so we found ourselves heading out there pretty regularly.
The Columbia River Gorge is by and large my favorite place in the world. It’s basically a huge, wide river that winds and cuts between small mountains and cliffs along each side of the river. It also acts as the border between the states of Oregon and Washington, and has little islands in some part of it, too. It’s lush and green and majestic, and so crazy enormous that it makes you feel incredibly small in the best possible way. Like all yours fears and anxieties don’t matter, and all you have to do it breathe in and out and keep staring into the Gorge and you’ll be fine. I remember many drives along the Oregon side of the gorge, where I’d stare at the bluffs along the Washington side and imagine who the people were that got to live up there, and what it must be like to live in a place that looks like heaven came down to earth. I’d dreamed about living up there since I was a kid, but it was the kind of dream you don’t really tell a lot of people about because it’s kind of silly and you’re afraid that if you say it out loud it won’t come true. So I kept my little dream to myself for a long, long time.
On The Look Out
And then last year, I realized that we were finally in a place financially that we could actually look at getting a property loan and making a real, live homestead happen. In the spring of 2017, I went around the gorge area and looked at some properties but nothing felt quite right. They were either too mountainous, too small, or didn’t have much in terms of a view. I really had my heart set on being able to look out my window and see the Gorge everyday, so having a view was the number one requirement, but that meant that properties in our budget (under 200k) were few and far between. So I figured we’d wait a bit and try looking again later.
Then in the summer of 2017, the Eagle Creek wildfire hit the Columbia River Gorge, taking out 49,000 acres of old growth forest. Photos and videos of the Gorge engulfed in flames were everywhere, and no one in the northwest could look away. As a human being and an Oregonian, I feel very tied to the landscape around me. Watching the fire engulf my favorite place in the world was almost indescribable. I was watching my dreams burn; and it felt like I was slowly loosing a part of myself and a very dear friend at the same time. I had so many beautiful memories of hikes with Jeremy along the trails, and to know that they were literally turned to ash was heartbreaking. And with no rain in the forecasts, there was no end in sight. There’s a very intense sense of despair that comes over you when you’re watching something you love burn to the ground, and you know there’s nothing you can do to make it stop.
During the first few days of the wildfire, it spread extremely quickly due to high winds and very dry conditions. At the rate and direction the fire was burning, it would have taken out our house in NE Portland within another couple days. I had to leave Portland to host my workshop in Bordeaux after the first couple days of the fire, so I packed one small box of my favorite things in case Jeremy had to evacuate the house quickly while I was gone. I called my parents and talked to them about coming to help load the animals into the cars and pack up so Jeremy had more hands. I cried a lot. The threat of loosing our real home after losing my dream one was emotionally devastating. Luckily for us and the rest of our neighbors, the wind changed direction and start blowing the fire east, deeper into the gorge and away from the outskirts of Portland. In the end, the Eagle Creek fire actively burned for 90 days. It still hasn’t been declared completely out by the forestry service, and there was a flare up from the original fire just a couple weeks ago.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring…”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
This fall and winter when they opened up the Gorge again, I, along with everyone else in the northwest, wondered if the Gorge would still look like the Gorge after all that. Well, there are definitely parts that are very brown now, and you can clearly see the burn marks on many of the trees that did survive on the side of the highway. BUT, luckily much of the burned area was in the mountains on the side facing *away* from the Gorge, so it’s still as beautiful as ever, minus some brown-outs. Obviously it would have been better if it never happened at all, but at least this scenic landmark is still recognizable (nature is astonishingly resilient). So, while I was in Montana over Christmas I started property-sleuthing online again. And after an hour-ish of searching, I found a little spot near Wind River in Washington that seemed too good to be true. It had the view, it had a ton of space, and it fit within our price range. We made an appointment and went out to see it on January 3rd.
It was hard to tell where the property boundaries were, so when we were with our real estate agent that first time we thought it was a portion of land that was mostly on a sloping hillside. This made sense to us since it explained the great price. There was a little flat part of it that we could build and garden on, and the view was beautiful. We made an offer within the week and it was accepted, and we started moving forward with the loan process. I use a credit union, and they were in no hurry to approve it, so it ended up taking almost 60 days for the loan to go through. Luckily, the owners (a logging company) weren’t in a hurry, and they were even nice enough to meet Jeremy and our real estate agent out there during the wait to show us around the property and answer any questions we had about it.
As it turns out, the property that we’d thought was the one we made an offer on was actually the neighbor’s (another logging company). Our property is a little more east of it, and it’s mostly flat with slightly rolling hills. It also has three creeks and a natural freshwater spring. And the view from the southern part of the lot is absolutely INSANE. I remember them walking us around and showing us the property and being completely dumbfounded. The thought “is this sh*t for real?” was basically playing in a loop in my mind at that point. After the owners left, me, Jeremy, and our real estate agent all turned to each other and pretty much said some rendition of “HOLY CRAP THIS IS AMAZING” all at the same time. Eventually, the loan went through, we signed a giant stack of papers, and the land was ours!
Staying hydrated with my Barebones Living canteen
I don’t pay attention to the world ending. It has ended for me many times and began again in the morning.”
— Nayyirah Waheed, Salt
We have 29 acres of clear cut forest land. It was logged in the fall of 2016, and looks a little bleak and very wild. There’s lots of large eerie-looking brush piles all over (I really like them, though, TBH. They’re creepy in a fun way!) and tons of stumps. There’s also over 7,000 douglas fir seedlings that the logging company planted in March. Jeremy and I want to nurture the land back to health and turn it into a thriving, lush pacific northwest forest, with our little homestead tucked away on it. Our plans are to have a small garden in one portion of the property and a small orchard just for us in another. The soil is very different in different areas of the property, and some parts (namely the part where we want to plant the orchard someday) are pretty much straight potter’s clay. So one of our projects for the summer is to get a soil amendment plan in place and start slowly correcting the soil over the next few years. There are parts where the soil is soft and rich, though, and there’s been so many beautiful wildflowers blooming there lately. I’ve taken to making a little bouquet and storing it in my Barebones harvesting + gathering bag until I get home to put the flowers in water.
There’s also the threat of himalayan blackberries, which are a *highly* invasive species here in the northwest and are currently sprouting in a few spots around our property. We’ve been pulling them out with our Barebones Living square hoe which has been perfect for latching under the roots of the plants to pull them out. So getting rid of those and a couple other invasive plant species is going to be our summer project, along with fixing the gravel road up to the property which is currently composed of giant fist-sized rocks that make it a very bumpy and 4-wheel-drive-only ride. It’s been a hot and sweaty project but we’ve been staying hydrated with our crazy durable Barebones Living canteen, it’s made of durable metal and has a little lip on it that keeps you from spilling all over yourself when you tilt it back to drink. As a messy eater/drinker, this is something that I greatly appreciate. I’ve been working with Barebones Living and using their gardening tools + camping supplies for a while now, and their stuff isn’t just durable as heck and beautifully designed, but they’re THE nicest people. They’re a certified B-Corp and were founded to help provide clean shelters to people in Africa, and now they’re carrying on even more incredible projects, like restoring old orchards in Utah to provide food for the local community, giving tools, education, and funding to Bwe villagers in Africa to help them raise the incomes within their community, and providing shelter to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal. You can read more about their values + what their proceeds go towards here.
As for how the next few years look like for us, we’re planning on building an A-frame cabin on the property positioned at one of the view points of the Columbia River next summer, which will be a weekend getaway for us as we continue to live in Portland. We’ll start slowly enriching the soil and getting landscaping projects going over the next few years. We’ve been working with Resilience Design to get permaculture ideas and plans in place (including saving rainwater in ponds and repurposing the brush piles to make retaining walls, furniture, and biochar!) In about 4 years, we’ll start construction on the main house on the big bluff overlooking the gorge, and ideally we’ll be completely moved in by the 5-year mark and will be living at the Wind River homestead full-time. I’d also love to host workshops there eventually, and create a little woodland creative retreat paradise full of tucked away little structures for shooting, with fresh farm-to-table meals from the garden. Who knows how much of this will go according to plan, but it’s fun to dream about it at the very least. And it’s dreaming that got me here in the first place, so at least I’m on the right path. 🙂
P.S. The photos below are a mix of ones taken in March and June 2018, the greener ones are from June and the grey-er ones are from March!
This post was made in collaboration with the folks at Barebones Living. All thoughts and opinions are my own, per usual!