Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Never Underestimate a Bear!

This guy will try anything for a snack!

Pow, Ping!!—The early noise wakes me; I curse my neighbor’s truck backfiring. Can’t sleep, start the coffee perking. Crash, Bam!—-Sounds get closer. I edge towards the door, see a shadow through the window. My neighbor mistakes my house for his-- again? Dark globs fly around, then crash. My eyes, too cloudy from sleep, need a jolt of caffeine. I fill my Moose cup, slurp half and peek out the front window. The door rattles. Yes, that’s my neighbor in that god-awful Hallowe’en suit. He pounds on the screen door. I hunker down on the floor and finish the coffee. Maybe he'll fall down the stairs in his drunken state. Daylight finally arrives. I open the front door to a war zone on my deck and dancing footprint designs in the snow. The calling card of a black bear.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Catskill Black Bears

In the Catskills black bears abound. Everyone has a Bear Story to relate. One recent account told of two bears walking a catwalk to the 17’ deck of a home deep in the woods to sample the meat roasting on the grill. The startled residents were indoors preparing a salad, and just happened to hear noises and saw their $$$ steaks getting a workout. No shot gun blast in the air turned a furry head. They kept eating and sauntered away after the feast.

Sandy told me how she used to brag that she’d never met a bear until one morning she opened her front door and hit one backwards off the porch! She never saw him again!

And my friend Jack, told of hearing a gun blast one morning and looking out his door moments later, saw a bear adjacent to his truck with buckshot in his rear. Snow was three feet deep and Blackie found a good cold seat at the front grill of the Ford. Jack was housebound for two days, the time it took for Blackie to move deeper into the woods.

And pity the poor man who found a bear sitting on his backporch in front of the open freezer stuffing into his mouth frozen meats from past deer hunts and managing to destroy everything else inside. Mister shooed the fur ball with a couple of shotgun blasts only to find him a week later in the same position. This time the Wildlife folks came to the rescue, drugged the bear and placed him in another part of the Pennsylvania woods.

Bears are attracted to bird feeders, so residents are encouraged to let the birds find their own food. Bears trespass, although they don’t think so. It’s not an uncommon sight to see a mama with her cubs crossing one’s property or a lone bear ambling across a busy roadway. Anyone here will tell you that the best way to scare a bear is with a pan and a spoon. Maybe those $20 steaks would have been saved with a good bam-bam instead of a bang-bang!

Our Destination

Here's our humble abode for the next several months--ta da! THE SHEDS. The forefront is the kitchen/living/dining room;the latter, the bedroom. The bath house is just left of the tree and will be featured later. We want to be sure the "throne" is ready to be photographed. We are going from a 2200 sf home to two 144 sf buildings--won't we have fun? You can't see the 8ft walkway in between. It is at the ends of the walkway that we may have to string a line of cans to allow us to sleep with the doors open--our bear alarm.

The Sheds are located about a quarter of a mile from the main road. In replying to friends' emails asking when we'll arrive, I realize we'll need a signal indicating we are home. I think I'll find a nice ribbon and tie around a tree at the road entrance to indicate we are "en casa." Suggestions? Email me.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fantasy to Reality

A few of you have inquired about the meaning of " off the grid "; applied to living, it means no access to utility services: electricity, telephone, water, gas. Ever since Rodale published his first magazine 50 years ago about living off the land and economizing resources, I've wanted to try living a simpler life. I'm speaking for myself, as Richard is quite happy to be the audience at all golf and tennis matches held in our living room. Twenty years ago I gave up using paper towels and napkins thinking of all the trees I was saving, but that idea lasted less than two weeks. Richard said no! No cloth napkins! I pointed out Europeans have used fabric napkins for eons. Despite my plea for saving hot water usage, he wouldn't give in. Next, I tried to modify our nutrition. At that time no local health food stores sold stevia, jellies without sugar, food with no preservatives, stone-ground grits and flour -- you know, all those common commodities available today. So I returned to the SOS, frustrated.

So this living in the woods idea is mine and only partially Richard's. We both wanted a retreat and found this modular building we could use satisfactorily. At our age we didn't want to put excessive money into running a couple of poles for electricity and telephone a quarter of a mile into the woods and digging a water well, so we looked at what we had--Nothing But A Cabin. So one way my constant nagging to be ecological could count, since the Sheds are on a slope, was to have a compost toilet instead of an outhouse. But that toilet idea evolved over time.

In researching I discovered we could make our own toilet using a paint bucket with a toilet seat, graduating to a built-in. The bucket is nothing new to boaters on camping trips. Into this loo you use a mixture of leaves, cut grasses, and mulch to break down the waste. I chanted the entire book on our rides back and forth to NY for two years, trying to convince Richard this inexpensive way was the best. Finally, Richard thought of you, dear Folks, who may come for a visit. He couldn't see you going to a room to sit on a paint bucket (even if I decorated it!) and relaxing, then having to scoop some leaves to drop into the space you just filled! What if we give silver crowns for guests to wear while on their "throne"? I suggested. Would save embarrassment and provide lots of chuckles, I added. No, No, No, rang Richard's voice in my ear--hence, the compost toilet. If that ever fails to perform, the paint bucket is available. Don't worry, Friends, the compost toilet looks almost like the one in any bathroom.(Photo later) And we won't be distributing silver crowns, either. Richard won that argument.

I confess! this isn't all pioneer stuff. We're renting three miles from the Sheds, a tiny studio with a living room, kitchen, and bath. There the telephone, the computer and a television set are available. This will be Richard's escape from the quiet woods and our communications center. I can't live without my computer! This area overlooks the Delaware, so you can have your morning coffee while watching eager campers paddle down the river. Across the Delaware are the looming Poconos and Pennsylvania. On the other side is Highway 97 and the lower Catskills. A few doors away our landlord Yidell runs a small campsite and rents rafts. Up the road are a dozen campgrounds. A swift walk in the other direction is a country store where you can pick up the latest New York Times and a home-made muffin. Also there are several Bed and Breakfasts and two motels. Will that entice you to visit us? Come on. We'll be ready for you.

Our summer retreat is only 2 1/2 hours from NYC by bus and less time by train to Penn Station. It is on Scott's 50-acre property where he is constructing his small cabin. His guest house is a roomy screened porch that will hold two persons. You can sit on the porch with your coffee and look for bears, but no hot muffin nearby. Just a stone's throw is Scott's cabin and his outhouse. This is quite a nice walk from our Sheds. But a good way to get your daily walk.

In the Sheds are a propane camp stove, coolers with ice for a temporary fridge, and battery-operated and oil lamps. The double doors at each building when open are covered with mosquito netting to allow for circulation. Looking from one building to the other gives the feeling of one big room. Outside we have a screen tent for our outdoor all-purpose room. With space at a premium we'll have to caution local visitors to bring a jug of water (which we'll always need; otherwise we have to fill up at a near-by spring), a chair, a flashlight if staying past daylight, and a drinking glass. That will probably kill anyone's incentive to visit us. Out of town guests are an exception.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Preparing for our first full-time adventure in a cabin without modern conveniences takes a lot of research. Our Sheds (called thus because that’s what they are, two sheds with raised roof to accommodate storage in loft and some adventurous sleep overs) were modular forms, put up on site in a two-day pouring rain. Construction and exterior painting in 2003; furnishing in 2004 with daily visits to check land clearing by Joe; final move-in date August 5, 2005.

I must note that our newly-found friends in the area are agast that we are experimenting with off-the-grid living. Many live in Manhattan and environs and have homes nearby. Why would anyone want to retro their lives? Do you suppose the fact that we're from Mississippi produces the assumption that we always live this way?

My advance research introduced me to a number of sites which sell products for emergency preparedness. Well, I call no toilet facilites an emergency, so I found what probably every camper or kyacker or canoeist already knows-- waste bags preloaded with Pooh-Powder™ a gel that catalyzes waste and decay and removes odor. We’ll use these bags until our compost toilet is installed in the bath house adjacent to the Sheds. Amazing, isn’t it, what’s going in the toilet world, as we make daily treks to our modern facilities? I almost bought for $19.95 the Inflate-a-Potty, something we could have used years ago on our trip West with kids.

We need a good noisemaker for fending off black bears, a commodity of the Catskill woods. We're told to make plenty of noise when they approach and not look at them directly. Perhaps the metal pan/spoon makes the best noise, but definitely not wearable, like a loud whistle. Neighbors with telephones keep each other posted of bear sightings; perhaps they can communicate with us via bullhorn. Neighbor Claudia says that we can’t snooze in our hammock outside, sleep with our doors open, or cook on a grill, without awareness of the approach of these furry animals. Remember those bobbing dolls we used to see on automobile dash boards? That's what we'll look like when you come to visit.

Ever heard of Buzz-Off clothing? Impregnated with natural flower essence to repel the gregarious no-see-ums and mosquitos. We're outfitted and ready to try them out. Beats those sweat boxes of shirts and hats with mosquito netting!

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Hello Friends: This is my way of sharing our experiences without having to write innumerable emails. Hopefully, you will be entertained and laugh with us about some of the situations Richard and I will confront. He is not too excited about camping in the wilds, but he's willing to wait until I scream, "Enough!"