If we all face the need to “social distance” for a lot longer, maybe the solution that Kandi and Lloyd Maxwell have created for themselves in the thickly forested foothills of California’s Sierra-Nevada mountains is about as safe as it can get. Not that it’s for every baby boomer— you’ll see why when you read Kandi’s story— but apparently it works for them.
A warm summer morning in the Sierra foothills. After coffee, my husband, Lloyd, and I decide to walk the dogs early, before breakfast, before the sun blazes hot in the sky. We choose the shady route, up the hill and under the cover of lodgepole and ponderosa pines. The heat gives the air a piney scent and makes the world look wavy. As Lloyd and I hike, my husky, Little Bit, and Lloyd’s pit bull mix, Jackson, run zigzags through the woods. The crunching of leaves tell us they’re nearby.
After the walk and then breakfast, I get to work. It’s laundry day, and it looks like this: go out to the pump house to start the generator. Push the “on” button, open the choke, pull the cord, which serves as the ignition. When the generator starts to hum, close down the choke and plug in the electrical cord. Walk to the faucet, turn on the water, then walk to the porch to load the washing machine. Later, when the laundry is done and the generator off, walk to the clothes line and hang the laundry out to dry. Laundry day requires a bit of walking, but once dried, our clothes will smell like sunshine and I convince myself I deserve a nap.
Lloyd and I live in a 76-foot silver trailer built in 1957. We are on ten secluded acres covered in manzanita, madrone, oak, and pine. Our home isn’t charming, it’s practical. The outdoor solar shower is made of tin and painted brown. Lloyd covered the sides of the shower in reed fencing; he built a bamboo privacy fence. Think Gilligan’s Island.
There’s a tin outhouse, painted green, a 10 x 10 screened-in room for summer, a woodshed, and storage shed for solar batteries and tools. These little buildings form a circle, and the center is our “yard” with a round table, comfy chairs, and a fire pit. A terraced vegetable garden surrounds half of the circle.
There’s no electrical power here. Our water is pumped by generator. Our lights are solar charged. For almost a year, I’ve been heating water on the stovetop, but plans for a new water heater are in process. A propane/solar refrigerator will come soon. But for now, our food stays cool in a large ice chest. You might say we’re camping. Permanently.
Last fall, when Lloyd, age seventy, and I, at sixty-six, decided to sell our small cabin off a paved road to live in a trailer accessed only by four-wheel drive, our children were a bit concerned. But things have changed. By the time COVID-19 arrived in early 2020 and seniors were encouraged to shelter in place, we had already returned to the land and our former farmer-hippie-lifestyle.
We hike trails without worry of human contact. Trips to town are few. Our home is isolated, a forested refuge. Now, our children are grateful for the rugged, homesteading life we have chosen.