Friday, November 11, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Home On The Range

The day I moved into the 795 square foot Unabomber bungalow with enough furnishings to abundantly fill a 3-bedroom house, it became abundantly clear we needed a bigger place to live, stat.

Our first little house was situated in downtown Whitefish, and was basically a cabin-sized box with five walls inserted to create two small bedrooms with a bathroom between them, an intimate living room with a wood stove which served to heat the entire cabin during the winter months, and a kitchen/dining area. This circa turn-of-the-century cottage also had a very dank half-basement located underneath the kitchen with, much to my surprise, a modern-day washer-dryer hookup. Something I never utilized for several reasons.

Aside from the fact that the basement felt like the stuff of serial killers, making that descent into the bowels of the earth was just too risky to involve a laundry basket. Best case scenario saw me with a concussion - worst case, a broken neck. It was one thing to have to duck and contort my head and neck to keep from knocking myself out on the low header beam at the top of the stairs, and quite another to navigate a dangerously steep wooden staircase that was as old as the house.

Besides, we needed somewhere to store all of my boxes. What didn’t fit in the basement after packing it from the dirt floor up to the sub-floor beamed ceiling, was strategically stacked inside of the house so as to create a sophisticated obstacle course that weaved like a maze throughout very cramped quarters.

The three of us lived that way for almost a year before we eventually bought a spacious ranch house located on ten acres about three miles southeast of downtown Whitefish.

Viewing front of Ranch House from the driveway
Finding a new house with a kitchen layout acceptable to Chef was no mean feat, and took far more time than we'd originally anticipated, but the ranch house on the range we eventually ended up with was worth the wait.

It was a two-level structure of approximately 3,500 square feet, and included a walk-out basement, five bedrooms, and three full baths. Having grown up with four sisters, I’m of the opinion that no house can ever have too many bathrooms.

We’d hardly been in our new house a month when the front page of the “Whitefish Pilot” featured a large photo of our old Unabomber bungalow with the unhappy young couple who’d bought it from us standing in the front yard. They had good reason to be unhappy for that local photo op, and while I couldn’t have been more sympathetic to the nightmare that put them on the front page, I would be lying if I didn’t own up to the huge wave of relief that swept over me because it could’ve easily been me on the front of the local newspaper.

The Whitefish sewage treatment plant located just outside of town, and not far from our new home on the range, had a complete system failure in the middle of the night, and proceeded to backwash untold quantities of raw sewage into the basements of almost every house in downtown Whitefish. The Unabomber bungalow did not escape, and the very same basement I had jam packed with the boxes containing most of my worldly possessions barely a month earlier was filled to the half way mark with plenty o’poo as a result.

While I’d managed to escape that monumental sewage backup by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, unfortunately I couldn't manage to escape having the nasty experience altogether, for it seems that I was ultimately doomed to know firsthand the true unpleasantness of raw sewage backflowing through my basement. And since my raw ordeal occurred right before I put Montana in the rear view mirror once and for all, some might even call that shitty incident my big sky coup de grĂ¢ce.

Viewing rear of Ranch House from backyard
Raw sewage aside, our new ranch house was without question Chef’s dream house. It was open, spacious and had an enviable 360o view. We had the Whitefish Mountain Range to the West and North, including the slopes of Big Mountain; the edge of Glacier National Park to the East; and nothing but open countryside and big blue skies to the South.

The northern back boundary of our 10-acre lot was defined by Haskill Creek, which also fed the duck and beaver pond that consumed anywhere from 3 to 5 acres of our backyard, depending on the time of year. The risk of flooding increased significantly during the spring run-off season, and tensions in our household historically ran high as we’d helplessly watch the pond’s water levels rise with the swollen creek …. especially when the beavers did what beavers do best and build impenetrable dams with remarkable speed at the corner of our property, the downstream corner of course.

It didn’t take long to learn that a sump pump was the only thing that stood between us and the disaster of deluge from a rising water table. Yet when it came to the water in our world, electricity held all of the power; for without electricity, not only would the sump pump stop working, the well pump was also powerless to pump water from the well to our house. For starters, this meant no flushing toilets, no showers, no drinking water, no clean clothes, and a sink full of dirty dishes. All the things city folk take for granted.

At least we had the luxury of a backup water supply located behind the garage/horse stable outbuilding out back. It was in the form of an old fashioned hand pump installed decades earlier to service several horse stalls that we never used. The trips I was forced to make to that horse pump were innumerable, and I can honestly say that I have not one fond memory of braving the elements to pump water into a bucket after a brutal nor’easter had just blown down the region’s power lines thereby halting all water flow inside of the house, sometimes for many days until the power lines could be repaired. It was one thing to actually pump the water while standing knee-deep in the snow, and quite another to get it all the way up to the house before it became a heavy block of ice, or worse, sloshed all over me.
Our backyard during early winter on an unseasonably sunny day
About a year after I’d fled Montana like a caged dog bolting from the pound, I saw Andie MacDowell on the David Letterman show. She and her husband at the time were known to have a large ranch somewhere in the Bitterroot Valley, and I felt an unexpected kinship with this lovely woman as she walked Dave through what it took for her to get to his show in New York City from Missoula, Montana after a huge winter storm had cut all power to their ranch days before her departure. Still without power, she had to fly out of the Missoula airport unshowered, unshaved, and 'au naturel'.

I agonized right along with my new soul sister as she described the sponge bath she struggled to give herself in the plane’s bathroom compartment en route, and how she had to apply her makeup in the bathroom at the airport during layover - which was probably in Salt Lake City because everybody knew there were no direct flights from Missoula to anywhere but Salt Lake City.

And here I thought I was the only one who knew what it was like to live off the grid with a spouse who was always trying to sell me on his interpretation of ‘quality of life’. Apparently Andie MacDowell wasn’t buying the simple life sales pitch either because not long after that Letterman interview, I read that she too, bolted just like any proper city dog trapped in the country would.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

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