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Letters and email from readers about Backwoods Home Magazine and the BHM website


Archive for the ‘Country Living’ Category


High desert article

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012


I enjoyed reading your article. Having lived in W.AZ and then NM, I could relate so much of it. I am surrounded by trees in E. VA now but would rather be back in the high desert anytime.

One thing I noticed not mentioned in your article was the tendency of those traveling through, not to, the high desert, have a tendency to have thief dogs get “lost” or just plain let them loose to fend for themselves. Which leaves us with packs of wild dogs not afraid of humans, unlike healthy coyotes. That was one of the main reasons we used to go armed. Hell, the local authorities sometimes even [provided] the ammo we used on wild packs. It was that bad when the main roads weren’t that many miles away. I can only imagine how bad it is now, with the current economy, foreclosures, and job losses.



Gold Beach Gestapo

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I’ve been getting Backwoods Home for many years. And I really wanted to come to Gold Beach.  I even went so far as to plan a trip this year by Making my own bio diesel to make the trip.

After reading [issues] #128 & #129  I realize that I don’t have all the equipment to make the trip.

I don’t have an on board attorney.
I don’t have a radar jammer.
I don’t have a passenger to keep watch on other vehicles.  ie cops
I don’t have a measuring device to make sure I stop at stop sign with my front bumper even to the stop sign.
I don’t have a glow in the dark or florescent orange seat belt to make sure the Gestapo can see it.
I don’t have a permit to transport my bio diesel in Oregon, I’m sure the Gestapo would want to check after he smelled my exhaust.  It smells like french fries and not donuts.

I did check the web for speed traps and sure enough Gold Beach is on the list.

Sorry I can’t make the trip this year, but maybe in the future when you get rid of the Gestapo.

By the way do they were the Nazi swastika?? And have nice shinny black boots??

I have even had the thought about moving there.  Sure seems like a real nice place, but I don’t want to have the watch my back all the time.  Sure wish you all the luck in getting things taken care of so you can enjoy Gold Beach.

Thanks for hearing my side.

Robert Widmar


Off grid refrigerators

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Dear sirs,

My wife and I have a cabin in northern Ontario and [instead of a refrigerator, we use] a Danby chest freezer with the thermostat turned up in the 38 to 42 degree range.

We only run the unit off of a generator for an hour  morning and night. Everything stays cold and once you get used to the idea it is a great way to keep food and cheap .

I think we only paid around $300.00 for it at Home Depot in North Bay last summer. It could just as easily be run off of a solar panel & inverter set up as generator, or small gas engine and alternator & battery set up as well.

We are very satisfied with it and is easy to use once you get everything arranged. Juices on bottom veggies on top,  etc. We use several different baskets and plastic containers to separate things out so it is easy to get what is needed to cook/eat.

[It is a] far cheaper method to use then Sun Frost, etc. units and if you wanted, a bigger insulated box could be built around it for better efficiency I suppose.

PS. we love your Magazine !!!!!

John & Susan Farris


Enjoyed your article

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Hello Claire,

Enjoyed reading your article The art of living in small spaces very much.

I was born and raised in NYC but I have dreams of buying 1 little acre somewhere, and building a little 800 sq ft house. An average studio apt is half that. I’ve read your article twice in the past 7 days. I agree with you and many others, buying a house doesn’t have to mean “over 1500 sq ft”. A single person like me can live happily in 800 sq ft.

Eddie Colon


Animal rights Loonies

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Dear Editor,

I found your site from a link from and somehow ran across the article of the Animal Rights Activists ruining what must be a totally hysterical event at your local fair.

I do understand their point but I do realize there are limits on what an activist group can do. Caving into to them only gives them power, but since that has already happened…I have a better idea!

For a close knit town, you can starve them out. As a retailer, you can refuse to sell anything to anyone and not have to justify it. Gas stations can refuse to sell fuels, grocers refuse to sell them food. You get the picture.

As Jim Rawles says, if you don’t like what is going on around you, vote with your feet and move. When all the town gets behind this movement, the activist will get the idea that he or she is no longer welcomed and move on. It wouldn’t hurt for someone in a restaurant to take away their fried chicken special stating they are contibuting to animal cruelty. If they got half a brain….they will leave, probably just before the local police or sheriff decides to join the unwelcome wagon.



Ok…if you can do it I can at least try

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Ms. Ainsworth,

I’m writing a fast note to you while I’m getting dressed to go explain to the county engineer that I want to build my own house out in the country. I have no clue what to expect but judging by the phone conversations, perhaps he’s going to gently try to guide this 54 year old woman to pulling a mobile home on the property or just contracting a builder. I’ve been studying & drawing up my plans & using your dreams are goals with deadlines motto to push through just a little bit more every day. By the end of the month I think I’ll have all the kinks worked out. Today’s visit to the permit people is asking them specifics and for guidelines.

I’ve read everything you’ve written that I can get my hands on and wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your stories. Since 1980 I’ve wanted to build my own place but  have found excuses not to move forward. Finally I have the land and thanks to stories from you and Dave Duffy, am beginning to believe that I can pull this off. Personally I don’t subscribe to being a victim thus gotta keep going forward.

You need to know that I’ve enjoyed every article you’ve written and if you have any books out there point to them!  I’ll go after those too!

I’ll write more later but wanted you to know that your motto of ‘if not me then who, if now now then when’ was the catalyst that woke me up.

Thank you.


Marylynn Brooks


Potential for RV fire

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Hey, Claire,

Your otherwise excellent article has a couple of important omissions. The schematic diagram shows two deep-cycle storage batteries connected in parallel, but neglects  isolation diodes and fusible links, and there is no mention of either one in the text.

An isolation diode prevents one battery from discharging the other, while still allowing both batteries to be charged from a single +12VDC connection.  In actuality, as long as all batteries in a storage bank are diode-isolated, any number of batteries may be connected safely.

In a worst-case situation, and if directly connected to another, one battery (for whatever reason) could present itself as a dead short to the remaining battery(ies), draining all the ‘juice’ quickly enough to start a nasty fire and/or explosion.

I would also install a fusible link at each battery’s positive terminal, just in case… it would act as a high-current fuse, preventing the sort of massive current drain that could really heat things up in  a heartbeat.

In what I would consider a safe setup, each battery is contained within its own plastic battery box (vented to prevent the buildup of hydrogen gas) to catch acid leakage, connected to its respective fusible link, to a high-current conductor ‘manifold’ (I have used flattened copper pipe with holes drilled for connector bolt/nut/washer assemblies), each battery with its own isolation diode connected in series with its fusible link.

If a catastrophic failure were to occur, the fusible link would blow, removing the defective battery from the circuit altogether.

Talk to an RV dealer for more details, but the practice of directly connecting two or more high-energy storage components, without fusible links and isolation diodes is a potentially dangerous one.  I’m surprised the schematic diagram didn’t catch fire on its own.

Keith Savoy


Nice bridge!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

It appears Jim Duke read Claire Wolfe’s article, Build a trail, and sent along a photo of a bridge he built.

Nice bridge, Jim!


Kindred spirit

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010


Just a note to tell you how much I like your writings. They are GREAT!

I’ve been baking bread for a while now so you really struck a chord with your article about this, but I really like your perspective and look foward to all of your aticles and now that I found your blog I’ll checking it out regularly.

Hope all is well in the high desert today . We normally have mild winters here in central Texas but it is overcast and wintery today.

Best wishes,

Charles Allen


Choosing the high desert

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Ms Wolf,

I am curious why exactly you decided to settle on your present location?  While you drop some hints (suggestions of low tax and “reasonable” land prices), the fact that you provide no detail in this regard is a little perplexing.  Considering that you must have certainly kept your cost of living suppressed at your cabin in the PNW, makes many of us wonder at the meaning of the property tax issue.  I know that at one time your truck died and it seemed a major financial hurdle to replace it, from which time you were on foot?

Perhaps to pose a counterpoint, I currently live in Michigan, Napoleon Township to be specific.  It is not a wealthy community with a median income level of $43k/household.  I live on a dirt road, do have electricity and NG and due to our proximity to a sizable lake system a township sewer service was installed in the late 90’s which was quite expensive.

To get to the point, I pay nearly $400/month property tax for our 1/4 acre and 1300sqft floorplan home.  The summer and winter millage adds up to 46.01/1000 in property value or 4.6% of the assessed value per year.

It is specifically this high and unavoidable tax which could be increased at any time (virtually unavoidable now with the population in exodus, over 20% unemployment and a 50% drop in home prices, which are not reflected in our valuations).  For me, I see no possibility of retirement in this environment.

My search for my “Shangri La” has taken me to south eastern Colorado, specifically Custer County.  If you take a look at this website County assessor you can see that taxes on 36 acre lots and homes vary from $6 – $800 annually depending on whether they are zoned agricultural.  Centennial Ranch is an example of a subdivision which has a cattle grazing lease, which provides allows for agricultural zoning.

The location gets 16″ of rain per year, so is not nearly as dry as the spot you are in, and wells are generally successful.  The fact that the valley base elevation is approximately 7000ft does of course contribute to low humidity year round and one can forget about growing things without a greenhouse.  No need for air conditioning.  The area is not terribly remote, although obviously the farther one is off the beaten track, the more attractive the property prices.  I have been to a few places with my dodge ram 1500 (2wd) that were rough enough (in summer) that I was passed by others on horseback…..   One does have a large number of days per year with good solar insolation (clear blue skies) so passive solar, photovoltiac and water heating are all feasible most of the year.   In summer, the daily temperatures may rise into the 80’s but with the low humidity it feels very pleasant.

I am personally somewhat stuck with my home in Michigan, since if I sold now I would be walking away with a balance of about $80k that I would have to pay off (difference between mortgage and market price), so I figure I have a few more years to go before I will be able to get out of here.

Custer county has many of the challenges you mention, including lack of work opportunities in the vicinity.  I am fortunate in that my wife is an RN, so her job is very portable and relatively in demand and I expect to be gainfully employed building the home 6 months of the year and working as a migratory worker all winter during that phase.  Once the home is built I hope to be working on a consultancy basis for remote clients and I have a fair amount of time to work that plan out prior to the move.  Wireless and sattelite communications are certainly making cyber commuting easier all over rural america, the biggest hurdle is between the ears of your potential manager, where ever the work is at.

In closing I must say that I enjoy reading your essays, although it would be nice if you wrote a book and disclosed all the facts that are left out of your short stories.  I would buy it,that is for sure.

Best regards,

Keith Olivier
Jackson, MI


Circle of Friends

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010


I just finished your article in Backwoods Home Magazine and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My boyfriend and I are in the process of clearing his family’s property to try and start raising our own livestock and a good sized garden. And while we are very gung ho, his family is not so much.

I appreciate the alternative tactics to getting that “lazy brother” to carry his weight should Bob have to host his brother, it’s not an added stress as he’s planned for it.

Thank you for writing a piece that can help us become proactive to our family and friend’s situations as they start to seek refuge. I hope you have an enjoyable holiday season and happy new year!



Your article

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009


It absolutely sucks that the PTB forced you out of your home, but I am glad that you have found a place of like-minded folks to start anew. You wouldn’t be our heroine if you couldn’t land anywhere and make a place for yourself.

Living here in southern Arizona, about 4000 ft lower than where you are, I read your article with even greater interest than I usually give to BHM. I both chuckled and commiserated, remembering how I felt when I moved here in 1991.

Water, of course, is the big thing. I moved here in April before it got hot but often found myself getting faint before I realized I was dehydrated. Even in winter, the lack of humidity can get to you. Sometimes more so, as you think it’s not hot so you don’t need to drink as much. Wrong. The cold and dry will suck moisture out too.

Speaking of moisture, don’t neglect your skin and not just for the typical feminine reasons. The sun and dryness take a toll on the largest organ we have, which has an effect on the other organs. If your skin is too dry, you are not drinking enough. Stock up on moisturizers. I’ve found that Bag Balm is not just for udders anymore. It’s great stuff.

Here are some signs that you have adapted to desert life:

— You automatically shake out your shoes or boots in the morning before putting them on–spiders and scorpions.

—   You have a glass of water always at hand and you actually drink from it. Frequently.

—   Whenever you are outside and not actually moving about, you will find whatever shade there is.

—   Your eyes are constantly scanning the ground for rattlesnakes and you learn what times of the day/night/year when you can relax your vigil.

—   You find tarantulas fascinating and not just big, ugly, hairy spiders and that lizards are your friends–they both eat bugs.

—   Dust is no more a big of a deal than cat or dog hair. You breathe it, you eat it–oh well.

—   You can smell water.

—   You accept monsoon storms with an equal mixture of fear, awe and joy.

You wrote very well about the metaphysical aspect of desert living. Courtesy of the US Navy, I spent a year in Antarctica which is the largest “desert” of them all. Living here is not really all that different. Nature will do what nature will do and all we can do is try to adapt. There is a stark beauty here and, yes, that sense of pure survival that folks in woody, watered areas just can’t comprehend.

That holds true even for those of use who are dependent on piped in utilities. In the back of our heads, many of us always have the thought of “what if..” The current economic woes have created a huge interest here in Tucson in rainwater harvesting and gardening and solar power.  It’s gratifying to see people ripping up their grass lawns. Some folks, at least, are seeing the light.

Thanks again for your article and I most certainly look forward to more.

From one desert rat to (soon to be) another, welcome.



Same day, same sentiments

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009


I’m very sorry to read that the evil ones threw you out of your house for taxes. We miss your wit at TMM, but I know it’s your choice.

Keep your chin up and don’t let the bastards get you down.



Your latest article

Hello Claire,

I really enjoyed your latest article. I’d also like to say that I’m sorry to hear about your loss of Cabin Sweet Cabin.

We sure do miss you at the MM forum.

Take care of yourself,



Hi Claire,

Just wanted to drop a line to say hello and that I am missing your posts at TMM, but enjoying reading your BHM articles just the same.

The high desert sounds, well, challenging to say the least, glad you are acclimating.

I hope this finds you well!

Bon courage!

Jeff (Laughing Bear)


Last Chance Gulch

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Dear Claire,

How I loved reading your wonderful story of living in the desert. You made it come alive!

And now, here you are, in Last Chance Gulch.   I do not know if you know that is the name of the main street of Helena, where three young men found gold after they had run out of food, money, and just about everything else.

They found a flood of riches – huge nuggets of gold, right there in the gulch that runs through the middle of Helena.

I think you are going to find your own gold in your Gulch.

I am going to enjoy reading the story.

Much Love,



Desert Living

Saturday, December 5th, 2009
Greetings, Claire!
I moved to the desert in 1983.  Terlingua isn’t all that high (my house is at 2,800 feet) and I’m on the grid–but the realities of the desert are here.
And I’ve loved every minute of it.
Best regards,
Art Eatman
Terlingua, Texas

Learning to Love the High Desert

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Sorry to hear about the taxman taking your place in the soggy northwest. But we’re glad to have you here.

I enjoyed your article on the high desert. It’s rare that someone “gets it” as soon as you evidently have.

Conditions here are somewhat more harsh than many other places, but that harshness has a beauty and splendor all it’s own. It’s why we like living here, why we do live here. The place has requirements that you must meet to live here, and it takes a certain kind of independent, self-sufficient character to meet them.

As for the solar power, I’ve read many who criticize solar and wind power as not feasible because they are so inefficient they will never replace the traditional power plants. They say it takes so many hundred thousand acres to make a wind farm that produces as much as a coal plant. Sadly, they miss the point. the beauty of solar and wind is precisely that it is most efficient for the individual residence, and perhaps a small neighborhood. It is technology that is perfectly suited to the self-reliant who want to avoid the centralized power companies and grid, which may be more efficient, but is no more reliable and much less accessible or controllable by, or accountable to, the individual. Solar and wind may not make much money for the big companies, but it is a godsend for the independent individual.

Well, again, welcome, and we are glad you’re here.

Ed Dowdle
Show Low, AZ


High desert article

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Just moved down here (Mesa, AZ) from Seattle (rather Northeast Tacoma – but Pacific Northwest, nonetheless).  Wanted to say your article was spot on.

When I arrived here in July, I had to keep oven mitts in my car just so I could turn the ignition without buring my fingers.

Many Thanks!

Garth Stewart


Life in the High Desert

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


I just finished reading your piece on moving and adapting to the desert. Absolutely fascinating, I must say.

I’ve been a southeastern dweller for most of my life, and I’m used to plentiful water, living in a rainy place and at the edge of a large river/lake. Since I live very simply, power isn’t much of an issue, except loosing a pound or two of frozen foods. I pretty much get along with one light bulb, in whatever room I happen to be.

Your thoughts on life in the dry, severe climate of the desert are, as I said, fascinating. I’m seeing the link to more of your writings, and I’m thinking I’m going to have to clear my (very vacant) social calendar for a month or so to read and appreciate your work. Some of the titles are very enticing!!!

I have to say one thing about the life-and-death issue. It happens here, in Tennessee, also. My 30+ year career as and RN is over, but I still see and hear about it. Granted, we don’t have to confront raw, and sometimes hostile, nature as you might. Maybe we should??? I can hear what I think are coyotes barking in the hills, sometimes. Would love to have one visit my front yard under a full moon someday.

Since my kids were very young, I haven’t seen a sky like the one you described. I envy you the chance to do that daily. When I ask my youngsters if they remember what the Milky Way looks like, they just cock their heads and say—“Well…Yeah…I think so”. We used to take blankets to the yard and stargaze for hours. I’m 65 now and, although in pretty good health, I worry that I won’t really see the stars again—at least from this part of the country. One of the items on my “to do before you die” list is to head far west, to the high desert, and spend a month just looking at the night sky. Maybe take a bunch of pics to share with friends who have not a clue of what a sky like that can be. Maybe use my nursing skills as a volunteer on a reservation at or near the Four Corners region.

The piece I just read sounded like your relocation was, maybe, stressful. I’ve always felt that when a door slams shut, another opens. The story of my life, at least—haha. Hope your transition has proven educational and beneficial.

Looking forward to more of your writings. Thanks!!!

Bill Byford


Welcome to the desert!

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

I loved your article in the latest BHM. I can sympathize with your recent move.

I myself moved several years ago from Orange County, California to Moab, Utah. Though I don’t regret it all, even though I went through a good deal of culture shock and awkward acclimatization as well.

I’d love to see you write more articles on self-reliant living in the high desert. Most of the BHM staff has (understandably) a northwestern climate slant on the tips and advice they proffer.

I hope you come to love 300 plus of full sun a year. I think it makes winter more bearable even if it never gets above freezing.

Keep the Faith!

Ardell Hollobaugh


Life in the country

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I woke up this morning much like every other morning. 10 minutes before the alarm clock. Another 10 minutes of sleep robbed from me.

I stumble into the kitchen to make the morning coffee and look out the widow that’s over the sink. There she is. Like every morning for the past 2 years Annabel is standing by the water trough staring at me. I have no idea why but she starts her day off the same way. She stares at me for a few minutes, moo’s and then walks off to the south west corner of the pasture. That side just happens to meet up with my neighbor’s horse pasture and where my neighbor dumps her leftover hay when she refills her bails for the horses. Annabel will wait patently for her morning leftovers and then she wanders the pasture. When I get home she meanders over to see if I have a treat for her and then she goes back to her spot next to the horses. I’m not sure if this is social hour but it is a routine for her.

I thought to myself how sad it must be to have your day so repetitive, so scheduled. I then walked to the chickens and threw them some scratch. Went into the house and started supper. The same things I do everyday. So much so it is as if I’m on autopilot.

While at the sink peeling potatoes I looked out to see Annabel playing with the goats. Kinda like a parent playing with their kids. It seems me and Annabel have more in common than I had ever thought. Our biggest difference is the size of our pasture. I run from one end of mine to the other. I have a routine similar to hers and find myself sharing the same simple pleasures of a good meal, a quiet sunset and time with loved ones. Perhaps Annabel’s day isn’t so sad. After all what else do I need but these simple things?

My kids would tell you plenty they need. The latest Youtube video sensation, a new game for the play station or texting their friends. The list is almost endless for them just as it was when I was a child.

It took many years for me to understand that none of these things that seemed so important could replace the beauty and simplicity of the views from my porch. Watching the last of the leaves blow off the black walnut tree. Seeing the dog chasing a chicken around the side of the house, then watching the rooster chase the dog back around to the other side. The shadow of the barn slowly working its way across the field until it fades into the darkness of the night. Kids chasing fireflies and watching the same spider build its web for the 100th time this summer. All the things I used to be too young to care about and too busy to be concerned for are now some of my favorite things and most precious memories.

After spending the first half of my life rushing through it I think I’ll spend the last half sitting on my porch enjoying it.

Thanks BWH for helping me achieve my goal.

Aaron Roots and family
Warrensburg, Missouri



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