January 05, 2002 8:24 PM
Hi Hannah and Chet, Christmas is a hard time for many people, including me - missed being at home doing up a tree. Van and I had a nice Xmas Eve walking the beautiful streets of Laguna Beach, all lit up and hearing the sound of the lapping of the ocean. Camping is wearing itself thin - still living in the tent and the van, but we just had a week of warm weather which beats the cold back East. Van is busy working on his water system and I'm doing a lot of reading and taking long walks with Mo. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year Love Eileen

01/05/02, 9:20 pm:

At the bottom of the previous journal is a picture of a dog and a cat, Mo and Missy, which is not referred to in the journal and has no relevance to anything there. It's just a neat picture, so I threw it in. Now it is relevant.

Sorry it's been so long, but I've been devoting my evenings in the front passenger seat of this van to converting the newsletter into it's online twin,'The Journal', and processing relevant pictures for inclusion. I only get a few hours each evening between when I put down my leverage bar to eat dinner, and when I collapse for the night in the sleeping bag on the driver's seat next to me.

I'm building a contraption - one of those ideas I've entertained most of my life, but never tried. Now I'm doing it. It catches water.

After the water tank was moved to its new location, I went to work on a boulder I was concerned about. It sat smack dab in the middle of where I planned to put the trailer and the modular addition. I decided to give it a shove to see if it would move. Finally I got the chance to use my new 12 ton hydraulic jack and over a span of about 4 days, it did the job. Then I went ahead and moved the remaining rocks to clear the site.

Following that, I went to work on raising a driveway into the new site. There is one boulder almost entirely buried in the middle of the drive, but projecting just enough to rip out an undercarriage or whatever. So I dragged in a few large flat rocks to lay around that guy to raise the level of the drive. It was while I was maneuvering a few other rocks in that drive, that I began to realize it was time to stop all that messing around and get to work on the most urgent endeavor, that of completing my water project.

I had concluded that the 260 gallon tank was just not adequate. I needed to increase that storage capacity. So I went looking for barrels. I had heard that the Marine base about 25 milers away was selling them cheap, but
when I arrived there, they had none. So as not to waste the trip, I bought a good 3/4" nylon rope about 160 feet long for $10. I finally found some 50 gallon barrels at The Fort in Morongo Valley. He wanted $22 apiece, which is fair, but for 8 of them, plus hardware, that's a chunk of cash. Also, they were sealed, except for 2 caps in the top, so it would be a bit difficult to firmly attach a valve near the bottom that would never leak. Then they still contained the dregs of their prior vegetable and other juices, which I didn't feature having to clean and deodorize with no way to get in there. So barrels were out.

Meanwhile, Eileen and I had been doing some shopping at Walmart the night before where I had seen something that my mind had been playing with while I went searching for barrels. I had seen plastic boxes. The long and the short is that we came home with 8 Rubbermaid boxes with lids, each 31 gallons in capacity, enough lumber to build a rack for them, and the parts to assemble one PVC plastic valve in one box to try it out.

Well, that night it rained. In the morning I found some nice clear water in the new wheelbarrow I had just bought and in the top of the stacked boxes. This disturbed me. Here I am trying to maximize my storage capacity for water I'm going to have to pay for, and there it is falling free from the sky. Why not catch it like the tent roof did as I described in an earlier mailing of this letter?

I dropped the storage project for the moment and began the collection project. I went back out and purchased a large 16 x 24 tarp, enough PVC pipe to hold it up to the sky and a drain that would carry the rain water from the tarp through a flexible pipe to the tank and later the boxes. What I'm building is a canopy, but when you stand back and look at what is going up, it looks like a contraption. The PVC turned out to be a lot less rigid then I expected, but I think I can get it to work. The tarp is not all that heavy (it would not accumulate water because the drain would take it away) - all I need do is make it stay where it is when the wind starts thinking it is some kind of sail. I suspect that 3/4" nylon rope will probably hold it in place.

I will keep you posted.

On December 24th, we drove down to Laguna Beach and checked into the Laguna Riviera. I took one very long hot shower immediately. I don't know why Eileen insisted that I shower first, but before we departed at noon on Christmas day, she had taken 4. We did other things too, but the primary excitement of the mini-vacation was to be able to luxuriate in the shower and sit on a real toilet and sleep in a real bed. I did sit on the beach on December 25th in my bathing suit and watch the surfers ride the waves. I also checked my email while down there so I could add that picture to my article on the Cell Phone Notebook Connection. We ate dinner in a nice Greek restaurant and then breakfast at The Cottage, an old favorite.

Early afternoon on the 25th we left Laguna and returned to Joshua Tree via the Ortega Highway, noted for its fast hairpin turns which I described in a previous newsletter. I was glad to be back, like seeing an old friend again. Eileen was not.

Everybody wants to know how the trailer is coming along. It's not - yet. Getting a working water system is the priority, and having a better location for the trailer is a prerequisite. Likewise, it needs a level driveway in place to get it from A to B, especially if it has to be rolled on its hubs; that is, with no tires. Why move it?
The current location does not work:

I have removed the trash and sprayed the interior with antibacterial. I have spread sand across the floor so that my walking around in there will wear away some of the filth and loose paint. I'll sweep and vacuum it up when I'm ready to begin scrubbing. I have removed various closets, a built-in bed frame, cupboards, etc. to make way for a thorough scrub down, repair work and painting. I have purchased some supplies for all this, but the exterior will have to be refurbished first and I have not yet worked out exactly how I'm going to do that. It will be done.

January 06, 2002 2:27 PM
Hello Eileen and Van, You two are the greatest adventurers I know! Glad the weather has warmed up, and hope you are all keeping well. Sounds like lots of hard work. I bet those showers in Laguna Beach felt good! Take care.....Love, Marcia

January 08, 2002 8:23 PM
Hi Ann and Grant, We spent Xmas Eve in Laguna Beach walking around the town which was all lit up and beautifully decorated. It was nice to see and hear the ocean - a big change from the desert. I think I have had enough of camping and am anxious
to return home. I did find a place in the town where I can get hot showers. The weather has been warm so far this month and in the 80's today, so I guess its better to be here right now than in the cold back East. It would be nice to make a trip to San Diego or San Francisco before going back - but will see. I have been doing a lot of reading - Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich books - great mystery detective books. Mo, our dog, and I have been going for long walks. Missy the old cat has been a great traveler, confined to the van - well protected from coyotes. Love Eileen

January 09, 2002 10:21 PM
Dear Dad, It sounds like you're getting a lot accomplished over there on the other side of the country-I hope all your plans for water and location work out, without a lot of trouble. I hope you guys are careful way out there in the middle of nowhere, don't get kidnapped by some new age punks or anything! I enjoy your letters and knowing you guys are having a pretty nice time as well as knowing you're o.k. Talk to you later. Love, Darby

January 11, 2002 8:07 PM
Marcia, We are having warm sunny California weather in the 80's which is great - wearing shorts. I'm reading Sue Grafton's latest book, "P is for Peril". The older women here all seem to wear their hair long, pulled back, so I guess I'm in style as I haven't had mine cut in months. Eileen

January 13, 2002 10:16 AM
Hi Eileen, You are a pioneer woman, and Van a true pioneer....actually, I think I would like that adventure for awhile, too, but it is definitely not Paul's idea of fun....he would want to stay at the Ritz! Anyway, the rain has turned in to a wild blizzard here. It is amazing how hard the wind is blowing, and it changed to snow about an hour ago. Marcia

01/15/02, 7:30 pm:

We had a visitor. I first noticed him early one morning about a week ago playing with Mo, as I stood outside and drank my first coffee. He was obviously a Husky and obviously somebody's pet and obviously a male, though as we came to know him, the first two 'obvious' features went into question. In the days to follow, he would simply appear shortly after dawn and disappear in the night. We never saw him come or go; he just appeared. Mo and he were great friends though at times Mo had to sharply remind him whose place this was. Mo is part Siberian Husky, so there was probably an instinctual affinity there too. They ran and they played and they alternately dominated and submitted to each other.

He was skittish; during the first day or two, he kept his distance, but eventually began to relax enough to be near us if we were not looking directly at him. However, he would not get too close and if I moved, he would back off a few paces, though when I'd quietly tell him it was okay, he would relax and return. He was not as nervous with Eileen since she quickly took to feeding him scraps and dog biscuits (against my expressed disapproval). We never actually touched him, as in us touching him, though during the last few days of his visit, when the three of them were out for their evening walk, he did nuzzle briefly into Eileen's hand from behind and once he nipped her in the butt. At times, during their walks, he would disappear into the scrub and then reappear beside them awhile later down the road.

At first we assumed he belonged to some neighbor up for a few days, but there were no new vehicles or faces around, except for a woman visiting Tom next door. However, neither seemed to pay any attention to the other and we never actually saw him approach Tom's house. Finally, Eileen went over and asked, and No, Irene did not know him. He had a fairly new collar and it was not too tight - a black fabric with a pattern of small bones and a plastic snap. It had no tags. Yesterday, I asked around in town, left my phone and email here and there, bought the local paper to read the Lost And Found, and called the local radio station that lists lost & found animals over the air. There are a lot of lost dogs out there, but none that fit this description. By now, we had also checked with virtually every neighbor. Nobody had seen him before. We began to think in terms of another body in the van on our eventual trip back east.

Yesterday morning, having concluded that he did not belong to anybody local, I made him a bowl of food at the same time that I fed Mo. He ate about half of it. Later in the day, Eileen offered him the remainder but he was not interested. It still sits on top of the box trailer (it's all dry food; no wet), but I'll probably give it to Mo in the morning.

I've been doing some work up in the rocks on my hill, and sometimes I just climb them because it is fascinating and exhilarating. Mo wants to, but he can only go so far before he seems to say "Enough of this!" and lies down or heads back down the hill. But our friend would be right there nearby at his obligatory distance. He didn't climb the rocks; he flowed over them - size and steep sides meant nothing to him. I noticed though that if he stepped over a rock I had moved, he would pause briefly and test it before proceeding - this was all by instinct; maybe a year old, he had not been around long enough to learn this natural flow and precaution. In fact, before I observed all this, Eileen had already taken to calling him "Lightfoot". I began to see coyote in him - his legs, the bushiness of his tail, his stance, his flow over the terrain, his ability to disappear and appear - all things I had seen in our local canines as they crossed the hill or inspected the van in the early morning or tried to entice Mo into a chase from which he might not return alive. We came to realize that our Husky friend was part coyote.

A couple of days ago, he howled. It was like nothing I had ever heard - definitely not the high tenor of a coyote. It was deep, throaty, rough and loud - much like that of a large bull steer. It almost seemed an anguished and forlorn expression of his soul.

The night before last, he did not disappear; he spent the entire night curled up in the dirt outside the van. Last night, we drove off in the van to visit with friends, and he watched us go. When we returned, he was gone. Today there was no sign of him. It was a yucky day - overcast and cold. I was down. Eileen was down. Mo was quiet and alone, off by himself; disinterested in things - not his usual self. When Eileen came home from her evening walk with Mo, she commented that this valley was such a spiritual place. I know.

We know now that he belongs here, as a natural part of this desert wild; he simply would not take to the entirely different environment back east. He is a loner. Somebody he befriended got a collar on him, but he left them when it was time to go, just as he may have left us and gone on his way. I don't think he even hangs with a pack - dogs or coyotes, because he does not belong to either - he visits and then goes his way.

January 17, 2002 1:46 PM
Very interesting! I am eager to know if the four legged creature returns. Be careful!!!! Mary

January 17, 2002 7:57 PM
Van I went to the journal you have on your website. That dog looks almost exactly like our dog Canuk. He was half wolf and half husky. You're doing such a tremendous amount of work for an older brother. Gives me hope that I can get energetic again. Hannah

January 22, 2002 8:32 PM
Hi Marcia, We have had a couple days of cool weather but back to the warm sun and shorts today. The people here are all bundled up in warm clothes as this their winter. I did some volunteer work in a grade three classroom last week which was interesting. The teacher I met through Al-Anon - what a handful she has. That is a hard job, you really have to be dedicated. I'm doing some needlework. That is keeping me busy, making mistakes and redoing it. It is a cross stitch of a country sheep which will make a nice pillow. Tomorrow is free taco night at the local saloon so hope to round Van up to go. He has the water man coming tomorrow to fill his water tanks and hopefully we will be all set there. Eileen

January 23, 2002 5:52 AM
So interesting to hear you were helping in a classroom. It is a challenge and does give one an idea of how dedicated teachers must be! Did your other dog ever come back? What an interesting story! Marcia

01/22/02, 7:30 pm:

The waterman cometh - tomorrow at noon. The tank and the storage tubs are prepared for his arrival, not done, but at least he can fill them and if our luck holds out, they will hold that water. Funny how such a mundane occurrence can become such a momentous event anticipated with quiet excitement and a pending sense of great relief. We now have a sturdy rack of 2x4s, set just up from the water tank, brushed with boiled linseed oil to ward off the drying and cracking affects of the sun. On this rack are eight 31 gallon Rubbermaid boxes (tubs). Into one end of each has been inserted a plastic valve and this has been tested for leaks. Centered into the lid of each tub is a short 1 1/2" pipe. Each of these lid insertions are connected by pipe to a vertical filler tube into which he can plug his nozzle, thereby filling all eight simultaneously. The 260 gallon steel tank has a new brass hose valve, such as those you have on the side of your house, screwed into its bottom. So we're ready to go.

All these tubs were thoroughly cleaned with "Simple Green", a nice organic cleanser - perhaps too thoroughly since they still stink of "Simple Green". Keep in mind that I had a rather limited amount of trekked in water to work with. I'm planning to have him flush out the tubs and tank before he fills them anyhow. We get 15 minutes of his time for $50, so that should work out okay.

Sometime within the next few days those eight plastic valves will be connected by a 1" pipe leading out below the steel tank to join the brass valve attached to it. To this will be connected a standard variety garden hose which will lead to wherever we need it. We may find a need to filter that water, so my plan is to set up another smaller Rubbermaid box with an inlet and an outlet like the current setup, but filled with charcoal and cotton. At the far end of that hose, I hope to set up a sink with faucets, just like the real thing, possibly in combination with the filter. A bucket can be placed below the sink to catch the "gray water" for use where pristine water is not required, such as in the portable toilet, or for cleaning the trailer, or for pre-rinsing dishes after use, etc..

Did I mention the hot water tank? It is like the one you probably have in your basement, except the outer shell and insulation have been discarded. I salvaged it from somewhere long ago. If it doesn't leak, I'll paint it a dull black to absorb the sun's rays, and run a water line to it and another hose from it to the sink. The water probably won't be "hot" too often, but it should at least be warmer then cold.

This is called "unfinished business", much of which I dreamed up 30 or so years ago and am finally getting a chance to do it.

.... Which brings me to the "contraption" - it contraped. That's the water collection system I dreamed up - it didn't fly - well, it did, but not as intended. It did stand tall and proud for a while there. I wish I had gotten a picture then, but I didn't. It wasn't done. I still needed to anchor the feet and reinforce the legs. I ran into town to get a hair cut and buy supplies. When I returned, I drove in to find it laying upside down. Eileen tells me a gust of wind blew through and the whole thing just lifted up like a big kite and flipped over.

I realize now that she must have been going through a hell of an inner turmoil trying to tell me what happened while trying not to say anything about what happened to my head at the barber shop. Tonight she mentioned that I look something like Groucho Marx. Damn, it used to be Liam Neeson. (1/25: she has amended this to Lee Marvin.)

I wrapped a long rope around a far corner and angrily jerked it back to its upright position. Done - not so bad; only one joint broke and I fixed that. I then ran rope from all corners to solid boulders, and that should take care of that!

The next day, about noon, a wind came through. I sat on the hillside above and watched it do its dance of death. The legs were twisting and kicking and bending every which-away. It looked like a giant drunken spider. One joint snapped, then another, and another. A hole pierced the tarp. Other legs flipped and flew away. Then it settled to the ground, deflated, beaten, disheartened. I spent the afternoon slowly disassembling it and folding up the tarp.

I'll use some of those legs and parts to pipe the water from the tubs.

01/25/02, 9:20 pm:

I have not been able to connect for the last few nights to send this off due to a problem my ISP is having with Qwest, so I might as well continue the story.

The water man did not cometh the next day. The winds were extraordinarily powerful and the cold bitter cold, and
he is 77 years old. I'm damn glad he didn't because I'm 58 years old. Ron Hopkins arrived mid-afternoon yesterday, a pretty nice day: no wind and in the 60s. His truck was probably as old as he was. The power steering had just gone out and his driver was sick so instead of turning into our driveway, he did a lot of backing up and pulling forward until it was aimed in the right direction. 20 tons of steel and water doesn't turn too easy. (His lights were also out so he had to get it done and get home before dark - they had gone out a decade ago and he left them that way because he got tired of people calling him for water in the middle of the night.)

He was afraid the hose might be too short to reach my tubs but we got it up and over the boulder and it reached with plenty to spare. It was a beautiful moment; hearing the water gush into those tubs through the filler tube that connects them. The furthest ones filled first and we stood there watching them bulge like plastic balloons as the
closer tubs filled in turn, but there was enough wood wrapped around them to hold them together and keep the lids on. The steel tank roared with delight as its hollow innards filled with cold refreshing water and it then shot a magnificent fountain into the sky when the water reached the filler hole. I ran through the cascade of water yelling and hollering, not from the delight I did feel, but to rescue my tools and get them to higher ground.

Eileen was the photographer of the day, so there will be some interesting shots when this reaches the web site. Mr. Ron Hopkins pulled away just shy of dusk. We had all had fun and he had enjoyed my setup - "Never seen anything quite like it that I recall...". He still only charged $50 even though he had been there a good bit longer then 15 minutes.

We now have 500 gallons of pristine water that we can call our own, and that is a nice feeling. The tub water tastes a bit like Rubbermaid. Eileen is afraid to try the tank water, but that will need a couple of days for the sediment (rust dust) to settle to the bottom anyhow. I'll go to work on a filter as soon as the plumbing is done. Meanwhile, we have found that we can fill a few jugs when we go into town for showers or to do the wash, so that will give us enough drinking water to meet our needs. Today I just about completed connecting pipe to the 8 valves and running it to a common outlet that will join up with the tank valve. There are some slow leaks in a couple of valves so I'll redo them when the water level gets down to a manageable level.

Last night we did drink a tub water toast to our new water system.

January 28, 2002 7:11 PM
I was cracking up reading your accountings of your experiences. You are funny sometimes Van. Glad to hear you're O.K. Glad you have the water thing happening for you. Hannah

01/29/02, 9:22 pm:

Yesterday I awoke from my siesta at about 2:00. As has become our norm, Eileen was asleep in the warm van while I was napping in the tent, the tent being my preference when not too cold or windy. I had spent the morning moving rocks around and it had been pretty mild. But now it was distinctly colder and the tent had become rather cacophonous. Eileen had quietly endured bad cramps the night before and with no Advil (I did offer to go get some in town). I lay there thinking about all that and the Emergency Weather Email I had received the night before:


I have no idea whether this actually occurred because I called the Laguna Riviera, where we stayed at Christmas, and reserved two nights. We were there by 7:00, Eileen still somewhat in a disbelieving daze wondering what had come over me. We had passed through periods of rain and it was moderately cold in Laguna but not too bad. She took her beloved shower first while I walked Mo on the beach, and then I took mine - a long hot one.

We walked down the Pacific Coast Highway about a block to The Beach House and enjoyed what we agreed was probably some of the best cooking we had ever experienced. The salads and meals were individual works of art. I regretted that I had not brought my camera just to get some shots of those culinary creations. I had prime rib and Eileen had halibut. Then back to the motel and sleep - together, in the same bed with her curled into my arms. We really have missed that special nighttime connection.

In the morning, I walked with Mo down to Ralph's supermarket to get some milk for my coffee. He was very well mannered without the leash. Then, at Eileen's insistence, we walked across town and along the beach to The
Cottage for breakfast. Mo got in a good cleansing swim along the way. I had a pile of cakes, bacon, eggs and OJ - and coffee. Eileen had an egg and cranberry juice. Then we walked back, window shopping as we went. After our siesta, we walked up the opposite way along PCH looking for a thread shop where Eileen might find another needlepoint project to work on back in JT - no go; they were hand painted and too expensive. We then walked back past the Riviera and down into town to a bakery where we sat and enjoyed some delicious pastries. Then back to the motel.

One thing I'm doing here is stressing how much walking had been done during this time of rest & relaxation. Laguna is not flat - very hilly. With all the climbing of my rocky mountain, you would think this walking would be a breeze. It wasn't; at times, my legs felt like exhausted stumps of rubber and Eileen was frequently hanging onto my arm to keep herself from buckling.

We then drove out into South Laguna to see the house I had once owned back in the mid 70's. We didn't get out and walk anywhere - just drove. We were, however, approached by a woman who asked what we were doing there. She turned out to be the sister of the guy who owns it and we have been invited to return tomorrow morning at 9:00, when her brother will be around. That should be interesting.

After we returned to the motel, Eileen found a cozy shower and bed to sink into, while I took Mo for another long walk on the beach, where he found a cozy tidal pool to sink into. Later we walked down into town for dinner at "Johnny Rockets", a hamburger joint made to look and feel like a 50's diner. We had some good hefty burgers with everything on them and a plate of onion rings. I had a vanilla shake and a hot fudge sundae. Eileen had a coke. It was a good dinner and we liked the place. We then walked back to the motel.

Eileen is in bed now fast asleep as I sit out here in the van typing this, uploading the previous email and its pictures to my web site for your pleasure, and running the van and its heater to dry Mo off. It is now 11:40 and I'm closing up shop. Night!

01/30/02, 9:07 pm:

We're back! It is cold! We found a 1/4" of ice on the dog water (and none in the tub water). However, there does not appear to have been any precipitation.

We drove this morning to The Cottage for breakfast after a good night's sleep and Mo's walk on the beach. After our final showers, we took off about noon and arrived here uneventfully at about 4:00. Mo, shiny clean and black after his dips in the Pacific, has begun to turn brown again.

I declined Eileen's offer to cook a dinner tonight. As cold as it is, it would be too much of a shock to her system after our luxurious interlude. I'd also had more then enough over the last few days. We drove back into town where I got us some chocolate and such to tide us over, then back to our California home (sounds good when you say it that way).

I was horrified to find that I had left my jacket behind. It is a warm Ralph Lauren corduroy that Eileen had given me one Christmas. I called the Riviera and they found it on the back of a chair out on the patio where I had last remembered having it. They will ship it to me COD.

I guess that is about it - nothing adventurous really; just a nice break from the "roughing it" routine.

Oh yes, our friend Lightfoot does return now and then to visit - at a distance with me, though he has allowed Eileen to pet him a couple times.

January 31, 2002 6:36 PM
I'm glad to hear that you went to Laguna. When Chet told me about the weather there I got all worried about you. Also I was concerned that your water might freeze and crack or explode your tanks. Also glad to hear Lightfoot comes back. Hannah

February 01, 2002 8:12 PM
Hello Sue and Allen, It has been cold this past week, but have been wearing shorts now and then. Van has been keeping you updated as to our life in the desert. Yes, I have longed for home at times and never wanted to see any more dust and dirt and cold windy days, but you adjust, and as Van says "look at the good things and enjoy them". I do enjoy my long walks with Mo and Lightfoot when he decides to visit us and of course the warm sunny days and Laguna Beach. I have met some nice neighbors to chat with and passing the time doing some needlework and reading some good detective mystery books.

After hearing about your freezing weather, I have decided its better to be here in the desert with the dust and dirt at least until March. I'm hoping to be back home for Easter, if not before. Warm weather is still here - in the 70's. We went to the playhouse here to see "Lend Me A Tenor" - quite funny with a lot of good local talent. Tonight is free taco night at the local saloon. They have it every Wed., so will have to round up Van from his rocks. The other day I saw a pack of coyotes walking along the road. Eileen

February 05, 2002 11:01 AM
Eileen- eat more than just an egg and juice, please :-) !! Other than that, hope your water bins are staying full, and hope it's not too cold or windy out there. have to go to class now... Bri

February 06, 2002 4:43 PM
Hey Dad and Eileen, It sounds like you guys are having a great time in Cali with your daily adventures, and I love reading about them! Bri has been giving me her printouts after she's done with them so I've been following your adventure! Keep up the good work so Bri, the girls, and I can start planning our summer road trip to Cali! Darby