It’s been a whirlwind of adventures at Hillside Homestead this fall! I arrived back on November 6th after spending more than six months away, working and playing in Minnesota. I have a short list of projects and goals to complete before winter hits, and am lucky enough this time around to have two WWOOFers staying with me to help out. Hallie and Mario found my homestead on the WWOOF-USA homepage and we quickly made plans for their stay. They arrived in a little Ford truck, loaded with all of their camping gear and a very energetic chocolate lab named Bailey the day after I arrived. We’ve gotten to know each other well in the few short weeks they’ve been here, and have had many unforgettable experiences together.
I asked both Hallie and Mario to write up a short reflection on their time here so far. The day I asked them to write was the day after our first snow fall.
I woke up yesterday morning, November 17th, after a mildly windy night. Mario and I have been camping outside since we got here while working to finish our first set of goals- wrapping the house in tar paper, insulating the roof, sealing off the windows, and building an outhouse/sauna. We had heard that there was a winter storm approaching us and we were going to spend the entire day prepping for it by focusing on finishing the roof and sealing the windows to better wind proof the cabin.
Being a southern, but more importantly, North Carolina, girl, I did not grow up with much exposure to large snowstorms or blizzards. I have always thought snow to have a magical quality and was getting excited to see my first South Dakota “blizzard”. Jenna and I were working quickly to finish the windows and roof while Mario cut firewood when the wind started picking up… We needed to hurry up everything we were doing.
Mario and I had moved inside the cabin for the night of the blizzard. I don’t think any of us got much sleep. We all stoked the wood burning stove at some point to keep it warm, and tossed and turned as we listened to all the sounds of what could be going wrong with the outside of the cabin. The wind was howling and in my mind I was prepping to reenact the childhood game of fire drill- where everyone runs around the car at a red light to switch seats, only this time we would all run outside in slippers and pajamas to staple ripped tar paper back to the house in the snow and freezing wind.
When the sun rose we all gathered downstairs to assess the damage. It was amazing to find that all our hard work was preserved and withstood the first blizzard of the winter season! This was a great feeling of accomplishment. We still have a lot of work to do and a hot tub to finish but this was a good sign that after our first week and a half here the work we were doing was benefitting all of us.
It all started in 1989…. just kidding. Yesterday, November 17th, 2016, I woke up inside of our tent. For the first time in over a week, I was so tired and sore that I lay awake on our half deflated air mattress stretching and getting ready for a long, cold, and windy day of hard hard work. Everyone around town kept saying how we were going to get bad weather. There was a blizzard approaching and we had so much work to do. I had already prepped the firewood the day before, and now we were onto weather proofing all the windows. It got colder and the wind grew stronger as the day progressed. I had been in many blizzards, but never one in a shelter that wasn’t completely weather proofed or by choice. I was incredibly excited to reap the benefits of our hard work from the entire time that we had been here. All of the hard work, time, and effort was paying off. Never in my life have I worked so hard and put so much passion and love into just living and making it more comfortable to survive. We were putting everything we had into something that only we were going to benefit from. How sweet the feeling of working as a little family to create a home. Anyways, back to the blizzard. It is incredibly funny and peculiar how the cold wind makes you feel so alive. I say that merely because I stood outside while Jenna and Hallie finished up the windows in the dark as the wind blew me sideways against my will. We managed to finish the windows just in time as the first drops of rain started to come down and were able to enjoy a nice warm dinner inside of our little cabin on the beautiful hills in South Dakota. We played a game of cards and enjoyed some homemade hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps. After all was said and done, we went to bed for the first time inside of the cabin. I have never honestly felt like I had a place to call home until I laid my head down to rest last night. When I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I stepped outside for the first time and to my surprise, there was snow! Snow everywhere! I nearly froze to death going to the bathroom outside. I stepped inside and laid back in bed next to Hallie as I gently whispered “it’s snowing!” I quickly put some more logs into the stove and went right back to bed as I listened to a loose window pane rattle all night long. I woke up a few more times to go to the bathroom and each time the blizzard seemed to have gotten a little bit stronger. Bailey was a little scared as well as she barked at the wind, but she wanted to play at 3 am outside in the blizzard. I was scared she was going to wake Jenna so I asked her politely to stop barking. She didn’t. Jenna came down to the kitchen area where we were sleeping at 7 am, but it felt like it was 4 am! The winds were going and the snow was flying in every direction. We had survived! It felt so great. It is now our 11th day here and it feels like we have lived here for a year. We are so thankful to have the opportunity to live out a dream. It is the greatest gift to have so many wonderful memories in only 10 days. Many more to come!
Hallie, Mario and I have been finding incredible balance and energy in the simple life we’re leading out here. Our days begin with the sunrise. We gather around the coffee pot as one of us stokes the fire and another sets a cast iron on the stove to warm up some toast or eggs from the neighbor’s coop. We soak up the early morning sun’s warmth through the south-facing windows and talk about our goals for the day. Lately it’s been a hodge podge of tasks, getting ready for colder weather and bigger projects. Since their arrival, we’ve succeeded in wrapping the entire cabin in tar paper, insulating the roof, pouring the foundation for the outhouse, laying and cutting most of the timbers for the outhouse frame and stock piling enough firewood for the next few weeks. Outside of winter-focused projects, we’ve shot and butchered a deer, stripped trim from an old farmhouse that is going to be burned soon, retrieved 30+ large windows for a future greenhouse, and hosted several gatherings to share the space with friends and locals. There’s an incredible community of homestead enthusiasts here that have been supporting us with tools, materials, showers, laundry and encouragement. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I interned at DreamAcres Farm in southeastern Minnesota to host volunteers at my own homestead, and now that dream is being realized. Hallie and Mario are setting a very high standard for any future volunteers I have. They are the most generous, easy-going, positive and motivated people I could have asked to share this experience with. It will be a sad day when they choose to pursue their next adventure. Until then, we have much more hard work to do and fun to be had!
Our first project was to begin insulating the cabin. We removed the first layer of siding, called “battens” in this style and stapled a layer of tar paper over the entire structure. The tar paper acts as a wind and precipitation barrier and also ensures that the gaps between the boards will look black when seen from the inside.
We spent two days gathering a stock pile of firewood from dead and downed trees on the neighbor’s land.
It was exhausting work…
Enough firewood for a couple of weeks!
Our first snow! Only a few inches accumulated, but the wind blew hard and tested all of our work tar papering and insulating the roof.
Mario was going to help shovel the road so we could drive out. Turns out we didn’t need any help.
The second day of deer hunting season Mario and I worked together to bring this large doe home. Mario spotted it while we were hiking on the land around 8am and I took the shot. We let the meat hang and season for about five days before processing it into jerky and canned venison.
It took about four hours one evening to butcher the entire deer and cut it into chunks for pressure canning and strips for drying into jerky.
We dried the jerky above the wood stove. It took about a day and a half, and was simple because we were constantly firing the wood stove to keep the cabin warm. It was an efficient way to use the excess heat from the stove for drying the meat.
A special visit from my thirteen-year-old cousin Gabe included setting off experimental explosives. No rockets were successfully launched, but we generated an impressive volume of smoke.
Hallie and Mario have been bold and adventurous in their food preparation. Here they’ve made homemade pizzas on the wood stove. Dehydrated kale, sun-dried tomatoes, dried honey mushrooms and cheese top this one.
One of our more unexpected visits came from the band Condor who played at the Back 40 last Saturday night. It was a treat to have them out for a night, and they graciously split all of our firewood the following morning!
The land is constantly changing around us as the wind blows, the snow falls and the weather grows colder. We are gearing up to finish the insulation and siding next week. Our focus may shift soon to staying warm, entertained and occupied in the area by outsourcing our work. Winter is a time for creativity. We welcome all visitors, as long as they have 4WD and a good sense of humor!