What's Your CA Dream?

Marge and Vern's 9000 Foot CA Dream

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photo courtesy Marge Biehl

Marge Biehl, a concerned NPR listener, called to comment on NPRs coverage of Barbaro's injury and what she felt was the challenging state of horse racing back in February 2007. I walked her through the commentary process and two years later our conversation continues.

When I heard that Day to Day was doing a series on the "California dream," I immediately thought of Marge and her husband Vern. The couple have lived in Northern LA County's Antelope Valley, off the grid for 29 years. Solar power, hand laundry, no car, and the last time they bought propane for their stove was in 2003. They cut their wood with hand saws and transport it via pack horse.

Before she and her husband Verne headed up to their summer abode Tunnel Meadows for ten weeks she sent me some snapshots, a small window into their life at 9,000 feet. They volunteer clearing fallen trees from trails, fix fences and re-open abandoned trails. No phones, email or power tools; drinking water from a found spring and sleeping in a meadow with their 6 horses. Letters and food are dropped off at trailhead every two weeks. They manage their reality well and I admire their choices; far enough off the grid but not so far that they won't stand up and speak out for the values they honor.

Here is what Marge had to say:

That first picture is Vern and me, Mitzi our dog and two of our horses at the top of Kern Peak, 11,500ft. It took us two seasons to clear the trail to the top. There used to be a fire lookout station at the top that finally blew over.

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photo courtesy Marge Biehl

A picture of Vern's back, riding up the trail from the Kern canyon. Having weaned ourselves off of vehicles 8 1/2 yrs ago, when gas was still under $2 a gallon, it's very interesting to see how the increased fuel costs are affecting people. It has affected us, but in a lesser way. Our food and horse feed has gone up, but having learned how to live without a vehicle is really saving us big time.
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photo courtesy Marge Biehl

A picture of us at Salt Lick meadow on our way to "work." Because Vern is real handy with horses, we've been able to work at home and really don't have to have a vehicle to go to work. My sister is our "personal shopper:" We pay her $50 every two weeks to do our grocery shopping. The convenience of owning a car is no longer a convenience; it has become an incredible burden to people.

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photo courtesy Marge Biehl

A picture of us with the two person saw. Since this is a wilderness, there are no chain saws allowed. All the cutting we do is by hand saws. The Forest Service gives us a 6 ft, 2 man saw to use while we're up there, plus we have several smaller saws that we use. Living at 9000 to 10,000 and cutting logs is a great work out.

We camp out for the 10 weeks we're up there. It is a great experience living so close to nature and we camp in the pasture with our horses. We also live very cheaply. We've survived with a small solar power system that runs our 12 volt lights, 12 volt refrig, our 110 TV & DVD player. We use a wood cook stove for heat and cooking in the winter. We have a really kick ass solar hot water heater, and another water heater in a smaller wood stove that is out in the shop, for those cloudy days. We don't have a washer or dryer, we do our laundry by hand. A friend found an antique hand wringer that we use, and of course, We have "a solar clothes dryer" — the sun.

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