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Life Arts

Underground in Idaho (part 1)

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The end of September, the first of October begins the autumn rains in southeastern Idaho. Strong rains in late October ensure strong winter wheat growth. But if the rains come too early, the harvesters can bog down, the trucks can get stuck, and the potatoes can be ruined. Of course this was all knowledge that came later.

Initially, we knew only that southeastern Idaho was a semi-desert. A perfect location for building an underground, earth-sheltered home in the 1980's. First, however, we would need a temporary shelter to use until our real home could be built. Something quick but semi-comfortable to survive the winter. Something for the four of us: Joe, me, our two boys, Jason and Braedon, and for Sally, our collie-mix, and something for our collection of 3 goats, 8 chickens, and 4 rabbits. Something that a limited budget with only me working could provide while Joe provided the labor and the designs.

So, in August, with a lot of sweat, a dozen rough cut poles, a load of rough cut, log-end planks, and boxes of nails, Joe designed and laid out our shelter. Using a minor, but conveniently placed sand dune, we hefted the poles and butted them into the hill. The goats found the process fascinating. Assured that the logs were bridges to nowhere, they danced along the spans and hopped from one to another.

Joe nailed the rough planks into wall structures, cursing the goats when they pulled one off while trying to eat the bark. I carried piles of planks, astounded at how well they fit to form walls.

"What about the gaps," I asked.

"That's simple to fix with mud," Joe responded brightly.

"And the roof?"

"Well, with enough dirt and grass we'll have a fully insulated roof!"

The boys were fascinated almost as much as the goats. Being 6 and 9, Jason and Braedon were willing to assist for short periods before wandering into the irrigation ditches to find frogs and salamanders or trekking off the half mile through the fields to the closest neighbor with boys to play with.

When the mudding began, the boys participated full-heartedly. Careful of each other's progress and the smoothness of their sections, they worked diligently for nearly two hours. As they neared the end on their two sections, Braedon casually tossed a handful of mud at Jason's section. In shock, his smile disappeared as his missile intercepted not the wall but Jason's sudden bent neck. With a look of shock, Jason turned. But instead of an angry retort, a smile slowly crept up the corners and a gleam twinkled. He nodded and laughed. Relief flooded Braedon's face and he, too, laughed. But his laugh ended as mud splashed his cheek and flowed down. The mud battle ended only with the last of their supplies and an admonition to fetch water from the ditch.

"And wash off that mess while you're at it!"

This was an adventure and the kids were well versed in the important aspects!

The final result for the house was a mudded shelter that kept the wind out. Three days of shoveling and wheel barrowing covered the north side of the roof with dirt and grass clumps. The goats christened the roof by urinating and pulling the juiciest grass mounds from their intended position. The south side was steeper, shorter, so it was mudded. All in all, it was shaping up as a livable shelter. . . until the real house could be built.

Plastic sheeting for the window openings offered light and wooded shudders could be lowered to keep the wind out and re-enforce the plastic. On the east end, the eave was still open which provided added light. The chickens were convinced that the eave was their roosting niche. This proved a scant problem, which Joe thought funny, but the rooster's use of the eave for calling at 3 and 4 in the morning was no laughing matter.

By the end of August, the east eave was enclosed and a home was discernible. School had started, so my help was limited to weekends. Driving in each day made trucking water easier. By maintaining two 5-gallon containers in the car, we limited our water needs to ten gallons. By burying half of a fifty-five gallon drum, Joe installed a sink for a kitchen nook. Then he ingeniously rigged a shower from half of a culvert. By pumping a pressure insecticide sprayer, we could shower with less than a gallon each. The outhouse was a mere 80 feet from the east, and only opening of the house.

With the lanterns and the wood burning stove, we were a little concerned about ventilation. Initially, Joe had buried almost fifteen feet of culvert at the southwest base of the west wall. This work well, providing fresh air flow and cooling the warm August nights. But one Friday night the air wafted in smelling foul and musky. By the morning the distinct odor of skunk was obvious. Any doubts were dispelled when the excited barks of Sally echoed down the vent tunnel followed by a howl and the distinct overpowering wash of acrid musk.

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BS's and MS in math, chemistry, and geology. Have worked in rad con, chem labs, environmental monitoring, and education. Spent 2 years with research lab developing methods for remediation of contaminated sites (organic solvents and biological (more...)

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I'll remember that.  BTW, how cold does it get th... by Margaret Bassett on Monday, Jul 20, 2009 at 5:28:33 PM
but chill factor drops it another 10 to 20. . . Bu... by sometimes blinded on Monday, Jul 20, 2009 at 6:30:35 PM
excellent writing anymore.  What a pleasant surpr... by GL Rowsey on Monday, Jul 20, 2009 at 8:31:12 PM