Time To Make A Move
This next contribution in our new Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers, comes from reader suziegruber. She recounts here the process she followed in making the decision to relocate to a location better suited to her resilience goals — one of the topics PP readers express the most interest in receiving guidance on.
For the last 10 years I have lived in a very resilient although temporary living situation on a beautiful country property just outside Sebastopol, CA. During my time there, I created water, heating, electrical, and food resilience, all without knowing how long I could stay. I had also become part of a wonderful community of Peak Prosperity folks, meeting every Saturday morning for coffee, talking about everything from raising pigs to economic theory. In many ways my situation was ideal, except for that small detail of being temporary, while the housing market around me went ballistic. I had constructed “resilience” on a shaky foundation.
For many reasons personal, local and global, I became increasingly motivated to make a move. I woke up one morning in June and realized that although I preferred to stay in Sonoma County to preserve the community I had built, I knew I could embrace moving to a new area where I could start over with a solid foundation under me because during those 10 years in Sebastopol I had learned a lot about my values and how to create family of choice, aka social capital. Given the world scene, I decided I needed to move quickly to begin this reconstruction process. I didn’t want to be a day late in making the move. I had a nest egg sufficient enough to escape the uncertainty of renting in most other housing markets. I’m also blessed by the flexibility to move quickly because I am single and I can work anywhere with a good internet connection.
In July 2017 I started by asking two dear friends of mine for strategic help. One of them, an expert in finance and big picture thinking, helped me assess my finances so I could decide what I could conservatively spend on a home. He also helped me sanity check how I was thinking about this huge decision. The other friend, a real estate expert, helped me understand how to assess regions, specific neighborhoods and specific homes. As a firm believer that dislocation looms sooner rather than later, I also read two books to help me assess specific areas: Rawles on Retreats and Relocation by James Wesle Rawles (out-of-print; I borrowed Adam’s copy) and Strategic Relocation by Joel Skousen. These books offer a hard-core survivalist perspective. While I decided that as a single woman, I wanted to live in a town rather than a defensible country property (too much isolation, work, maintenance cost), I value their diverse, detailed regional assessments including categories like sufficient growing season, nuclear threats, population density, distance to major metropolitan areas etc. To this I added requirements of alternative healthcare acceptance (my line of work), a grocery co-op as an indicator of community cooperation (thank you Becca!), a good regional airport (elderly mom lives in Los Angeles), state fiscal health and a nearby REI (presence of outdoor loversàsocial capital).
I quickly eliminated being east of the Mississippi River due to urbanized population density and distance from my mom. Using both the books I mentioned above, I began assessing specific areas by creating an Excel spreadsheet with additional categories like median home price, property tax rate, right to die allowed, snowfall (less is better for me), population etc. I eliminated staying in California due to its poor fiscal health, crumbling infrastructure, personally invasive policies and tendency towards taxation. I quickly zeroed in on Southern Oregon and jumped in the car.
I learned two important things about myself on that first trip north. First, as a 52-year-old single woman rebuilding my tribe, I realized that I want to live in the middle of my community rather than in the outskirts or in a nearby town. As things come apart, I am trusting I will be able to barter skills for what I need. Second, although I have the skills to manage a country property, I want to focus my life energy on my life’s work and my community and not on building a homestead by myself. I also knew I would feel physically safer. I chose to sacrifice significant physical resilience (water, power, natural gas provided by utility companies) for emotional resilience (physical security, community).
I synthesized all of this information together and chose Ashland, Oregon. Why Ashland? Ashland Co-op, REI Medford, good regional airport, strong & aware community, active local agriculture, housing in town I can afford, good distance from major metro – Check! Downsides: fire danger, questionable water resilience, local economy dependent on tourism, Oregon’s fiscal troubles. Yes, those are big downsides.
I bought a cottage with a small garden and moved to Ashland on October 18th in the middle of the Sonoma County fires. Phew! It turned out I was only a handful of days early in my decision to move. The housing market in Sonoma County has inflated even more over the last month.
I feel my new, solid foundation under me (increased emotional resilience) as I embark on this journey. Since moving a month ago, I have helped plant a local pollinator garden with Bee City USA Ashland and attended a Jackson County Master Gardner daylong where I made new friends and learned about the local growing season. I spent a Saturday rebuilding a fire-damaged wilderness trail with the Siskiyou Mountain Club. In December I will attending a Tribe Training in Ashland with Bill Kauth & Zoe Alowan who Chris interviewed last year.
Although I have more than 10 years of experience with physical preparedness, I’m prioritizing community in this phase of my life. I am considering starting an Ashland Peak Prosperity Saturday morning coffee connection. Anyone interested?
That is a nice area Suzie. We have friends that lived in Talent for decades, moved to Sonora for family reasons and are just now returning to Merlin near Grants Pass.
The watershed in general for that area is the Rogue River which has Crater Lake as its source and is a very pristine area. There are of course a lot of straws dipping into it these days.
Good luck in your new digs.
Great to hear your thought process, what you valued and how you decided to work with that. I looked at Ashland closely a number of years ago, too.
My wife and I came to several similar realizations about our age 63 lives. We are not physically fit enough or energetic enough to be the lone homesteader way out in the woods, planting fields and building log cabins with an ax. Nor do we have animal husbandry, construction or farming skills. And we wanted to be around people.
So we are in a suburb around a small university town. My thinking is that our goal is a neighborhood team, not a solo survival homestead. Strong teenagers to chop wood, a motor repair guy to keep the chainsaw running, and local subsistence farms within 10 miles. We have the potential to bicycle should the number of cars on the roads decrease as is expected during a severe economic downturn.
Looking at the rainfall map, Ashland has a dry summer. I am trying to imagine how I might work with that. Thinking out loud here….
I understand that only the rainfall landing on the roof of ones home can be legally harvested in Oregon. However, water falling in your yard is public property and cannot legally be captured.
A pit-and-mound garden terrain may be more subtle than the use of swales, ponds and dams, hopefully, skating beneath the radar of the water police.
I read about a backyard gardening technique used in an arid African nation where crops were grown in a cement lined trough. Water was delivered in small amounts to the deeper portions of the soil by a wicking system. (other wicking systems here and here). ( Wendy explains the principles here. ) In my area, IBC totes are readily available on Craig's list and are comparatively cheap. Cut in half, they form good garden containers.
Wind barriers reduced evaporation from the surface of the soil and plants themselves.
It looks like the Ashland temperatures are moderate enough for winter gardening in green houses.
…is a beautiful place. The english major in me likes it a lot. The Shakespeare Theater is world famous and an excellent example of a small community coming together. Its a charming downtown with lots of good eating. A lot of folks participate in the theater. If I'm not mistaken, Outside magazine rated it a top place for all the things outside is into. The real estate is not cheap for the greater area but compared to Seattle and a lot of California…..
sand_puppy is right about the interesting water rules. Although I'll take a guess that more and more govts will go down that "stream of thought" as ground water dries up in a lot of places and global warming gives it that extra punch.
Growing up in LA and now living in Seattle, one of the best things about it for me is its slight elevation gives you a better shot of being out of the fog pool in the greater river valley. The fog is pretty special in the winter months. Otherwise it gets half the rain of Seattle. (which I like) and actually has a predictable and warm summer, which I also like.
A lot of retired money has moved into the area and I hear some locals resent it but I heard that in Seattle in the 90s as well which is kinda quaint now that Microsoft and Amazon has invited the world….
It's moderate and decent season cycle is perfect for maximizing growing diversity. Although California is our temporary food basket, that will all collapse with the ground water and oil. Once again, food will have to be grown everywhere.
You have only 15 days left, and if they sell out, you don't have that. Everything's 20% off, because they're closing down the store at
This is the site founded by John Jeavons — and they're closing down now. I've done business with them for some time.
I suggest — for rainwater harvesting — these books.
And as always, the Jeavons books "How to grow more vegetables", https://www.bountifulgardens.
Your story is a very timely one for me since I'm also in the final stages of deciding where to move to. A few years ago I was driving around the Shady Cove area, which is a few miles north of Ashland. I saw "Fire Evacuation is a Personal Responsibility" (or something to that effect) signs everywhere.
I'm a single retiree, so the move will be a much bigger change than my move to Boston in the relatively "normal" 80s since I was much younger and was moving there for a job. In the present political/environmental/economic situation we are all in, there will be no changing our minds once we move.
My wife and I use a version of pit-and-mound in Spokane. We started with a 5000 s.f. or so backyard after buying a small home on a large lot (.27 acre) last summer (2016). The soil was roughly 8 inches deep and covered with crabgrass and an assortment of weeds including bugloss. We rototilled the entire yard twice and hand dug it once. We then mulched half of it with leaves from neighbor's lawns and the other half was planted with a green manure mix. I rototilled both into the soil this spring. (Note that buckwheat does not do well in even a mild frost.) A local arborist dropped off a load of wood chips this spring — free of charge. We then shaped the beds by taking soil out of the designed paths and building up the beds. I then filled the paths with the wood chips.
I did a section of the front yard in a similar way. Planted two fruit trees, several blueberry bushes and several hazelnut bushes. I'm trying to ease the neighborhood into the concept of permaculture. More yard will come out over the next year or two.
Because we are in the city we are able to live well without a vehicle. Zipcar, bicycle, walk and bus.
Two rooftop views of the backyard during the summer can be found at the following link. (I didn't have the technical skills to embed the photos.)
Here are Matt's Garden pictures:
Well done Suzie!
It would be great to hear back from you periodically to hear how this transition is progressing for you and what you learned (and can share) about building a community.
Commenters here have all mentioned the importance of living where there is water and knowing how to augment your water supply. I am the water resources management expert on my campus and spent 20 years in Colorado learning the interaction of climate and hydrological systems and related State water laws, first of the western drier nine states and then for the country. Some general trends are:
Cities and state managers in the nine western states are worried because the trend over the decades has been decreased snowpack in the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies, and those mountains supply most of river water – particularly later in the season when cities and crops need it the most. Even these nine states have varying state water laws that either try to protect (or allow waste) of water resources. All the states to the east of these states have such antiquated laws that there is effectively nothing in place to regulate the use of water or conserve it. Groundwater in almost every state can be easily over-pumped (pumped out faster than natural rain/snow can refill it) and with more evaporation from climate warming, you lose even more soil moisture that can't get down into the groundwater.
So, no matter where someone lives (or moves to) in the US, with few exceptions, their per capita water supply will shrink in the future (from more heat, less precipitation, and more people) and they will have to adapt to that. This is just talking about the amount of water available and doesn't include any additional problems of water pollution. Whether you are living in a city or countryside, learning various low-tech ways of making every drop count will give you great peace-of-mind. I haven't checked in the last few years, but some states (CA, OR, WA, CO) and perhaps some others have websites to explain more about the water issues of that state, and perhaps the water laws for that state. Hybrid states like CA, OR, and WA have more complicated laws because there is one kind of law for the wet (coastal) part of the state and then another for the dry side. You could probably look on the web for some better descriptions for prior appropriation laws (used in the dry areas of the country) and riparian (used in the wetter) but these laws focus mostly on surface water, and some ignore groundwater regulations entirely.
My advice if you were planning to move somewhere new would be to not only look up the state websites and related water laws for that state, then call or look up the city drinking water supply utility and try to get info from them as to quantities and sources (not so easy). Even better is to call geologists/hydrologists working in that state for the state environmental resources department (called different things in different states) and ask a water person there which areas are getting tight on water supplies or are likely to in the future. Of course, being a state employee they might have to watch what they say too. You will get the most honest answer about water supplies (quantity and perhaps quality) from a hydrogeologist/hydrologist at a university in that state.
My favorite book I used back when I taught water law was by a Water Law professor and he covers the basics from regions around the country. Now the new edition is pretty up to date, and if you can't afford it ($45) maybe you get if from a local university library or ask your local library to buy it?
Water Law in a Nutshell (Nutshells)
Jun 12, 2015 by David Getches & Sandi Zellmer