Saturday, November 29, 2014

My (future) tiny home

Last week I made a big step in the direction of tiny. I bought a fifth wheel travel trailer that will eventually become my tiny house. It is rat infested and extremely neglected but it has all the elements to make a great tiny house; a solid frame, propane appliances, and many materials I can recycle or reuse... and it was only $400 which didn't hurt.  Being a guy who has roamed throughout the West for the better part of my life and can hardly even keep house plants. This is a big (tiny) step for me.

Ugly and infested. I am secretly thinking "what did I get myself into"?

So what is a tiny house and why do I want to build one?

Tiny houses are typically houses 200 square feet or less, often built upon flat bed trailers. Though not always. Building them on a trailer allows you to avoid a lot of the building codes that apply to a home built on a foundation. Though this subject can be a little tenuous.

My first endeavor in building a mobile/tiny home.
The tiny house movement spawned in response to the exponential growth in size of the American home. The average American home has gotten larger and larger while the average size of the American family has gotten smaller. We accrue more and more debt in order to maintain this lifestyle. And then there are people like me who are seeking to experience the joy and stability of owning my own home and yet don't need more debt. I have the skill, able hands, a good mind and the desire to create a home that I built and own.

I have lived in small places several times in my life, one of which was a camper I built that went in the back of my truck. I love the challenge of building something creative from recycled materials and the ingenuity that is necessary to make use of every bit of space.

What I have in creativity and ingenuity I lack in geographic stability. Though my job puts me in some of the most stunning landscapes one can imagine I typically move every 5-6 months. While I expect to eventually land a position that keeps me in one place I anticipate bouncing back and forth between two parks for the next couple of years. My long-term goal is to purchase an investment property in the coming years and eventually a piece of property with some good fertile soil to start a small farm. Building my tiny home allows me to start building the home I'd roll up on that piece of ground. In the meantime having the ability to be mobile while having some stability is extremely enticing. It's also just a fact that my personality requires me to have projects like this in my life. Maybe I have a tinge of ADHD.

The start:

The first step is demo and salvage. The entire camper has been infested with pack rats for years so I needed to make it a safe place to work first. I am in the Southwest where Haunta virus and the plague are a real danger so last week I vacuumed out the entire interior, began pulling up all the carpet, and threw away anything not attached to the floor or walls. At first I was thinking I would renovate and add to the camper but after spending some time starring at it it dawned on me....this thing is fucking ugly. And so I decided I will strip the entire camper down to the frame while salvaging as much material as possible. I want to change the entire look. After all this is going to be a tiny house not a camper.

While I still have not settled on a floor plan I do know what I am going for. I have a thing for patinas. I love the way years of weather change old barn wood. I love the way an old trucks paint fades away to rust in the desert, or the way copper changes oxidizes over time. There is so much to be said about the way the rung on a wooden ladder is subtly worn and richens in deep color over a 100 years of use. It is a story.

Needless to say I very much like to re-purpose and salvage these old materials. Not only is it an earth conscious practice, to me, it is preserving a heritage and paying homage to that story. 

Sometime ago I wandered upon a builder online who builds tiny homes with these very same appreciations and principals in mind. His name is Brad Kittel. He is a builder and a tiny house revolutionist I have been following online for several years. Brad owns Tiny Texas Houses ( The innovations they have come up with to offset the many challenges of living in a tiny home are inspiring and will make even the best of you realize that you too can live in a tiny home. Not only that they are absolute works of art and are built from 99% salvaged materials. 

I want to build my tiny home utilizing these ideas, principals, and inspirations.


Later this week it is back to the trailer to continue demo and salvage. This will probably the last of the  work I will be able to do this winter before I leave for Texas.

Until next time my friends... 

-Free Range J        


Friday, November 28, 2014

On becoming a Park Ranger

The vessel I worked on for 3 months in Alaska.
Throughout my life I have pursued my interests and passions. Aside from listening to what I like to call my guides, it's the only way I know how to guide the direction of my life while maintaining integrity and staying true to my inner voice. At some point, often amide a spell of loneliness or financial hardship, you look back an try to make sense of all it, wondering if that voice was the right one to listen to. Or if it there was even a voice at all. I have been a dishwasher, a sign maker, a landscaper, a carpenter, a tree climber, a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and a field biologist. I once moved across the country after opening a fortune cookie that said "pleasure awaits you by the seashore". I had been contemplating the move but it pushed me over the edge. It was right. I spent 8 wonderful years in Western Washington. I found myself there.

What we do for work is not necessarily who we are, nor should it ever be completely who you are, but if we are to be happy and good at what we do it should be a strong reflection.

Me tracking Sage Grouse in NE Nevada.
My time came in my late 20's. I had graduated recently from a college recently designated "the most liberal college in the country" and was working as a seasonal field biologist. I studied birds. I liked the job but I was missing something I desperately needed. I became a biologist because I wanted to make a difference in the world around me. Studying and observing birds became something I loved but it had become a selfish pursuit. I felt the only difference I was making was among academics. Even that was negligible.

I looked back on my life and could see only random bits, different skills and experiences I had acquired. I found no common thread. What I knew to be true was that when I found what I was supposed to be doing it would all come together and I would see each portion of my life as the necessary step to bring me to that moment. In writing this I can see deep within me a strong belief that my life has purpose and faith that there is a great spirit guiding me. It has been there most my life. It was born among the forest and desert I freely roamed as a child. There I learned the value of listening and observing.

And so I went back.

I asked myself if money was no thing and there were no limits, what would I want to do with my life? And it dawned on me, a childhood dream I had long forgotten, maybe someone had told me I couldn't, or maybe I had told myself that. Either way I stored the dream away and forgot it but I now had the wisdom and confidence to know that I could do anything. I would be a National Park Ranger. There was no second thought, there was no doubt in my mind or heart it was right.

In late August, 2012 I received a phone call. It was the director of one of the National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Programs (SLETP). After a short interview he offered me a position in the upcoming academy class. Attending the SLETP is the first step to becoming a law enforcement park ranger. It is a full-time 14 week law enforcement academy. I had my reservations about becoming a police officer but that is just one aspect of what law enforcement rangers do. They are police, EMT's, paramedics, firefighters, naturalists, and search and rescue. Think of any emergency that may come up in a national park and they respond to it. Most parks or areas of parks are so remote that they are it. I don't believe the public truly understands what they are or what is expected of them. They are the life line. When the shit hits the fan backup is either an hour out or there is none. They must be self reliant problem solvers who are quick on their feet. They are called out in the worst of conditions often in the middle of the night to help stranded, injured, and dieing people. They have to be able to go from arresting someone for DUI after wrestling them into cuffs to dawning their turnouts and fighting a fire to putting on a harness and rappelling over the edge to rescue a fallen climber to giving a foreign visitor driving directions. Possibly all in the same shift. They do it all. Not only that, they do it well. I wanted to be that. 

April 29th, 2013 I graduated from the National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program top of my class. I maintained a 99% GPA, won the sharpshooter award, tied for top in academics, and was voted by my class as the "most likely to out-drive the criminal". I was awarded the "McGinn and Axelson Scholarship", a scholarship given in honor of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Chief Ranger Brent McGinn and Ranger Laurie Axelson who died in an off-duty plane crash in 2010. It was undoubtedly one of the proudest moment in my life and the greatest honor. I had never done so well in school in my entire life.

My technical rescue class.
Government sequestration was on the horizon. Federal jobs were hard to come by so after doing another season as a field biologist I took an internship with the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) at the Grand Canyon Field Office. There are a lot of people who want to be a park ranger many of whom are very qualified. I had to set myself apart. Graduating top of my class was not enough. I enrolled in an EMT program in Flagstaff, volunteered to staff the park ambulance, respond to trail calls, and take care of the patrol horses. I attended all the trainings they would let me go to. When the chance to attend the National Park Service Technical Rescue Class at Canyonlands National Park in Utah came up, I begged for them to send me. When you know what you want you can't just expect the world to make it happen. You have to have the fortitude to make it happen.

First week on patrol.

It all paid off. After volunteering for over 6 months at Grand Canyon National Park I was offered a
seasonal law enforcement park ranger position at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Arizona Utah border. On May 5th, 2014 I became a United Stated Park Ranger. I put on the iconic flat hat and green and gray for the first time. And the best part of all, I could see how each portion of my life had brought me to this moment. It made sense. I had been waiting my entire life.