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Life as a caretaker on a Montana Ranch.

I've been reading COUNTRYSIDE for years now, and am always amazed at the number of people who write in complaining that they are struck in a rut and can't get out of it. They're always saying, "If only I had the money to buy a place out in the country." Well, I just want them to know that there is another way. It's called "caretaking." It's when you exchange your time to live rent-free and watch over someone else's property. Here's just one example of someone who's taken advantage of the caretaking lifestyle.

As a Southern California native, Dwayne grew up on a small farm in the country. As kids, Dwayne and his sibling raised all kinds of animals and had a very large garden and orchard. His teen years were spent in the San Bernadino Mountains in the Lake Arrowhead area. As a freshman in high school, Dwayne had a serious bicycle accident resulting in a coma and amnesia. He recovered from his injuries and successfully graduated with his class at Rim of the World, Lake Arrowhead.

Dwayne then moved to the big city and spent six years punching keys at a computer terminal. His next move took him back to the mountains -- Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras. From various jobs over the years (from a dishwasher at a summer camp to a computer operator/accounting clerk), Dwayne finally found something that he really enjoyed doing -- property management. He had always been a handyman, a "Mr. Fix-it," and loved being outside in the clean mountain air.

Around this time, Dwayne caught hold of a publication called The Caretaker Gazette. As Dwayne explains, "I was still single and young enough to make a career change so I thought I'd give it try." Through some homework, Dwayne decided where to relocate, and settled on Montana as the right place for him. Dwayne placed and ad in The Caretaker Gazette seeking a caretaker position in northwest Montana.

The day that the Gazette came in the mail, Dwayne immediately turned to the Situations-Wanted section where he could read his ad. Dwayne notes, "That same day, a family in northwest Montana gave me a call. They were in search of a caretaker for the winter months while they were away. They needed someone to watch over the 200 acres and to care for all the animals." Dwayne and the property owner talked over the phone for the next few months and then Dwayne went off to Montana for his winter caretaker position. That six-month agreement turned into a year `round adventure.

Dwayne cares for horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, etc., and any newborns. He enjoys the services that he provides to the owners. According to Dwayne, "Since I arrived (16 months ago) there's never been a dull moment." Last winter he bottle-fed a lamb after the mother prolapsed, and he saw three sets of twin lambs born.

He's had to deal with a freezing water supply, the heaviest snowfall in decades, lambs being born in the middle of a snowstorm, piglets doing the great escape and tearing up the barn, and equipment that sometimes chooses not to run when needed. Dwayne adds, "To top off all the excitement, as Spring arrived the expecting mare delivered a strong and healthy colt and I got to shear a flock of sheep. I love my new career as a year round caretaker. I feel like I was made for this kind of a career, though all my past work experience has helped to make me what I am today. I'm grateful for all the hard times I had to go through to get here."

During the summer months, Dwayne watches over things when the owners need to get away for a weekend, or longer. He also helps out in the garden, assists with landscaping, helps move tons of hay bales into the barn and spends hours peddling his way through the woods on game trails. As a caretaker, Dwayne puts the daily chores first and then enjoys quiet walks in the woods or a chapter from a good book. He gets out to ski fresh tracks in new snow or work on his computer.

During the winter months when the owners are away, Dwayne puts together a bimonthly newsletter to keep them updated on what's going on around the property. Living a caretaking lifestyle also gives Dwayne time to pursue his own interests. These include health, photography, serious mountain biking (and technical single track), a good book, writing, theology and the outdoors.

Dwayne explains, "Being a caretaker is more than I ever imagined. I love my new lifestyle and the time that it gives me to enjoy living. I don't drive a fancy car, but at least my old Bronco is paid for. Money doesn't grow on trees, but money can't buy this kind of a lifestyle. I do, financially, somehow always make ends meet. For me, being a caretaker means giving more than is expected, living a quiet life, minding my own business, respecting the owners' privacy and upholding the agreed upon arrangement with the property owner."

There are pitfalls to caretaking

According to Dwayne, there's only one problem being a caretaker in northwest Montana, "When you're single like I am, it gets real lonely, especially in winter. Maybe that will change sometime soon. I thought I'd try this caretaking thing for a winter to see what it was like and to experience a Montana winter. Now, nearly three years later I wish I would have made the move years ago. I love northwest Montana and I love my new career as a caretaker."

Dwayne has a comfortable home in the northwest and looks forward to Spring. That's when his second family gets back and he can start training on his mountain bike again. Summarizing his experiences as a caretaker, Dwayne says, "To think that I gave up the rat race for this ... I just wish I could have discovered the wonderful world of caretaking years ago. It fits me just fine."

Caretaking is for anyone willing to watch over someone's property and treat it as their own. Singles, couples and families of alt ages can take advantage of property caretaking.

To learn more, send a SASE for The Caretaker Gazette's free "Report on Caretaking," PO Box 5887, Carefree, AZ 85377-5887; ph(480)488-1970;;

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:Country neighbors: Taming the "wilderness".
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