Tale of a country family
By Rachel Baxter
Issue #66 • November/December, 2000
Dave and Dianna Saleh (pronounced “Sally”) always knew they wanted to live a rural lifestyle. They both came from big cities before they met and fell in love, and each dreamed of living in the country. Their lives as single people and as a married couple with children are inspiring. It was not always an easy road. Presently, they live in southern Colorado on 42 acres of beautiful, gently sloping land, dotted with a few ponds and surrounded by pine and oak trees. I believe their story will give hope to others who are struggling to make their dreams of living an independent, self-reliant life a reality.
The single life
Dianna attributes her ideas about self-reliance and preparedness to her dad. He grew up poor and instilled in his kids the importance of being able to take care of themselves. “He always stressed survival techniques with us kids,” Dianna said. “I once helped him build a cabin with trees we cut down that our donkey hauled for us. We were required to know knots, climb ropes and trees, gut animals, fish, and lots of basic safety. I’ve always enjoyed learning and using those skills and I get a great sense of security knowing that I can take care of my family and myself. There’s a sense of freedom in not being so dependent on things outside your control.”
“Geez, I hate to sound corny,” adds Dave, “but self-reliance is kind of in the blood. When I was a little kid, I loved survival stuff. I can remember a movie, that for me, was pure magic. It was called ‘My Side of the Mountain.’ It’s about a kid that runs away from home to live by himself in the wilderness. He has to find his own food and make shelter and clothing.”
Dave knew after he graduated from college and worked in a big city for a while that he would eventually live a rural lifestyle. Some years later he moved to a remote area of Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. “I was single for 37 years. I pretty much did what I wanted to do and went where I wanted to go,” he says. “I spent a lot of time hunting, backpacking, and fishing. I didn’t mind that it was difficult in the winter. I had to cut and burn firewood, using a wood stove to heat the house.”
Dave believes we’ve forgotten the art of providing for ourselves. Most people are extremely dependent on a fragile system for basic necessities. “Any number of things could interrupt services,” he says. “It makes sense to always have an alternative, a back door if you will. Today you’re a survivalist or right wing fanatic if you store food. Fifty years ago it was normal, everyday life in America to grow a garden and store goods for the winter.”
Dianna divorced her first husband and moved from Seattle to a cabin in the woods in northwest Washington state with her five kids. “I felt so small and insignificant in the city,” she said. “I completely loved the cabin and land. I had made a list of what I wanted: a well with gravity water that I could heat without electricity, a wood stove, fruit trees, pastures, and a creek. We’d have power outages that’d last for days and we were perfectly fine with it. I bought a little generator and used it to run the popcorn popper.”
Dianna learned to hunt, “shooting three deer with three shots, dropping them where they stood.” They had horses, calves, chickens, and turkeys, but she could not make ends meet with child support alone. She needed to find a job that would allow her to continue homeschooling her children.
“There was a dairy three miles from our home so I went there and volunteered to help with the milking until I could do it well,” she says. “I was offered a paying job as soon as I could run a shift by myself.” Dianna worked five hours in the evenings, milking 125 cows. It was hard, messy work. “I had really strong arms!” she laughs. She also delivered calves, gave shots, and treated the cows’ ailments. During the day, she homeschooled her kids.
“I saved the life of one of the top milk-producing cows once when she’d torn open a milk vein and had lost gallons of blood,” Dianna explains. “The cow collapsed and I pressed my hand over the hole. That stopped the bleeding. I sent the farm hand for a role of duct tape and a washcloth. I’m sure I seemed crazy to them, but if the cow was dying anyway, I sure couldn’t hurt anything. I folded the washcloth and held it tight over the wound and had the other guys help me slap the cow until she managed to wobble on her feet. I quickly wrapped the duct tape around and around her body to hold the washcloth tightly in place. We gave the cow water. She drank a lot. Within a half-hour, she was up and walking around. By the time the vet got there, she was acting normal.”
Sometimes, Dianna would come home so exhausted she could hardly move. Her kids would gather around and take care of her. Even though those times were hard, they all have wonderful memories of living there. “We had our family motto, which we never forgot: ‘All for one and one for all.'”
“We met as a result of a client’s friend,” said Dave. “He started telling me about this woman whose husband had left her. He told me she was ‘very conservative and was really a great gal. And oh…by the way…she has five kids.'”
A four and a half year courtship began consisting of visits, letter writing, and phone conversations. Dave still lived in Colorado and Dianna in Washington.
P>”I warned the kids that Dave was single and never had kids so he wasn’t used to a noisy house,” Dianna remembers. “They spent most of his [first] visit happily tip-toeing around and quietly whispering and enjoying having this rather mysterious man around. I was pretty nervous the four or five days he was there, but there was something engulfing and captivating about his presence.”
Dianna told Dave on that first visit that she was not a very good cook. She remembers him saying that if they got married, he’d do all the cooking. “The second we got married,” she laughs, “he forgot how to cook. He forgot how to do the laundry too—very convenient.”
In 1997 they became husband and wife, but decided not to ask the state for “the right to marry.”
“The main issue with the marriage license,” she says, “is that I believe marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and if they believe in God, it’s also with God. The state isn’t my father or my God or any other sort of spiritual or relational authority. I was also very disillusioned when my first husband left that the state didn’t honor or enforce the contract that they had required in the first place. What was the point of having one at all? It instilled a false sense of security that turned out to be very deceptive. It guarantees nothing and may even corrupt the essence of what marriage should be.”
Kids and family
The Saleh family is a very close and happy bunch. The kids, Ryan, 18, Shea, 16, Melody, 14, Crystal, 12, and Kellen, 10, spend their days working with the horses, building fences, irrigating, doing chores around the house, and studying.
“We like to make the kids work. That’s the most entertaining thing I do with the kids,” Dave jokes.
The family spends time camping, snowmobiling, skiing, horseback riding, shooting, and mountain biking. They spend Christmas on 100 acres they own in Meeker, Colorado.
“It’s a special place for us,” says Dave. “In the winter, there’s nobody out there. It’s a very peaceful, relaxing place.”
They talk to each other a lot, too.
“I love having discussions with my children,” says Dianna. “They still value my opinions, but decide for themselves how to view life. Sometimes we sit and talk for hours. I learn much from them too. They help keep me honest, generous, and focused.”
Melody, the 14-year-old, says she wants to be like her mom when she grows up, because her mom is whom she admires most in the world. Dianna says this is an indescribable honor.
“I have definite ideas about raising kids,” said Dianna. “Because I not only treat them with respect, but also honestly do respect them and their feelings, it’s natural for them to do likewise.”
“My biggest goal is, when my life is over, to have been a good mother.”
Like most homeschooled children, the Saleh kids are independent, inquisitive, not afraid to question authority, and not governed by peer pressure.
Because they are given the freedom to discover what they love, their interests are amazingly varied. Crystal, for example, is a second degree purple belt in karate, plays volleyball, is learning Spanish, sings, writes music and loves science and art.
“These guys have directed their own education,” says Dianna. “I have lots of materials, but they’ve picked their own subjects to study.”
Dianna and Dave believe public schools crush children’s insatiable love of learning that they come into the world with and that the system is another way the government conditions people toward a socialist mindset.
“Our public education system has indoctrinated people for so many years into thinking their way is the best and only way, that it’s almost impossible for many people to see an alternative,” said Dianna.
The notion that homeschooled kids do not get enough “social skills” is not only wrong, it’s absurd. It is almost impossible to develop meaningful relationships in an environment that stresses pointless competition, mindless obedience, rigid time constraints—all within a chaotic, prison-like atmosphere.
“If you’re different in school, you have to be so different that you wind up rebelling against everything just to be yourself,” Dianna says.
Crystal says she never thought public schooling would be interesting, and never felt she was missing anything.
Dianna and Dave believe that politicians, by their very nature, are deceitful.
“The system’s been perverted and it isn’t anything like it was intended to be originally,” says Dave. “In fact, I think it’s everything it wasn’t intended to be. Politicians have figured out that they can get themselves elected by the wealth that they give away that belongs to the more productive members of society. We’ve created a beast that we can’t destroy.”
“I think many people have chosen to make the state their God,” adds Dianna. “They think they should be in servitude to the state and the state should provide everything a God might, such as health, happiness, and prosperity.”
Dave thinks that if the system continues as it has been, the financial structure will collapse, there may be a war, or they will “decide to get real ugly and nasty and come after everyone’s guns.”
Dianna and Dave have numerous interests that keep them busy. They both enjoy writing. Dave is working on a historical novel, Dianna writes nonfiction.
“I’m doing character development now,” says Dave, “[The book] is pretty epic in its scope. It’s an ambitious project. I hope I can pull it off.”
“I love to write too,” says Dianna. I have boxes of journals where I’ve used writing to sort out issues in my life.”
Dave also hunts, builds things around the house, camps, and simply enjoys working with his hands.
The family raises and sells a most unusual and gentle breed of horse called ‘Fjord’ horses and Dianna runs the business.
Dianna also loves sewing, hunting, fishing, gardening, reading, and the outdoors.
“I love the beauty of the earth, she says. “It’s humbling to think that there are sick and hungry people living in cardboard boxes and for some reason I’m able to live in this incredible beauty. I appreciate it every day.”
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people that want to move to the country,” says Dave. “Really you can. Start by simplifying your lifestyle; people’s lives are far more complicated than they need to be. There are an infinite number of places people could relocate if they were resourceful enough. They could get by on a fraction of what they’re making because they wouldn’t have all the overhead.”
“I think if it’s important to you and you’re semi-creative, you can always come up with ways to make money,” says Dianna.
Dianna and Dave are happiest the farther out in the woods they are.
“I love how I live,” Dianna says. “It’s heaven on earth and I wouldn’t do anything different.”