Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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The Quest for Home, Part 3: Follow the Signs

“Found it!” Pat called out to me, waving a piece of paper over his head without taking his eyes from his computer screen. Bodhi, my big, red Golden Retriever, reached him first, all wags and smiles, and Pat reached over to scratch his ears and give him a good thump before handing the paper to me.

“Uh…this is a little more than I intended to spend,” I said, gaping at a number five times larger than even my new, doubled budget. “And I thought it was only 11 acres, not 52.”

Pat laughed. “No, that’s the property across the road,” he told me. “We’re going to use it as a reference for finding the one you’re interested in. They’re both owned by the same person.”

“Ah,” I said, pursing my lips primly. “I thought maybe you were engaging in a little up-selling. Like, ‘Hey, take a look at this! Oh, this one seems a little steep? Well, then…have I got a deal for you with this other property — at only half the price!'”

Pat smirked, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Nah,” he said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at a man sitting behind him. “That guy’s the used car salesman. I’m on the up-and-up.” His poor colleague glanced up from his phone call, cocking his eyebrow at the two of us laughing at him before deciding he didn’t need to know.

“Let’s go!” Pat chirped chirped to Bodhi, and we were off.

Looking for Signs

Discouraged by my explorations the day before, I’d nearly quit my quest for finding rural mountain land. Intimidated by the remoteness of the properties and unsure of how I would afford one that met my needs, I’d sent up a prayer for a sign that I was on the right track. Typically, I ask the Universe to send crows as messengers because they were few and far between in my Indianapolis neighborhood, so I could consider a sighting as reasonably significant. However, as I drove back to my Airbnb lodgings that evening, I noticed that crows were as common as country daisies.

“If we’re going to use crows as our signal,” I muttered under my breath as yet another black flash of feathers crossed the highway in front of me, “you’ll have to send a whole damned murder of them.”

Crow sightings weren’t the only sign I needed. Pat and I had tried to find the 11.6-acre parcel after our nearly vertical climb to the top of a beautiful but — from my perspective — not very usable mountain property. We’d driven up and down the road but had seen no realty signs, which I’d learned from another property owner was not uncommon out in the country. And, because the land we were looking for was undeveloped property, listed as “young pine forest,” there would be no mailbox sporting a street address, assuming the numbering proceeded as logically as one might hope — and it often didn’t. The listing for the 52-acre parcel Pat had brought with us as a reference was for a small farm owned by the same person selling the land I was interested in. We had both an address and a farmhouse with a mailbox to use as a landmark.

OK, so maybe there wasn’t a farmhouse anymore…

“Uhhh…I think this is it,” Pat said, indicating a tractor road roughly cut into the hillside across from a mailbox bearing the address of the farm across the road (where a heap of stones indicated a former farmhouse). I turned my truck onto the deeply-rutted track and parked. We decided it would be imprudent to go too far up the drive until we knew whether or not we could get back out again.

Pat and I hopped out, and I released Bodhi, who immediately galloped about, pausing to sniff before charging off down the tractor road. Pat and I kept a more sedate pace behind him, peering into the undergrowth at the top of the road bank.

“It looks like they started to cut a driveway in here,” Pat said, indicating a pile of brush next to a partially-cleared swath through the trees, about two thirds the way up the road. “Let’s start there.”

A Murder of Crows(foot)

We had to move slowly at first; the brush piles from the aborted road excavation created more of a barrier than an inlet. Once we got past the initial jumble, the going got somewhat easier, and I could get a sense of the place.

There was much more biodiversity than the listing implied. Beeches and oaks and poplars and hemlocks grew among the pines. On the ground, I spotted something that looked a lot like wintergreen, although the leaf shape and coloring were unfamiliar. Pretty swirls of silver-painted, dark-green leaves grew here and there. I glanced up at something Pat was standing ankle-deep in, a vague memory tugging at me.

“Hey,” I said, pointing to the fans of evergreen ground cover. “I think I read somewhere that the stuff you’re trampling is endangered.”

Pat lifted a Teva-ed foot to look beneath it. “I dunno,” he replied, frowning. “I see it all over this area.” He turned to take in his surroundings, gingerly moving off of to one side. “And it seems pretty plentiful here.”

A large growth of the stuff blanketed the slope in a brilliant green. It was breathtaking. I added its photo to the ones I’d been taking of the other plants so I could look it up later.

As we walked the parcel, a cautious hope welled in my chest. The slope was gentle, with one or two deeply-cut washes scoring its breadth. A nearly flat ridge ran along the eastern boundary, tapering gradually down to a large level area near the bottom of the plot before it dropped off to the road. There were numerous places to put a yurt. Pat and I darted about like wide-eyed children, calling out to each other with increasing excitement. “Here!” he’d yell. “You could put a yurt here!” “Check this out!” I’d yell back, waving him over to see a sunlit opening in the trees. And so it went for the better part of an hour until we loaded Bodhi — happily exhausted from his own exploring — into the truck and drove away.


Later, in my rented room, my head spinning with exhilaration and doubt and fear and hope, I found answers:

Striped wintergreen. Rattlesnake plantain. American holly. Partridge berry. Sensitive fern. Ladyslipper. 

Google returned a photo of the pretty evergreen fans that had, indeed, been listed as endangered at one time but were making a slow comeback. It was a ground cover. I gaped in disbelief as I read its common name, the hair on my arms standing at attention:

Crowsfoot.

It was a whole damned mess of crowsfoot.


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Because Bodhi: Finding Gratitude through Grief

From an email I wrote to a dear friend and mentor:

Shortly after Coyote died, you and I had a conversation about what she taught me about living and dying with grace.  As we were wrapping up, you asked a strange question of me: “What has Bodhi taught you about loss?”
Coming from my long-standing relationship with scarcity and loss, I recoiled at the question, retorting that I hoped he would teach me nothing about loss for a long, long time. I left shaken. But I vowed that from that time on, I would do my best to make every moment of Bodhi’s and my life together count. 
What I came to discover was that Bodhi had already been teaching me, even as Coyote lay dying, that loss and grief are impermanent, if I allow them to be. How does that saying go?: “Pain is inevitable; suffering optional.” He was teaching me, with his sunny personality and outpouring of joyful love, that the pain of loss is only one part of living a full life. He was teaching me not to hang onto the loss, not to cause myself suffering by clinging to it.
In the early hours of this morning, Bodhi taught me another lesson, this time about connecting to gratitude through grief. He taught me that miracles aren’t always about gaining more minutes and hours and days to spend with a beloved friend and companion, but about being grateful for the minutes and hours and days you’ve already spent together. Miracles are those shining things you don’t always realize you already hold in your hand. 
In the wee hours of this morning, I learned that Bodhi was bleeding into his abdomen from an untreatable cancerous lesion. When I desperately prayed for a miracle, the Universe wisely answered: “You’ve already had it.” And, through the most chest-exploding anguish of my life, I found gratitude. 
Oh, I’m mourning. He was my best bud, my constant companion, my healing and meditation partner, my heart. 
But he was also my teacher, my Bodhisattva. And, so, I learn. 
Blessings, friend, for providing that reflection for me. Blessings for speaking those words to me, waking me enough to treat him like the living miracle he was.

A note to you, my readers:

If you’ve read any of the dog dialogues here on my blog or follow me on Instagram, you might have encountered Bodhi. He was my gorgeous goofball, my dork-face, my very own personal clown — a true Golden Retriever. But there was also something indefinably special about him. A treasured friend of mine came closest when she described him as “luminous.” It didn’t require physically seeing us together for people to sense the deep, loving connection Bodhi and I had — they could feel it through my posts, my emails, my photos. What’s more amazing to me, though, is that he somehow forged his own connections with people — even the ones he never met — just by being Bodhi.

As I wrote in my email to my friend, above, my grief is deeply felt — and it will continue to be for a long time, as I adjust to the silence and stillness that used to be filled, instead, with his silly, joyful energy. But, outside of the ending, I can honestly say I have no regrets. Bodhi and I had a great life, full of adventure and fun and snuggling. He and I dared to do things we might not otherwise have done, had we never met. We were creating a brave new life together, moving to the mountains of North Carolina to learn about living in harmony with the land. We were road-tripping and hiking and making new friends all along the way.

I have much to be grateful for.

And, so, in collaboration with the people who witnessed and participated in our story — people who sent me texts and emails and messages and photos — I’m writing a series of posts about Bodhi and what we learned from each other, what we gave each other. It begins with a howl of pain, a reliving of the night he died — because, as my brother-in-law Jeff put it so well, that’s part of our story, too. But I don’t want to stay there in the pain. I don’t want us to suffer, you and I. Whatever I post about this season of loss will shift the focus to not only honor my grief, but also to reach through the grief to the gratitude and joy and laughter that glimmers like a guiding star behind it.

Because Bodhi.

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Climbing the Hill

I don’t want to climb this hill.

But the hill is what stands between me and the warmth and coziness of the cabin where I’m staying.

It juts up out of the forest, an abrupt swell of land, dropping steeply away to my left and sweeping gracefully into a deep bowl of trees and underbrush. The road here is well-traveled, deeply rutted by runoff and the tires of 4-wheel conveyances the hunters call “mules.” It’s not my language, the language of hunting and 4-wheel conveyances, so it might be a model, a make, a nickname for all I know. Right now, I’d be happy for a mule of any kind, for a shortcut to the top of this barrier to my comfort.

The hill is hard, unforgiving. Here and there, it lurches suddenly upward and makes me strain and stretch and gasp for breath. I have to pause several times as I climb it, sweat running over my body, the air whistling into my lungs. But there’s no avoiding the hill. I must climb it. It’s the only path home.

Beauty presses in on me from both sides of the road, distracting me from my climb. I let it fill the spaces  when I pause to catch my breath. Many of the leaves have fallen and turned to brown where they lay. The ones still clinging to their branches are molten gold in the afternoon light. I can see deep into the naked forest, finding rock outcroppings that punctuate the gentle undulations of earth out of which they burst. Shadows painted by the trunks of trees stripe the landscape. It would be easy to lose myself in the beauty, in the momentary respite of stopping.

But losing myself isn’t the point, is it?

I must climb this hill. I must return to the cabin and make dinner and wash out a few pairs of socks and do my reading and write — get on with my life. I know I can take this hill, know I can beat it, because I’ve traveled this road before, conquered this hill. I know, too well, the effort required and the rewards. So I push on.

—-

I don’t want to cry these tears.

But the tears are what stand between me and the warmth and wholeness of a healed heart…


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Hello there. I’m pausing for a moment in the flow of all the things I’m creating to note an anniversary of sorts.

On July 7, 2015, I launched this blog so I’d have a place to put my grief for my dying dog, Coyote, who quietly and patiently taught me more about grace than any human ever could. Nearly two and a half years later, I’m still (sporadically) writing about the things that are important to me, the things that amuse me, the things that catch my attention. And now, I’m also preparing to use it as a place to put my gratitude to and for another dog, with whom I embarked on one of the most exciting adventures of a brave new life we were creating together. That dog — my vibrant, goofy, enthusiastic, loving boy — my Bodhi — is also gone. But before he left me, he joyfully inspired me to start living the life I once only imagined.

So, the anniversary: This is my 100th post in a blog that’s as strange and unfocused as the mind that produced all that writing — more like a high school variety show than a serious literary undertaking.

And I’m not only okay with that strangeness, I celebrate it.

Because, dammit, I’m writing. And that’s what I was meant to do, in whatever form my Muse sees fit to forcibly drag out of me.

So raise your glass and toast along with me: To madness and musings and misadventures. To haiku and hilarity and horse-hockey. To love and laughter and loss. To all the things that make us know we’re alive.

To Small Conceits! Happy 100th, you reckless child of my heart.


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A Practice for Healing Grief

 

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”

— John Muir

A Walk in the Woods

I am grieving.

I recently lost a Being so essential to my experience of joy that it’s left me reeling in a deep, spiritual darkness. My Golden Retriever, Bodhi, was diagnosed several weeks ago with an untreatable cancer that had begun bleeding into his abdomen. He was only 6 years old, the picture of health and vitality one day, and suddenly gone the next.

Upon hearing of Bodhi’s passing, some dear friends offered me the use of their cabin on 200 acres of forest land so I could start processing the trauma of my loss in much-needed solitude. Here, after my morning meditation and yoga, after my breakfast and doing the dishes, I lace boots onto my feet and walk out into the woods to try to ground myself.

The crude forest road is broad and rutted. Fallen leaves flatten themselves onto its uneven surface, creating a brilliant mosaic of fall color beneath my boots. They’re slippery from last night’s storms, so I pick my way cautiously down the hill and around the wide bend to the creek crossing.

I’ve always looked to nature for healing. When circumstances allow, I seek out remote spaces where I can peacefully and privately soak up the energy of my surroundings and invite in whatever wisdom or comfort the Earth has to offer. I open myself, often by small degrees as I’m able, to connecting with the world around me: I breathe the air deeply to take in its scent; I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of insects and animals and the wind; I handle plants and trees and rocks to connect with their texture; I focus my attention on colors and shapes and shadows and light; I sense the vibrations of of the space. Most importantly, I silence the stories in my head, as told by the inner critic who nags and frets and complains and finds fault with me.

More often than not, I seek out forests.

Forests continuously, visibly reflect the rhythm of the Universe, the cycle of life that moves from birth to growth to reproduction to death and back again to birth. While they lack the raw, stimulating power of the ocean, forests offer a deep, restorative wisdom, a literal and figurative rootedness I find lacking in the ocean tides. Trees have always held me. Even as a little girl, I climbed their branches to read and dream and cry away hurts, up and away from the world and its noise. Although I rarely climb them anymore, I still find solace leaning against their strong trunks or sitting among their roots. Native Americans call them The Standing People, and they pulse with the quiet patience that comes from slowly growing and stretching and finding the light. I walk among them with the intention of engaging in what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I walk in the woods to immerse myself in living energy.

Barriers and Flow after the Storm

As I walk, I see that last night’s fierce storms have wakened the washes that now trickle and twinkle with tiny rivulets of run-off from the enfolding hills. I arrive at the creek bed — just yesterday dry and littered with naked stones — to see water splashing merrily over rocks and turning fallen branches into delicate fairy-falls. Here and there small pools quietly gather, slightly murky with autumnal tannins from the oaks that grow here. A sudden splash captures my attention as one of the pools pushes its way out between the roots of a tree to form a new streamlet. I crouch for a moment and close my eyes, listening to the gurgling of the water. When I open them again, I realize that today’s lesson would be about barriers and flow.

I stand up, watching the deceptively placid surfaces of the miniature ponds reflect moss-encased tree trunks and the soft, mousy grey of the clouds, and I think about my habitual ways of dealing with difficult emotions: fear, self-doubt, anger, and, yes, grief. I usually distract myself from them or let them collect in some dark corner of my heart until I’ve convinced myself they’ve healed with the passage time — or, on occasion, that they never existed at all. But, like waters in rain-swelled pools, those difficult emotions eddy and swirl, becoming murky and dark until they can no longer be contained and leak into unexpected areas of my life, manifesting as illness, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety.

There is wisdom in pools, and I value it. There are times in our lives when we need to let emotions collect for a while until we are ready or able to release them in healthy, intentional ways that support us. But we do need to release them. We eventually need to let them flow — sometimes in little trickles, sometimes in raging rivers — so they don’t fester behind the dams we construct thinking we’re keeping ourselves safe.

In receiving this gift of sanctuary from my friends, I’d committed to diving deep into the grief, rather than running away from it. It’s a painful practice. Uncomfortable. At times almost unbearable. I patiently locate the grief in its hiding places in my body and focus my yoga there. I resolutely sit with it daily in meditation, holding it, calmly accepting it without judgment, until — like everything else, including joy, tenderness, and peace — it slowly recedes and floats away. I pour it onto the pages of my journals, examining it, discerning for myself what truths it contains — and what lies I tell myself about it and about my relationship with Bodhi — until I find the glimmer of gratitude buried beneath my tears.

I take my grief for daily walks in the woods. And I listen.

Looking at the water skipping over and around the rocks and rotting branches criss-crossing its flow, I reaffirm that I would not carry this loss like a stone in my heart. I will not allow it to become so deep that I drown in it. I’ve done that before. It nearly ended me. I will honor the loss, care for the grief, and learn from it. Not all at once. Healing happens in its own time. But I am opening my heart and letting it flow out of me, in whatever dancing trickle or rushing flood it demands, until its course is run.

And then I will get on with living joyfully, as my Bodhi taught me.


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The Quest for Home, Part 2: Usable Mountain Land

“This isn’t going to work. We’re outta here.”

We’d just crossed the sixth one-lane bridge between the property we were driving into the mountains to look at and anything remotely resembling a town.  Six opportunities to be stuck on one side of a washed-out bridge or the other — going in or, more worrisome to me, coming out. Visions of not being able to get to a hospital spun around in my head.

My brother, John, didn’t take his eyes from the hairpin turns of the road I was cautiously navigating. “I don’t know why you didn’t turn around at bridge #3 when you first started saying that.”

I shrugged without looking at him. “Have you seen anywhere to turn around?”

“Good point,” he replied as a car whizzed past, its driver seemingly unconcerned that the two-lane road in the direction he was heading folded in half at the edge of a drop-off, then plunged up a blind hill. Maybe he was out of milk and eggs and had thrown caution to the wind, I silently posited.

I found a nearly-vertical driveway with a wide enough un-gated mouth to turn the 4Runner around without falling off into a ravine. It had a pretty decent view of the road snaking past it. Down below us, across the road, a cabin nestled in a sunlit clearing, the postcard version of all the similarly-nestled cabins we’d passed along the way. The cabin’s idyllic surroundings raised at least three flags for mistakes people make when buying rural land that formed the basis for my aversion to bridges. I peered as far up either side of the road as a I could, took a deep breath, and stomped on the accelerator, just as another car shot through the curve. I wasn’t comfortable with the margin by which we missed colliding but was thankful for it, nonetheless.

I risked a quick glance at my iPhone, where Google Maps was now showing us backtracking our route. The app had long since given up any active navigation and had simply been painting a blue line across the screen in the direction of the route it had chosen for us. As we retraced the route, the blue line became grey, indicating we were on the right road, which was a good thing, as I’d been so busy negotiating the crazy curves and hills that I wasn’t sure I could reverse the turns I’d taken on the way in without help.

“Google was showing we only had 10 minutes to go,” I smirked. “The listing said the property is 30 minutes from Asheville. I wonder if they confused 30 minutes with 30 miles.”

“The way people are driving up here,” John replied, “30 minutes and 30 miles are probably the same thing.”

Refining My “Requirements”

Western North Carolina’s rural landscape steals my breath away. Mountain coves hold in their embrace a patchwork of beautiful, rolling farmland and dark, stately forests stitched together by hair-raising two-lane roads. I found myself smitten with the area the first time I drove through it.

Just over a year later, having come to the realization that I’d been delaying a long-held dream to live more simply, more in sync with nature, I decided to make it my home.

However, driving through a place is far different from taking up residence. I was just now getting a taste for the challenges of mountain living. Although I plan to live off-grid in a yurt, I do not plan to homestead or live as a hermit, so there are a few modern conveniences, such as grocery stores, that I’ll still need access to. Because my plan also includes rental yurts for “glamping” — a trend that combines aspects of a camping experience with the ease of a bed-and-breakfast — I want to be reasonably close to restaurants and other attractions, without my guests losing the feeling of staying in a mountain retreat. And, frankly, at nearly 54 years old, I have to consider how likely it is that I’ll be able to age in place. I don’t want to build my dream only to find myself too frail to maintain and enjoy it.

Yes, it’s a tall order. My requirements, in fact, completely blew my budget for the land purchase itself because finding such a property requires more acreage than I’d anticipated. Not only were covenants and restrictions a potential barrier to living the way I wanted to live, but so (apparently) was finding land that was both accessible and level enough to build on.

“Usable Mountain Land”

“This is a great piece of property,” Pat, my realtor breathed, turning to take in the cleared knoll at the top of what, for me, was a nearly vertical climb up a goat-path attempting to pass itself off as a road. “You could cut in another 15 feet or so, all the way around, and you’d have a nice homesite, with room for solar.”

On the climb up, necessitated by the fact that Pat didn’t think his minivan would make it up the unimproved road — which the boulder jutting out of the center of one of the steeper rises validated —  he’d pointed out patches of less-crazily tilting ground. To my eye, these were mere ledges jutting from a forest that vaulted skyward. He’d point at one ledge or another, telling me, “You could put a guest yurt there…and one there…” I tried to imagine my guests struggling up a rutted drive, parking their vehicles on a narrow switchback, and hauling their gear or suitcases across a walkway spanning a deep rift in the earth before arriving at a yurt perched on a deck that jutted over the sharp drop.

I pictured my elderly parents afraid to visit.

The knoll was lovely, and the perc testing conducted by its current owners indicated that at least four people could live up there full-time. A broad stream bubbled along the bottom of the parcel, by the road, so water was plentiful. I wondered what kind of power would be required to pump that water all the way up to where we were standing, and what it would take to get any kind of pressure.

“You rarely see mountain property with this much usable land,” Pat said after a moment, grinning enthusiastically. “This is really sweet.”

My heart sank. If this was what usable mountain land looked like, and it was beginning to look like it was, based on our explorations that day, I had no idea what I was doing.


Later, at dinner, I shared my fears with my brother and his wife, Kim, who had come up to join us from their home in South Carolina.

“Maybe I should give this up,” I lamented. “Maybe I’m not cut out for mountain life.”

In fact, maybe, I thought, I am completely off my rocker and should be staying put, safe in my sweet little house in the city.


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The Quest for Home, Part 1: Covenants and Restrictions

“Can I help you?”

While the lovely North Carolina drawl riveted my attention, it wasn’t what first attracted it. That dubious honor went to the tall, slender form of its speaker — a silver-haired man clad in jeans and a button-down shirt, emerging with leisurely grace from a silver Mercedes — even before he spoke.

After a few fleeting seconds of entertaining, then rejecting, less appropriate responses, I managed to collect myself enough to say, “Perhaps, if you’re the property owner.”

“I am,” he said simply, extending his hand and introducing himself as Hugh.

My brother John and I were casually looking at a few properties before I was scheduled to meet with my realtor, Pat, later in the day. I hoped to get a preview of what was available now that I was ready to begin my search in earnest, and we’d been trying to locate the first property on my list, a partially-cleared 11-acre parcel. Confused by the addresses, I’d pulled my old 4Runner into a cutout in the road, parking it up against a farm gate where a rutted drive ran between a sizable pond on the one side and a sunken field on the other. As we gazed down at the field below us, I remarked to John that if that was the acreage, I’d have to pass. It didn’t look like it would take much for the pond on the other side to spill over the retaining wall and flood the field. We couldn’t be sure we were looking at the right parcel, however, because the realty sign was missing, and addresses for undeveloped land are approximate.

“Addresses out here aren’t as orderly as they are in the city,” Hugh commented in his soft, southern accent. “We make the numbers up as we need them.” He also explained the missing realty sign: The listing agent had gotten sideways with a local mining company by defending homeowners whose properties were damaged by illegal blasting activities. The company’s employees retaliated by making it difficult for her to do business — including stealing or destroying her signs any time they found one. My brother and I exchanged a glance.

“But this isn’t the parcel you’re looking for,” Hugh continued quietly, the loud, incessant barking of penned hounds across the road nearly drowning him out. He swept his arm up and away to a parcel adjacent to the land on which the dog run sat. “It’s that one.”

A sunny meadow nestled into the embrace of a woods, running more-or-less gently down to the road but vaulting sharply up into the trees at its opposite end. It was beautiful, but I wondered — neither for the first nor the last — what it would take to balance a structure on the slope. Hugh had bought the property, as well as the one on which we were standing, as a “buffer” for the rest of the neighborhood. Over a decade ago, a developer expressed interest in the land, planning to put a trailer park on it. Hugh, a retired Christmas tree grower, wouldn’t have it. He’d purchased some 25 acres to prevent the developer’s progress. I thought of the dilapidated trailers and shacks we’d passed on our way up to this idyllic meadow. Less than picturesque, to be sure. Which begged the question Hugh asked next.

“And what do you plan to build on the property you buy?”

I took a deep breath, inwardly steeling myself before levelly replying: “I plan to put a yurt on it.”

Blowing My Land Budget

When I’d started my search for land in western North Carolina, more than a year prior to meeting Hugh, I’d told my first realtor (Laura) I wanted a three-to-five-acre plot, partly wooded, with a mountain view. I wanted enough space for my own yurt as well as two or three guest yurts that would become a source of income, as well as guest quarters for visiting family and friends. Using my sister’s three-acre lot as a guide, I determined that a similarly-sized lot would afford me a little privacy without putting too much distance between myself and my guests.

Linda obliged me by sending links to listings within about a 25-mile radius of Asheville, which I hoped to make a kind of hub for shopping, eating out, and social activities. Being reasonably close to Asheville would be a bonus for yurt renters and guests, as well, since it’s a sought-out destination for everything from brew pubs to fall color tours to tours of the Biltmore Estate. But I also wanted to be far enough away from the city for my home to feel like a retreat into nature.

And, so I’d explored the area, mapping out routes to the listings Linda sent me, taking notes about the tiny towns and rolling countryside, getting a feeling for this place I was considering making my home. I thought a lot on those drives: about the kind of neighbors I hoped I’d have; about driveways and right-of-ways; about mountain views and valley vistas; about forests and meadows and streams. I dreamed. I planned. I learned.

Before I knew it, a year had passed, and I had a new realtor, Pat, whom I’d contacted and with whom shared my vision. I was still readying my house in Indianapolis for the market when he sent the first set of listings. I was over the moon when I sat down to open them. And then…

What the heck?! Ten acres? Eleven? THIRTY???!!!

I fired off a (slightly testy) email, reminding him what I’d asked him to find for me. He responded to my email with a phone call — as he (thankfully) so often does — and patiently explained.

Smaller plots, like the ones I sought, are generally situated in or near developments, where covenants and restrictions apply — and, while defaulted loans and estate sales happen, those plots are quickly snatched up. So Pat was sending me listings for at least 10 acres to help me realize my stated goals for the property. They were twice the acreage I’d planned for, more than twice what my projected budget would allow. But they were more likely to afford me the flexibility I wanted.

As long as what I wanted didn’t conflict too drastically with the aesthetic of where I planned to buy.

Covenants and Revisions

At the mention of a yurt, Hugh’s face stiffened, almost imperceptibly.

“I think you should drive on up the road there,” he suggested, tightly controlling his tone and indicating the ridge behind us with its big homes and beautiful approaches, “and see what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

“That’s a good idea,” I replied neutrally. “And I’ll definitely do that. But it seems you have…hesitations. Maybe you’d do me the favor of sharing them?”

Hugh let out a big sigh, then expressed concerns about how yurts would look from the road and what they might lead others to believe they could bring into the area — implying that I’d be setting a bad example.

“You know, Hugh,” I said carefully, “I don’t have to plunk a yurt right in the middle of that meadow. In fact, they’re devilishly difficult to cool in the summer, and I like my privacy, so it would actually be better if I tucked it back in the trees, away from view.”

Hugh pursed his lips and squinted at the tree line. “So we’d really only see it in the winter…”

“Exactly,” I told him. “And, you know, I’m certainly not opposed to planting trees and shrubs to screen people’s view. I love beautiful landscaping. Living in a yurt won’t change that.” I spent a few minutes painting a picture of my vision, of the need for beauty and for living in closer harmony with whatever land I bought, about the value of leaving some spaces natural. When I paused for a moment, Hugh offered to drive me up the ridge to show me where I would cut my driveway in from the road. My brother and I jumped into the truck with Bodhi, who had been waiting patiently for us, and we followed Hugh’s silver Mercedes up the rise, away from the ear-splitting racket of the neighbors’ hounds.


Later, in Pat’s office, we reviewed the listings he’d sent me, eliminating some of them because they were too remote, too hard to access, had too many bridges to wash out between the grocery store and me. As he clicked through the links, he found a listing for 11 acres of partially-wooded land.

“Well, that one’s out,” Pat said with a little grimace. “There are covenants restricting what you can build there. It has to be at least 1600 square feet, and…”

“What’s the address?” I interrupted. He told me.

“Oh, Hugh’s place.”

Pat cocked an eyebrow at me, and my brother cut in. “Yeah, he’ll be fine. Denise had him changing the covenants for her by the time they were done talking. It took her 20 minutes.”

Pat raised both his eyebrows at that, then laughed. “Really?”

John shrugged with feigned casualness. “Yeah, she was a bit off her game today.”