Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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The Quest for Home, Part 4: The Boot

Have you opened your email yet? came the text. I’d heard the notification, but I was still snuggled up with Bodhi, my big red Golden Retriever, and hadn’t wanted to dive into the day just yet.

Nope, I texted back.

Well, hang onto  your hat, came the reply. I just sent you some information from the seller’s realtor. You’re not going to believe this.

Intrigued, I opened my email and found the message from Pat, my realtor. There was a PDF attachment, so I opened that with only a glance at the body of the message, which was pretty much just, “I found this and thought your client might like to see it.” The PDF, on the other hand…

I bolted upright in the bed, nearly rolling Bodhi onto the floor. I’d just opened a preliminary design document for the 63 acres that included the 11-acre parcel Pat and I had looked at the day before. The last page of the document was a hand-drawn map of buildings and features and pastures and plantings…and for the first time, I saw the boot-shaped outline of the land I’d become increasingly interested in buying. It wasn’t just any development design.

It was a permaculture design.

The woman who owned the land had had big plans for the properties. And they were plans that spoke to the very heart of my own hopes and dreams. As I flipped through the 23 pages of the report, I could barely believe it. The spaces mapped on the 11-acre plot for intern cabins could easily be for guest yurts. The grey-water marsh could still serve the main house’s needs. The greenhouse could be the geodesic dome I wanted to use for winter gardening. Clearings were marked for passive and active solar, a bath house, a humanure composter, a cistern for rainwater collection.

I think I just peed the bed, I texted back to Pat.

Well, get yourself cleaned up and call me. We have work to do.

Walking the Boot

The day was grey and threatened rain, so I’d left Bodhi back in our room which also afforded me time to focus on something other than keeping track of his whereabouts. I parked my 4Runner near the entrance to the tractor road, which turned out to be a right-of-way separating a small stream from the main part of the property and ended at a farmer’s gate at the very back of the boot-shaped parcel. The area around the stream — or, more likely, drainage ditch — was choked with thorny brush and weeds, so it was impossible to know if it ran. The trees to the east of the drive stood tall and stately, silent and waiting.

I pulled the hand-drawn map out of my backpack and unfolded it. I told Pat I wanted to walk the land using the map as a reference, a way to envision a future in this forest. The seller’s realtor wasn’t able to accompany us because she had training she needed to complete that day, so Pat and I had the place to ourselves again.

I stood for a moment, trying to ground myself. Energy seemed to buzz up through the ground, mixing with my excitement and muddling my thoughts. The place felt strangely electric, magical. I closed my eyes and breathed in the pine-scented air, then started to walk toward the place marked as the main home-site on the map. Pat dropped in beside me then, suddenly, out of view. He popped up a moment later, holding something in his hand.

“For you,” he said. “I think it’s a hawk. No…a turkey. I always get them confused.”

As the feather crossed my palm, I thought I heard it say Barred owl. I stood staring at it, my head spinning. I managed to thank Pat in a hoarse whisper before moving on.

Summer’s exuberant growth slowed us as it had on our last visit. Blackberry thorns and multiflora rose canes tugged at our clothes, and we stepped carefully around healthy swaths of poison ivy. Here and there, we spotted tattered flags of colored landscape tape clinging to trees and marking goodness-knows-what. The sketched map was not to scale, so it was difficult to pick out the places the permaculture designer had designated for buildings and infrastructure. We followed the contours of the land, stopping now and then to peer at the map, point at a space, and imagine how my small yurt complex would nestle into the folds of the rises and hollows.

As we followed the line of the land down to its lowest point, I noticed the large colony of bright green crowsfoot I’d previously taken as a sign that this might be my Place. Then I saw another. And another. The pines and hemlocks swayed and creaked in the breeze as the sky darkened. The woods seemed so big, so…untamed. I suddenly felt intimidated by the place, by my own audacity. What am I thinking? I asked myself. I can’t do this! I can’t make a home out of all this wild space. I must be out of my mind. But as I walked, the idea of the place — its beauty, its quiet, its strength — began to take hold of me.

Touching the Tree

When we reached the lower edge of the property, we stopped. I looked back up the gentle rise, along the flat ridge bordering a neighbor’s property. I could just make out the roof of their pole-barn and a white flash of siding from their house through the undergrowth. My entire body was buzzing with energy.

“Well, what do you think?” Pat asked quietly, searching my face.

A light rain had begun to fall. I held my face up to it, letting it run down my cheeks and onto my neck. My head was still spinning — with questions, with answers, with fear, with excitement.

“I…I need to think,” was all I said.

“OK,” Pat said simply and let me stand there for a moment silently accepting the rain.

I heard a rustling sound and a small thump nearby. I opened my eyes and glanced in the direction of the sound to see that Pat — my absolutely perfect realtor — had taken a seat and was meditating. Excellent idea! I thought, and I found a place by a big pine to fold my own limbs as best I could in my hiking boots and close my eyes, leaning my back against the tall, rough trunk.

I slowed my breathing, focusing on the feeling of the rain still sweetly falling on my face. The woods was silent, still. When we first walked up the tractor road, it had felt like it was waiting. I got the same feeling again as I sat and tried to collect myself. I put my hand down into the dirt and felt for the tree’s roots.

I have nothing to offer you, I told the forest. But will you accept me? Will you allow me to build a place here for healing myself and others?

I breathed deeply and felt a small opening, a shift in my chest. The rain slowed, then stopped. A warm breeze lifted and played with my hair. My head began to clear. A calm knowing seeped up through the earth and into my palm.

After a few moments, I stood and brushed myself off. Pat was standing off to the side, looking out toward the road. He turned when he heard my footfalls in the thick covering of needles on the ground and smiled at me, waiting.

“Well,” I told him, “it isn’t what I was looking for, and it costs more than I wanted to pay, but I think it’s Home.” Tears welled in my eyes and spilled down the tracks left on my cheeks by the rain. “And I’m a silly old woman who’s crying over a piece of land.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” Pat said smiling, and we made our way back to my truck.


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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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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.”


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A Serendipitous Beer — and the Perfect Realtor

“Do you mind if I sit there?”

The speaker, in his late 30s or early 40s, indicated a seat that would require climbing over my dog (lying quietly in the cramped corner I’d specifically selected to keep him out from under other patrons’ feet), then squeezing his hiking-pants-clad fanny through the ridiculously narrow aisle into a chair adjacent to mine. I squelched an introverted sigh, resisted the urge glance down the long, double row of empty tables lining the porch, and smiled as welcoming a “go ahead” as I could manage.

Once his wiry frame was comfortably sprawled in the chair — and having given Bodhi a friendly pat after nearly tragically jostling my beer — the man reached into his pocket to retrieve a ringing cell phone and cheerily greet the caller at the other end of the line. Great, I thought. There goes my peaceful brew break!

I’d spent the past several days working down a list of rural properties my realtor had made available to me via an online portal. She’d reasoned that, since my search was in its most nascent of phases — at least a year away — it would be a waste of both our time for her to escort me from listing to listing.

“Besides,” she’d told me during our single phone conversation, “this way you can learn your way around a little. People don’t pay as much attention to navigation from the passenger seat of a car.”

While her lack of enthusiasm left me underwhelmed, her assertions made good, logical sense. I’d gamely wandered the countryside alone, exploring small towns, farmland, and forested mountainsides, and creating a checklist for what I liked — and didn’t like — to guide my anticipated purchase. I still had purging to do, a house to sell, and a plan to develop for selecting and buying the yurt that would become my home. But I wanted to get a sense for what undeveloped land cost — and where I’d find it in this beautiful, mountainous side of western North Carolina. I’d encountered parcels with stunning views (and suspicious neighbors with big dogs); glorious pine forests (in humid lowlands); regal mountaintops (on roads that would be all but inaccessible after an ice storm); sweet meadows (that had obviously been used by their owners as dumps for discarded farm and construction machinery). I’d found tiny, rural towns with surprising businesses: chiropractors, acupuncturists, kundalini yoga classes, holistic veterinarians. I’d found gorgeous lots surrounded by shacks and trailers moldering away in abject poverty. One by one, I’d drawn a line through or annotated the listings for later reference. I was now sitting on a long porch in a small town, drinking a locally-brewed beer, and quietly processing all I’d seen and experienced on my drives.

Well, at least I had been.

Some part of the gregarious phone conversation next to me worked its way into my attention and piqued my interest. I couldn’t really help listening in, given our proximity, but I didn’t really apply myself either. Despite my desire for a little peaceful contemplation — and the rules of courtesy demanding that one never comment on an overheard conversation — I addressed him when he hung up.

“I couldn’t help hearing…” I started, indicating the inches separating us with a tilt of my head, “but did you say you were heading out to Stonehenge?”

The man smiled, a warm expression freely extending to his eyes, and introduced himself as Pat. He was a local and was not only able to suggest a delicious pizza to complement my beer but was also fascinating to talk to. We chatted amiably as we ate. He told me about his upcoming trip to the UK — the first trip he and his wife would take without their daughters — about his wife’s energy healing practice, about meditation and yoga and ancient ways of connecting with the earth, and, lastly, about his band (Americana folk with jazz leanings). As he spoke, my amusement grew. It was just like me to strike up a conversation with a random stranger, only to find he wasn’t as random as I’d believed him to be.

I finally paused in my own questions to allow him to ask a few about me. I told him about my recent decision to go out on my own as a freelancer, about adopting the dog panting happily at our feet, about my growing dissatisfaction with city life, and, finally, about the land I sought to buy and live on in a yurt.

“I’m a realtor,” Pat told me, offering his card over the pizza he’d ordered for himself ans was steadily munching his way through. “My office is right…there,” he continued, pointing at a sign about three buildings away from where we sat.

I responded I was already working with someone, but I accepted his card anyway, telling him that things could change over the course of the next year or so. I’d never met the efficient, professional woman sending me links to real estate listings, but something told me that, even if I had, I would still find Pat a better fit. His easygoing manner and flashes of humor made me comfortable. I got the sense, from his contributions to our conversation, that he understood my goals, my hopes, my concerns. In some important ways, me. And, dammit, I liked him.

Yes, things could change, I thought as I bid Pat farewell and guided Bodhi back to where my truck was parked.

And, almost exactly a year later, they did.


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The Itch that Launched a New Life

I don’t know exactly where it started:

The itch that became a wondering.

The wondering that became a flickering idea.

The flickering idea that sputtered and sparked until it caught, blazing through my life like a wildfire of change.

I’d been scratching at that nagging itch for years, trying to satisfy it with flower beds and backpacking and kayaking and all manner of seeking connection with the natural world. But it seemed a moving target, always just out of reach. And then one day, standing in front of a wide bookcase, staring at a significant collection of books I’d accumulated about solar and wind power and collecting rainwater and foraging for wild food and organic gardening and building twig furniture and making dyes from plants and constructing decks and cabins and cob houses…and I asked myself:

Why am I just reading about all of this? Why aren’t I living it?

I took a long, deep breath. Why, I wondered, did I spend so much time dreaming about things and so little time actually doing them?

Oh, it’s not that I don’t do stuff. I’ve hiked and backpacked and camped — often solo — in the Badlands of South Dakota, the Canyonlands of Utah, through the sequoias of northern California, on the lakeshores and prairies of Minnesota, in the mountains of Colorado, and across the diverse ecosystems of Washington state. I bought my own house and lived alone in it for years. I jumped the corporate ship and landed safely — albeit somewhat shakily — on the deck of my very own freelancing business. Yes, I’ve taken myself on adventures, some of them scary, but I always seemed to return to my safe, convenient life in the city. And, try as I might, I could never quite put down roots.

My roots still felt like they were sunk deep in the soil of my rural childhood. I looked at that shelf of books and saw fallow dreams, forgotten values. I calculated my finances (woefully lacking), took stock of my health (fraying at the edges), and considered my career opportunities (fading with age), and decided the hell with it.

If I don’t do something now, I’ll never do it. I’d stalled long enough.

Without pausing to think, I started striding down the path to a new way of living. I knew it would test my mettle, my courage, and my determination. The books on the shelf were a mere outline, not a plan. I’d plan as I went, I decided. I’d remain open and flexible. I’d follow my intuition.

To where, I had no idea.

But suddenly I was purging possessions, selling my house, and searching for a slice of rural mountain property on which to put down my roots.

roots

 


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Canadian Giraffe Shortage Nearly Derails Yurt Purchase

From an email exchange, wherein our heroine attempts for several weeks to make contact with her preferred yurt-maker…

Me <4th email attempt>: “Hi there! I got your coupon, and I’m very interested, but your email keeps coming back undeliverable, and your voicemail seems to be full. Are you still out there? (Please, oh please, tell me you are!)”

Yurt-maker:

Me <a day later>: “Oooo! Oooo! My email didn’t come back undeliverable! So, I have hope! I also have questions: How much of a deposit do you need? How long does it take you to create and deliver orders? Can you deliver to North Carolina? Do any of your yurts come with giraffes pre-installed?”

Yurt-maker: “Thanks for your emails! I’m sorry we’ve been hard to reach…technical difficulties. Supplying the amount of giraffes requested by our clients has kept us busy! (Regarding giraffes: I’m sorry, but we’re sold out.) Have I exhausted your patience?”

Me: “Exhausted my patience? Nah. I just would have nagged you until you rallied the rest of Canada and invaded the US to make me stop emailing and calling you. (Although your giraffe shortage was nearly a deal-breaker.)”

Because that’s what it’s like to do business with me.

The pertinent bit:

I’m one step closer to getting my yurt ordered!

(sans giraffe)

“Nyah! Giraffe-less yurt for you!”

 

(Image courtesy Aidas Ciziunas, unsplash.com)