Moving in a Contrarian but Positive Direction

Sunday, January 15th, 2017


My house looks like a home for wayward boxes. There are boxes everywhere: Boxes form a half-wall between the living room and the kitchen in the "great room," boxes hide under the built-in desk in my office and stack up to the lowermost bookshelves; boxes are tucked under the workbench in the workshop and fill the pantry.


Boxes line the garage shelves, and there are even boxes in the studio. All neatly labeled and numbered to correspond with the inventory sheet I'm keeping so I'll be able to find things once the movers deliver my shipment to Cody in a week or ten days.


(Yes, I am a double Virgo, which means I'm organized. Richard would say "hyper-organized," but he wasn't above admitting that he benefited from my tendency to keep our things in their places and accounted for during our many moves, and at other times.)


The moving van is due to pull up at the curb in front of Creek House sometime on Tuesday, less than two days away. I am as ready as I can be, given everything else I'm juggling, most particularly the innumerable details in keeping two real estate deals moving forward, and now the decisions involved in beginning what will be months of careful house renovation. And when I have any spare brain cells, thinking about the two talks I am scheduled to give at two different garden conferences on two consecutive days in early February...


I have spent most of the last two weeks packing, packing, packing, plus making a three-day trip to Cody with a van-load of things difficult to consign to movers, thanks to my friends Nicole and Harry Hansen, the silversmith and blacksmith who together form Sterling & Steel, makers of fine custom tableware, jewelry, flatware and other functional art. Nicole and Harry not only managed to fit my odd-shaped load in Sylvia, their amazing Mercedes-powered panel van, Harry safely drove us out of the blizzard that was blasting Salida the morning we left, and all the long and wintry drive to Cody and back.



Harry, in ready-for-Wyoming cowboy hat and sunglasses, is reflected in the rear-view mirror. Nicole's beautiful cranberry-colored cowboy hat sits on the dashboard. 


Along the way, we talked about everything from kids and family cultures to politics, art, branding, ethics, geology, and history. Our amazing conversations made the 1,260 miles there and back, and all those hours in the van together go by incredibly quickly. 


While we were in Cody, I closed on my new (old) house, and got my contractor, Jeff Durham, started on the most urgent of the work the house needs. 


It has occurred to me that this move is thoroughly contrarian: Not only am I moving many latitude lines north at a time of life when most folks dream of moving south, I am moving from a new, custom-built-to-my-specifications house into a house built the year I was born (1956). My new-old house was well-designed and custom-built too, but it's sixty years old now, and has been seriously neglected for at least the past decade, and unoccupied for most of the past 16 months. 



I'm also up-sizing when the trend is toward downsizing. I'm moving from two small buildings with a total living space of about 1,300 square feet plus a single-car garage to a 2,400 square-foot house with a two-car garage. (The main floor is 1,700 square feet; the rest is a furnished basement I will use only when I have a house-full of guests.)


And I'm moving from contemporary--I call my Salida place "industrial chic"--to Mid-Century Modern. Check out that vintage kitchen, complete with original sunshine yellow metal cabinets, and aqua wall oven in the photo below.



I'm even up-sizing my yard, moving from a lot of just under 7,000 square feet to one twice that size, and from a basically finished yard (given that to a gardener, no landscape is ever truly finished!) to one needs a radical beauty-enhancing, water-saving, habitat-providing makeover.  


Why? 


The moving north part is simply me heading home to the landscapes and community that have spoken to my heart for decades. I confess to loving snow, even blizzards. And I am fortunate to have friends in Cody who are excited about my return. 


Also, Cody is a whole day's drive closer to my 88-year-old dad and my brother and his family in western Washington, including my nieces and their kids. (Except my middle niece and her family, who are in Germany for another year and a half.) If something happens to Dad, I can take I-90 west to Seattle, and drive there in a long day (or a two-hour plane flight from Billings, Montana). 


Dad is so excited about my move that he's already planning a visit this summer, accompanied by my brother and sister-in-law. He hasn't traveled since after Mom died in 2011, so I'm thrilled. The downside is I'm a bit farther from Molly, in San Francisco, but she's being very gracious about that.


The up-sizing part wasn't my plan. I was looking at small houses, and then I stumbled on this one. One look at the spacious rooms, great light, wood floors, and that fabulous kitchen, and I fell in love. 



The living and dining areas--look at those windows! That fireplace! And the floor.... 


Of course, I also noticed the 60-year boiler that runs the hot-water baseboard (I call it Igor). Igor was top-of-the-line when new, but he's about 20 years past his retirement date. (Which he proved by quitting the weekend before Christmas in the middle of a blizzard--fortunately, my contractor had an appointment to evaluate the house the following Tuesday, and he and my wonderful real estate agent, plus the plumber, walked into the house just as the pipes began breaking. They were able to save the place without too much damage, which I was grateful for. More grateful than the owner, who grumbled about the cost of repairs. Maybe he shouldn't have neglected the house...)


And the wiring, which includes a sub-panel in the basement so old I had never seen one like it, and yes, it has to be replaced. I noticed the lack of insulation in the crawl space under the bedrooms, and the half-bath in the basement, which is so awful it looks like you'd need a tetanus shot before using the shower. And the garage, partly insulated, and partly dry-walled. And a host of other things that need updating. 


So here I go, taking up a house and yard project at sixty (me, the house and the very neglected yard--we're all the same age). Unlike Igor, I'm not ready for retirement. I'm thrilled to be moving home, and excited about bringing my new-old house back to life, and turning a lawn-and-too-many-huge-spruce-trees yard into something more beautiful, sustainable, and healthy for all. 


Mostly, I'm grateful to have a positive project to work on in these negative times. I refuse to succumb to negativity and fear. Perhaps I can't change the state of the nation, but I can serve as an example of how to live with love, compassion and generosity.


I suppose that's contrarian too; regardless, it's me being who I am and doing what I do best: healing this earth and we humans, one house and yard, one creek, one community at a time. Onward!



Chokecherry buds along the creek last spring, on a tree Richard and I planted as a bare-root sapling almost 20 years ago. Treehouse and Creek House are in the background.