Wanderings

Eleven years and a few months ago, Richard Cabe, the man I had loved for almost three decades, died of brain cancer. We met in graduate school in Laramie, Wyoming, when I was in my 20s, went on one date, and a few months later, I married he and his four-year-old daughter, Molly.

And then promptly packed Molly and as many of our belongings as we could fit into a Subaru hatchback and left for West Virgina, where Richard had a faculty position at West Virginia University.

Two semesters later, we packed ourselves back into that same Subaru and headed west again, landing in Olympia, Washington, where we both worked in state government, and Molly discovered the joys of digging for geoducks, a treehouse in the back yard, and licking slugs (yes, they do numb your tongue!).

Until three years later, when we moved back to the Rockies, to Boulder, Colorado, so that Richard could finish his PhD. In our year there, I wrote my first book, Pieces of LightA Year on Colorado’s Front Range, a year’s journal of nature and humans in Boulder.

Molly, Richard, and me in front of our apartment in Boulder. (I was still a redhead then, with waist-length hair.)

From Boulder, we headed east to Ames, Iowa, for Richard’s post-doc at Iowa State University, in a rental truck with Molly riding between us in the front seat, and our old Volvo station wagon in tow. After two years, Richard scored a professorship at New Mexico State University, so off we headed to Las Cruces in our new (old) Volkswagen camper bus.

Seven years later, after I wrote five books about the North American deserts and Molly graduated from high school, we packed our household and our Sharpei, Perdida, into another rental truck, and set off to return to the Rockies and the small town of Salida, Colorado, where Richard had lived in his childhood. Molly drove our Isuzu SUV, towing a trailer loaded with overflow from the rental truck.

After fifteen years in Salida, I had written six more books and Richard had fulfilled two life dreams–building us a house mostly with his own hands and pursuing abstract sculpture. And then brain cancer altered our paths. (I chronicled that journey in Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying, my 13th book.)

The house Richard built for us, with his historic studio behind.

In the aftermath of Richard’s death, I realized two things: I was deeply in debt and I needed to figure out how to earn a living in a hurry after taking two years off to care for he and my mom, who died in the same year. At least as important, after spending nearly three decades adapting to the people I loved and their needs, I didn’t know who I was as a solo adult.

Because of the debt, I had to sell the house Richard built for us, but never finished, and the adjacent historic studio, also not finished. (As a sculptor, mundane stuff like trimming windows, installing baseboard and interior doors, or building cabinet doors and drawers, and finishing bathrooms was not interesting.)

The front door at Terraphilia after the house was finished.

Friends patiently taught me how to use tools and materials to finish both the studio and the house over two years (you know who you are, and you have my sincerest thanks forever!). In the doing, I discovered that I loved learning how buildings worked, and envisioning what they needed.

So once I sold Terraphilia, the big house and the studio, I helped design and build a small house and detached garage with guest studio above. I had never designed a space just for me, and in the process, I learned as much about myself as I did about construction.

The front deck and door of Creek House, with Treehouse beyond.

Once Creek House and its companion, Treehouse, were finished though, I realized that Salida no longer felt like home. In fact, I was no longer was sure where home was–other than somewhere in the Rocky Mountain region where sagebrush grows.

My mid-century house in Cody, after re-storying both the house and yard.

So I headed back to northwest Wyoming, the last place I had felt at home before going to grad school and meeting Richard and Molly. I bought a once-beautiful mid-century modern house in Cody that, after three decades of neglect, needed a lot of love. My contractor and I spent the next two years bringing it back to life, and then, during the hard winter after my dad died, I sold it and headed south to Santa Fe, where the winters are milder and I have a circle of close writing friends.

The front entry of my Santa Fe condo (the one I lived in, not the rental), after re-storying. Sculptural basin by Richard Cabe, glass prayer flag sculpture by Greg Reiche. 

In Santa Fe, I bought and re-storyed two condos, one to live in and one to rent, and then sold both and moved out of town to a house with good bones but in need of a lot of love. (The Guy, who I had met in Wyoming that August, drove to Santa Fe to help me move.)

Casa Alegría, my house in Eldorado, outside Santa Fe.

A year later, after finishing Casa Alegría, my real estate sense said it was time to cash out, and my heart wanted to make one more try at Wyoming, so I sold the Casa and headed back to Cody. (Are you dizzy yet?)

Where I bought an ordinary ranch house in desperate need of updating, overlooking the Shoshone River in Cody. I was partly through re-storying that house when, on Thanksgiving weekend, a couple knocked on my door and asked if I would consider selling.

The front porch of my River View Drive house in Cody.

Which I took as a sign from the universe, so I put the house on the market, and ten days later, it sold.

Which is why a year ago, I moved again, this time to the little cottage I had bought as a winter writing escape in Montrose, Colorado, about an hour from the Guy’s farm. The cottage had a partially collapsed foundation and other serious needs, so I spent the rest of the winter and spring giving it a new lease on life, and then left to work at Ring Lake Ranch for the summer.

When I returned to the cottage after Labor Day, I had to admit it was too small for me at 672 square feet. So I finished re-storying it, and sold it to a single-mom teacher looking for a cozy and affordable place to raise her daughter.

The new front door at the cottage, plus one of the new windows.

And I bought a hundred-year-old bungalow in Paonia, a smaller and quieter town than Montrose. Almost twice the size of the Montrose cottage, with a two-car garage and a shady yard, it seemed like a place I could settle. Of course, it needed a little work.

I happily thinned trees and shrubs in the overgrown yard, oversaw the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof, dug out under the floors so my contractor could crawl under and shore up sagging floor beams, and generally gave the place the love it needed. (Including the beautiful new front door in the photo at the top of the post.)

Only, and we’re getting to the end of the long story here, I realized that while I enjoy this house and yard, and the charming town of Paonia in this green valley of orchards and small farms, it is not home.

I’m a desert rat: I need sun and sagebrush and wildness nearby to walk. And at 66 years old, I no longer need (or want) the responsibility for a house and a yard. I need more time to write.

So I’m going to put my newly re-storyed Paonia bungalow up for sale and settle into a sunny condo at the north edge of Santa Fe, with coyotes singing from the nearby ridges, and a view of the Sangre de Cristo Range from my back deck. And someone else doing the maintenance!

My Santa Fe condo, a light-filled eyrie with views of the nearby wild all around. The Guy gave it an “A-plus” rating. 

I’ll visit the farm and Paonia in summers, and the Guy and the horses will come south in winter to a barn outside Santa Fe, a seasonal migration of sorts within our mutual home range, where sagebrush grows wild and mountains line at least one horizon. For me, now, that all feels just right.

 

28 thoughts on “Wanderings

  • Chery Kendrick says:

    Search for home and self is such a wonderful journey. I have so enjoyed watching yours. Your growth and path of self discovery have been so inspiring.
    I love the happiness you have found and you know I think no traditional relationships rock!
    I am so excited that you are returning your desert rat bones back to your beloved NM desert.
    Much love, dear friend 🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️😊👍

    • Thank you, Chery! I so appreciate your understanding and your support. I think I’m pretty fortunate to have make it this far in life and learned and experienced so much along the way. And I am very excited about returning to the high desert, especially after shoveling another dump of snow from my walks and driveway this morning. Love back to you!

  • Dear Susan, both Julie and Doc said it best and I’m both not surprised by another move and surprised this move involves a condo. Wishing you great good luck and the wonderful freedom to write.

    • Lindy, I am over being responsible for a house and a yard! I’m looking forward to perhaps one more house re-storying project, but for a friend, not my own. And I’m looking forward to using my new chain saw to remove Siberian elms from the neighboring arroyo. 🙂

  • Michael Roberts says:

    Dizzy. But an enjoyable journey with a liberated (positive word) woman seeking identity after loss. Your tactile endeavors, restorying, amaze me. Thank you for sharing. I am more a Taos fan but do appreciate Santa Fe.

    “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
    ~Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

    • Michael, Thanks for the Jane Eyre quote–it’s certainly appropriate! I like Taos too, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Too much anger and ugliness under the surface. Santa Fe is complicated, but very livable.

  • An incredible journey. I cannot even begin to imagine so many homes given so much love, and then left. Your skills, talents and energy are admirable. So sorry about your husband. Mine died of Alzheimers, and then a lover died of Glioblastoma, so I know how painful your loss was. I am now left w/ one house my husband designed and built. He was a master of the universe, could build or fix anything. I pride myself on 6 years alone, keeping it together. Nothing compared to your journey. I’m almost 74, and don’t know what’s next. A desert condo huh? Thanks for sharing this. ( @gemswinc )

    • Cindy, I am so sorry about your husband and your lover. Two deaths, both from such difficult illnesses–that’s huge to weather. Kudos to you for those six years alone, keeping the house and your life together. What’s next might be something radically different than Long Island, I imagine. Or not. Only you know, and I send my sympathy and support for wherever the road takes you!

  • Vi and Ron Cauthon says:

    Susan, Ron and I admire your stamina, your willingness to work with your hands in those many restorations but we do agree – since we’re two decades older than you are – that it’s time to lessen the physical labor. Use your time to continue writing. We know you’ll use your time in Santa Fe to soak up sun and nature. Your views are beautiful. Vi and Ron Cauthon (P.S. At the age of 87, I finally completed and printed “family stories” for our children.)

    • Vi, Kudos to you for completing those family stories for your grown-up kids! I know they’ll treasure them. As for the physical work, it keeps me young. I just want to do less of it! 😉 Hugs to you and Ron!

        • Hah hah! Who can keep track? Sometimes I forget where I am myself, which is one reason I’m retiring from house re-storying and settling down. 🙂 I hope all’s well, Tom, and you’re enjoying teaching again.

  • Susan
    Enjoyed your chronicles over the years.
    Happy for your new abode and more time to write and explore!
    Thanks for including folks like me on the periphery looking in!
    Cyndi Nelson

    • Cyndi, Thanks for reading, and for your support. I’m excited about the move, and happy to be settling at last. Finally!

  • What a journey. I have known you throughout all these moves and watched in wonder as you re-story each place to beauty with so much love. Is the outline of a new book? Wishing you tons of love and ease in this next move. xoxxooxo

    • Thanks, Susan! The next book, Practicing Terraphilia, is not about my re-storying (except perhaps one chapter), but someday I’ll write Tool Girl: Adventures in Re-storying Houses. Maybe that’s the book after Terraphilia. I have to get moved and get back to writing first! Hugs, S

  • Well … I know know your plans … for now anyway. I’m not at all surprised that you are coming back to Santa Fe. It seems you’ve decided writing is what you want to be doing for now, not re-modeling another home. Once you are settled in we can lunch at Sweetwater and you can tell me more stories!! Hugs

    • I am definitely ready to retire from moving, tending a yard, and all that! I’ll look forward to seeing you at Sweetwater for lunch once I get moved. (Which will likely be another month or so.) Hugs back!

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