Twelve years ago next month, on a sunny and chill Sunday morning at just past eleven o’clock, Richard Cabe, the man I had lived with and loved for nearly 30 years, the man I had shaped my adult life around, died of brain cancer. To say that my life changed in that moment is a massive understatement.
The drastic revision of my life story had begun more than two years before, when Richard saw the thousands of birds–avian hallucinations–that were the only significant symptom of the brain tumors that eventually killed him. He would undergo five brain surgeries, and with each one, our roles would gradually shift from life-partners of equal responsibility, to caregiver (me) and cared-for (him). But even when Richard was bed-ridden, no longer walking except metaphorically toward death, we were still partners.
And then we were not, and he was gone. Leaving me wondering who this new solo “me” really was.
For the first few years, I didn’t have the leisure to wonder that much. I had a small mountain of medical-related debt to dig myself out of, a property to finish and sell, my legally blind and stubbornly independent dad to take care of, and other details to sort out.
Once I had worked my way through those immediate obligations, I decided to allow myself to wander the part of the West I call home, supporting myself by “re-storying” unloved real estate, and in the doing, figure out who I was and where I wanted to plant roots.
I moved from Salida, where Richard and I had lived together for 15 years, and I for another five alone, to Cody, in Wyoming’s sagebrush sea, forever the landscape of my heart. After two years, one basement-to-roof house renovation, and my dad’s death, I headed south to Santa Fe, where I renovated two condos and one house. (And in summers, returned to Wyoming to work at controlling invasive weeds in Yellowstone. Read my essay about that work here.)
And then I returned to Cody again, and another house that needed re-storying. When that sold out from under me before I had even finished, I wandered to western Colorado for a while, and rescued a 1930s cottage with a partly collapsed foundation, followed by a 1902 house.
After realizing that western Colorado was not my place, I headed back south to Santa Fe and found my sunny and light-filled condo in the piñon pine – juniper woodlands at the north edge of town, with its view of the Sangre de Cristo range to the east and the glorious desert sunsets to the west.
Over those wanderings, I learned a lot about tools and house guts and being self-reliant. I fell in love again–a completely unlooked for development which has enriched my life in countless ways, although we will never live together. I re-discovered my inner truck-girl and horsewoman and trail-rider. I remembered how much I need wildness for joy and spiritual nourishment, and a daily off-pavement walk to immerse myself in the community of the land.
When I bought this condo, I thought I would stay. It had good access to trails in the nearby wild, an arroyo where I could practice ecological restoration by removing invasive plants and seeding in natives, and it didn’t need any major renovation. It’s a beautiful space, and my things fit the place well.
But…. Over the months I’ve lived here, I’ve come to realize that while it is a lovely space with wonderful light and views, this is not home in the longer term. There are too many people nearby, for one thing. And too much asphalt and pavement between me and the nearby wild, for another. I need more space and more solitude. And I miss having a house to tend.
So next month, I will move again, to a house outside town in a planned development with no lawns, sidewalks, street trees or even streetlights. I found a small and very charming Santa Fe style house there with a walled courtyard–just big enough for a small garden–nestled into the prairie with juniper trees around it for shelter.
I call the place Casa Contenta. It is my nido, nest in Spanish, my hidey-hole, my refuge. And yes, it needs some work–a new roof, a new boiler for the hot-water radiant-floor heat, and eventually new stucco, plus a host of smaller fixes.
The 90-some-year old lady who has lived there for almost thirty years–since the house was built–is an artist. She has hand-tinted the walls, and even painted a few small trompe l’oeil murals. The house is well-loved, and I look forward to tending it for another few decades. And growing roots. To this transformed me being home. At last.