"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Other Five Acres (The Backstory)

I apologize for the out of place, unintegrated photos - I am having issues with Blogger. The first photo is Mt Baker off the southeast, meant to emphasize how lovely our situation is. The second photo is deer poop in the grass at the "other" five acres. Lots of deer there. The last photo is my very own leg after an hour spent brushwhacking at the other five acres. I'm not sure what my problem with Blogger is, or if it is them or my computer, but in any case when I upload photos or videos, I can't see them, but only large, consolidated blocks of HTML text. So forgive me - I can't even tell where one photo ends ands the next begins, or I might be able to copy and paste them into the appropriate places in the post. Hang with me - I'm sure I'll figure it out!

Two years before we bought this old farmhouse, we bought a five acre parcel of raw land just a couple of miles from here. Our original plan, when we decided to move up here from Seattle, was to build a house from the ground up - a nice, modest, three bedroom house, incorporating as many green principles as possible and using as much reclaimed material as possible and doing as much of the work ourselves as possible.

We spent a happy summer - the summer of 2004 - driving around Whatcom County looking at land. Real estate prices were high, 2004 being three years away from the peak - and quick decline - of 2007. Of course we didn't know that at the time. Still, there was a decent amount of land for sale in our price range. Although I had spent some time in Bellingham here and there and knew it to be a pretty nice small-to-medium-sized city with progressive politics and a gorgeous natural setting, I had never lived in the area and didn't know very much about where exactly we might like to live. Over the course of several months, we narrowed our options down considerably, learning, for example, that we needed to be located in unincorporated county, with close access to the freeway, on land that had no CCR's (private building restrictions). Wow, when I lay all those conditions out in a line, it sounds like we were planning some sort of criminal enterprise, but in fact it was all quite innocent. Many CCR's are incredibly restrictive and dictate such things as minimum square footage on any home or deny any and all manufactured homes. We wanted to keep all our options open.

Finally, we found a fine and private five acre parcel at a reasonable price. The owner was a Canadian who hadn't visited the property in many years, and the land itself was heavily covered with brush - native roses, snowberries, native blackberry, et cetera. About half of it was treed, in mature alder, birch, and scattered evergreens. There were several small pockets of wetlands, thickly overgrown with native wetland plants. While we were there, we saw bald eagles, various species of hawks, signs of deer and coyote, and small animals like garter snakes. There were wild strawberries and wild tiger lilies. We heard choruses of frogs. It wasn't perfect - we had already learned enough to know that the wetlands might be a problem - but it was pretty, private, devoid of CCR's, and in our price range. Plus, we had been searching for many moons, and I was seven months pregnant. I was eager to close a deal - any deal.

Over the next couple of years, we learned, to our chagrin, that building in Whatcom county would be difficult - and building while serving as our own general contractors and mostly our own labor force would be damn nigh impossible. Our property perked for a two bedroom house, but the wetlands delineation report (ka-ching) showed scattered, small, isolated wetlands - each of which required a fifty foot setback, leaving precious little room for building. The county would require a mitigation plan. The mitigation plan would cost a thousand dollars to design and some twenty thousand dollars to implement (ka ching). All in all, the cost of building would be nearly prohibitive - and the hassle would be totally over the top uncontrollable. At least for me - I'm sure a more naturally even-tempered woman would be able to handle it fine, but I am slightly high-strung (stop laughing, dearest husband, I can HEAR you in my head!) and at the time was dealing with being heavily pregnant, a still-nursing and still-in-diapers toddler, and a newly pubescent girl of thirteen. I had enough on my plate.

Tears flowed. A baby was born. We put it on the back burner. Meanwhile, my sister and her family, who lived only a mile from us in Seattle, began to put into motion their own plans to move to the Bellingham area. They put their house up for sale and started the search in earnest for a place to live up north. I hated the thought of my sister moving far away. By chance and bad luck, all three of my best girlfriends had moved out of the Seattle area in the past year and my sister was the only close contact I had left. I was terrified at the thought of losing her, too.

Luck struck! We came into some money unexpectedly, which made it possible to look for a piece of property with an actual house on it. As much as we had learned about building, we knew that it wouldn't be much more expensive - or possibly even less expensive - to buy a property with a house than it would be to build from the ground up. We resumed our weekend drives around the county. As it happened, there was a particular stretch of country road which we had driven many times - it was one of the principle exits off the freeway - and damn near every time we slowed down to marvel at the view. A long, slow incline gave way to a broad, flat hilltop with a commanding view of the Canadian Cascades, behind rolling green hills and glimpses of the water off to the west. Mount Baker loomed to the southeast, and a wide open horizon offered dramatic sky-scapes and a half day's notice of any coming weather. There were a few "for sale" signs here and there along the road and back when we were looking for raw land we would turn to each other and sigh, saying "Man, I wish we could afford something along here." But we knew it was unlikely.

Then one day, we noticed a for sale sign that we hadn't bothered to take note of before, as we had been looking for raw land and this was a house and property for sale. Since we were now looking for a property with a house, we called our real estate agent and set up an appointment. Well, the rest is history. The house had many major issues, which we are still - four years later - working on fixing (http://newtofarmlife.blogspot.com/2009/07/handy-man-is-good-to-find.html). But I for one couldn't care less. This beautiful property is right smack dab in the middle of the best part of the hillside. We have views in every direction and can see the weather coming twenty miles away. People regularly stop their cars right in front of our house to take pictures of the mountains. It's a beautiful setting, even if we do suffer from more severe weather and winds than anyone around us. We live in the epicenter of a quarter-mile circle on top of the hill which receives twice the precipitation and high winds of anybody else just a little ways down the hill in either direction.

We tried to sell the other property - the five acre piece down in the valley below, but we missed the peak and real estate prices in the county fell through the basement. After listing it at progressively lower and lower prices for two years, we decided to pull it off the market. As raw land, it has virtually no costs to us - there is no maintenance, and the taxes are minimal. If we have any plans for it, they are vague and distant - it would be nice to put in a driveway, and power and water - maybe in the form of an RV hookup. But there isn't any money for that in the current budget, and it certainly isn't urgent. In my daydreams, I see one of my daughters living there, some twenty years hence, with her young family. Although it isn't useful today, it will make a dandy inheritance.

Yesterday, I went by there. It had been awhile - we tend to forget about the other five acres, even though it's quite close by. There's no real reason to go there, except maybe for wild strawberries in June. But yesterday, I was driving by,and I suddenly wanted to see if any of the trees we planted there have survived. Back when we thought this property would be our homestead, we did what any intelligent homesteading family does and planted fruit trees. An apple, a cherry, and a plum. Only the cherry survives, alas. The others have been ravaged by deer. The one Christmas tree we planted there is hanging on, but just barely. It has also been stripped of half it's bark by deer.

I was only able to find all this out by pushing my way through acres of thorny brush. The native roses are pretty in season, but an absolute bitch-kitty to try and forge your way through. I have the scratches to prove it. One thing I know from experience is that goats adore roses (they ate all the roses here first off) and so maybe it would be a worthwhile idea to transport the goats out there on sunny summer days to take things down a peg or two. It would be easy to toss a few goats in the van and bring a book and a sandwich, and maybe a blanket, and spend several fine summer afternoons drowsing among the roses while my herd fattens itself on my theoretically useless property.

Yeah, I think I'll do that.


Olive said...

That sounds like a good idea Amiee....but....how will you get them (the goats) back,into the trailer and home again?
I love your stories, I wish that I had the ability to sit in front of my computer without getting "tongue-tied"

fullfreezer said...

What a great opportunity to let the goats have an adventure. That 5 acres sounds lovely but I well understand the problems of wetlands- we've got one of our own and had to juggle plans to deal with it.