A Plot of Land of One’s Own
The photograph is a casual, half-assed shot of pale young trees at knee height. Without a house at their center, photographs of land for sale seem almost pointless. It’s easy to imagine the realtor rolling her eyes and snapping pictures of the sky, a puddle, the horizon. The parcel is 54.2 acres, priced at $69,700 down from $88,000, in an area normally three or four times that price. I take a deep breath and, sitting in a San Francisco cafe, start to do the math on an imaginary mortgage in Vermont.
In blue pen, on the back of training handouts, I draw three columns. Incoming, outgoing and running total over the next six months. I ignore any ‘likely’ but unconfirmed pieces of freelance work, and round up the property tax the agent quoted. It is … tight.
Worse than tight, it is tantalizingly possible. There are whispers in my head. Trust in the universe. Then I think of foreclosure signs in lawns, of losing everything that’s taken years to gather. I’m a single freelancer, and for the last three years I have had a health plan of travel insurance and crossed fingers. That seems enough trust-in-the-universe for one woman. I double-check my arithmetic and then draw some stars and hearts and dollar signs around the margins, just in case.
Me: So, I saw this piece of land in Guilford that looks great. It’s much bigger than I’d hoped for, and looks reasonably priced. Do you know anything about it?
Realtor: Oh, that. A cash offer just went in. It was on the market for years! But you wouldn’t have liked it.
Me: No? Why not?
Realtor: It is too steep to farm. Really hilly up there.
Me: But I’m … not a farmer.
Realtor: Oh. Well. In that case it was a great deal.
I am traveling now in order to settle down. Over the last three years I’ve worked in nine countries, moved at least every four weeks and slept in over a hundred beds. Life is cheaper on the road, but it’s alienating. This year I will have paid rent for five months, subletting rooms in Brattleboro, Ithaca, and West Oakland. In between, I visit with friends and family I wouldn’t see otherwise.
When we were breaking up, my last partner said that I played my life “like pick-up sticks.” Whenever I wasn’t happy, he said, I’d throw all the pieces of my life into the air to see how they fell. He was bitter, furious that I was leaving him, but he was right.
My dream is to stand on a piece of land, my piece of land, with trees and a stream. The air stirs up those billowy, showy Vermont clouds that blush flamingo pink at sunset.
I’ll live there wild for the first summer, running bare-legged and sleeping in hammocks, building fires that blaze up into the night.
Then I’ll get a little shed, and convert it into a home.
There will be homes of all types and virtues. There will be homes in trees reached by rope ladders. There will be homes of gaily painted wood, and they’ll be connected by little bridges. Eventually, the homes will be for the people I love and the children I’ll adopt. I’ll run retreats and workshops and let work come to me.
Meanwhile, I become a connoisseur of dwelling-sized things. Bus shelters, horse boxes, reservoir tanks – I look and think, Yes. I could live in that.
Everyone asks, “Where do you live?”
I can give no satisfying answer and the truth – that I live right here and so do you – sounds horribly twee.
“OK, but where do you keep your stuff?”
Two boxes of winter clothes and an area rug are stashed in the corner of my Uncle’s Massachusetts basement. Books I read but couldn’t bear to give away rest on my friends’ bookshelves. My childhood drawings and stuffed animals are with in parents’ boxes, currently moving across the Atlantic because they are nomadic too.
Every few months I visit a time capsule of books, clothes, photographs of school friends, all stuck together in a lump. I search quickly for what is of urgent use and tape the rest shut until next time, until I’m ready.