Land Ho!

It seems the missing piece of the story in many modern homesteading tales is how the protagonists found the land they ended up working. There are countless homesteaders out there, all trying to innovate their way through the vagaries of life. Many have published their live online, in print or both. But almost none of them go into detail about how they found the area and plot of land they would settle on. Why is this?

If I had to venture a guess I’d say it’s because that process is so arduous and absorbing it’s very difficult to chronicle in real time. We’ve certainly done a lousy job of it. But we’re hoping not to keep that trend forever. I must have 60 or 70 pages of backlogged  journaling from our Ambling Full Tilt trip. These include adventures while Dani was at her “holiday” vipassana retreat (a piece of Charley’s passenger-side running board is still somewhere on the side of Mt. Tamalpais), my reflections on the life and times of Alan Watts, the people I’ve met following that trajectory (Ed and Marcel especially) all warrant pages upon pages of tales. All yet unwritten.

Even though that was from late December and all of January, they have not been fully written or published because of the hectic nature of life. The emotional roller coaster that goes along with finishing an epic trip in the hopes of having your sights immediate set on your future home – and then not having that pan out at all – life is never dull.

We have soldiered on through two constant months of dedicated and diligent land searching that has both consumed tremendous amounts of brain power and energy and yielded 100% negative results; not an easy burden. Especially considering that has been merely one aspect of our lives and work.

My dream in particular was western Oregon. We love the coast; Yachats in particular has been the stuff of legends for us. Our last two trips there, which could have been spent simply enjoying the area we love, have seen almost every waking moment spent trying to figure out how we could actually live there. All of those efforts have been unsuccessful. An unsatisfying development, to say the least.

But I know life moves however life moves. You set goals and try your best; what happens simply happens. I interpret all of the closed doors in our land search as life telling us the right place and time simply have not come yet. Nevertheless I can be a draining experience…

Searches in Oregon were fruitless and we expanded to other areas we were interested in and had heard great things about. We searched most extensively in the Sierras in North-Central California. Friends (and strangers) spoke so highly of the area. The growing climate is lovely in the region, there are many homesteaders there (like the I-5 corridor in Oregon). But there is no risk of obliteration from a Cascadian Fault tsunami. And the rainfall is plentiful without being the relentless structure rotting force it is in Western Oregon. The government seems to actually understand that permaculture, and sustainability are not just good ideas, but worth putting into practice. We have had a full month of intense searching and a lot of setbacks (not the least of which was no viable leads).

All that changed last weekend. The coincidence of a perfect sounding property, the right price and a local agent going by-the-numbers had not happened until this point. But with all the stars aligning, now was the time to take action. The property was listed Friday night. The agent was in action by Saturday morning. By Saturday evening official communication channels were open and the agent had planned a site visit for Sunday. The visit happened on Sunday, the property passed the agent’s initial checks and he drafted an offer by Sunday night. But Monday morning we had reviewed the offer, posed questions, got feedback. By Monday evening we had the revised offer and finally got to submit it. The offer was accepted at the time of this writing (Tuesday evening). We had planned a trip to actually go see the property; we leave tomorrow morning (Wednesday). We’ll get to view the property on Thursday afternoon (it’s at least a 9-hour drive, so we’re not going to try to do everything in one day).

Some might think it’s crazy to shop for land in an area you’ve never visited and heavily relying on local friends-of-friends to lay the groundwork in finding your future home. But it’s a big, wide world out there and it’s impossible to be everywhere at once.

Who knows, maybe something will be wrong with the property and we’ll pull our offer. Or the area might not be all we’ve heard it to be and we’ll call it off and move on. Or maybe a logistical issue will prevent the deal from going through. In any of these cases, we treat all this effort as water under the bridge and carry on with the search somewhere else. What’s more scary is if everything goes perfectly; what if everything looks right, feels right and goes off without a hitch?

Then we’ll be faced with following through on our commitment. Of course we stand by our commitments, but suddenly all our hopes and dreams will no longer be theoretical and esoteric. They will become concrete and exoteric. It’s the same kind of threshold moment as deciding to stay in a job you hate that pays you well versus quitting to gain control of your own life, yet knowing you will have to solve the riddle of survival without a regular paycheck.

In other words, if you step through the threshold, then the real work only begins. Everything that led up to it, the blood, sweat and tears, are just the prelude. Paulo Coelho speaks to this beautifully in The Alchemist, as does Steven Pressfield in The War of Art. To paraphrase, when you start out pursuing your dreams with vigor usually you will meet with enough support and success to keep you going. But before you ever achieve success – which is never guaranteed – there is one thing that is guaranteed: you will be tested. And likely you will be tested mightily.

In Pressfield’s account it took years and years of hard work after committing to his dream to write to even generate his first finished work. Once that was done, you’d think the hard part was over. But no, he continued a very difficult labor of love for another ten years before he ever had a success (which was with that first manuscript). I’m sure those ten years after finishing the manuscript must have been much harder than the first years. Again, you will be tested.

I certainly hope I’m not 20 years away from “success,” especially since caring for our basic needs (shelter and food) are our top priorities. If we fail at that, we fail to even survive. That would mean returning to the professional world we intentionally left – but returning at the ground level – just to eat! I can’t think of a better definition of defeat.

In the end, homesteading is, for me, about writing. It’s what I want to do. What I must do. I can’t not do it. With a “successful” homestead I can write with zero concern regarding whether my work generates income or not. With a successful homestead I will have the free time required to dedicate the daily attention needed to hone the craft. How many years will it take to see this through?

At least I know those who have gone before me have successfully trod very arduous paths. There’s no reason to expect success. But, in the end, that is not the most important thing. To quote Shunryu Suzuki-roshi from Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind:

“Which is more important: to attain enlightenment, or to attain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment; to make a million dollars or to enjoy your life in your effort, little by little, even though it is impossible to make that million; to be successful, or to find some meaning in your effort to be successful?”

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