Land: A Toy!

2013:

A gated community!
Gated community!

Ah! My first writing retreat since becoming a mother five years prior. Alone in a cabin in the woods for four days with nothing but my notebook and pens, laptop, and books. Creaking trees outside. No television, no internet, no cell phone service, no mail delivery. No neighbors in sight. I would use this quiet time to cogitate, meditate, create—no interruptions, no chaos, no needs other than those of my own stomach and an occasional wash under my arms. Just my own unfettered thoughts and ideas to run amok without time restrictions or crises.

I wasn’t going to blow it this time, as I had the year before when a friend had lent me her house for two nights near an out-of-town teaching gig, and I’d been so guilt-wracked that I gave myself the shingles. I’d learned my lesson. Why did I not think I deserved this and that the boys wouldn’t burn the house down without me around? Scratch that. If the house burned down, it wouldn’t help if I were there, although they’d probably forget about the safety ladders.Read More »

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Oh So Safe

barn
“It’s in pretty good condition,” MIM said.

A year ago, we took off on a day trip to see our 25th piece of land in two months. We’d seen property perched on bluffs. Property at the base of cliffs with a history of mudslides. Property halfway down precipices held up only by morning glory and blackberries. Property on flood plains. Property on bogs. Property on mud flats. Property on river sloughs.

Property that had been on the market for a while. Property no one else wanted.

Property that was cheap. For good reason. Sure, you take a chance that you’ll be rolled up in a mud Stromboli after the mountainside decides to go surfing, but isn’t life full of risks? Why, houses have slid into Puget Sound in the expensive burbs of nearby Magnolia and Bainbridge. The mansions of Queen Anne are being held up by walls of fimo. The well-traveled Highway 99 viaduct (which MIM takes to work every day) is held together by toothpaste and hi-tech bungee cords. Trendy downtown Seattle condos are built on a mudflat that will liquefy in the next earthquake. When I worked in a downtown office building and told my brother The Agitator about my earthquake-preparedness kit, his response was that I would not need a kit, but he would need a shovel in order to dig me out.

So why not get the same risk for a fraction of the price?Read More »

Potential*

The Man I Married approaches the road’s narrow shoulder as if he’s hustling the VW onto the roomy Salt Flats, not parking on a makeshift pull-off overlooking a cliff.

Turns out the “affordable property” MIM’s checking out is the sheer drop-off that plunges down from my passenger side of the car.

“Wow, this looks great!” MIM opens his door during a break in traffic. He darts around to my door, waving to a logging truck that lays on the horn, and surveys the untamed wilderness he will conquer. I keep my seatbelt on and roll down the window.

MIM points to a shocked-bald tree clinging horizontally to the precipice. “Isn’t that a madrona? You love their red bark.” He hitches up his Dickies. “See? I’ve been paying attention.”

No way am I getting out of the car. Opening my door might upset the gravitational balance, and I’ll plummet to my death as the hatchback slides over the embankment—unless it gets hung up on the madrona. “It’s a cliff,” I point out.

“It’s waterfront. You’ve always wanted waterfront.”

I look down, down, down. I can see now that it’s more of an aggressive slope, plummeting to the frigid Puget Sound, where overturned kayakers die of hypothermia in 23 seconds flat before being swallowed by killer whales. “It’s not waterfront. It’s water.”Read More »

My Own Private Planet

We must have had a mighty good roll in the hay back in June when I first suggested that the Man I Married “look into buying an acre or two of undeveloped property.” Somewhere that he and the Little Monkey could roam on weekends, get muddy, hammer on things, grow cider-apple trees, fart loudly, and in general not be around me for an entire cup of tea. I figured that MIM would never seriously consider the idea, since it involved listening to me, but this time he did. Next time I’ll suggest a Mustang convertible.

The search for undeveloped property cheap land would define the rest of 2013. I thought our 25th anniversary celebration might involve cruise ships to Alaska, but, no, we spent the first six months of what I hope will be our second quarter-century together driving our nine-year-old diesel car to Raymond. To Olalla. To Anderson Island, Granite Falls, and Darrington. To Arlington, Aberdeen, and Carnation.

What I didn’t know: Property-hunting involves shrieking. By me. I’m not a congenital shrieker.

But I shriek when the Man I Married parks on things called “berms.” A berm is a flat area to the side of a road. On the other side of the berm is a sheer drop-off. The Man I Married is casual about his speed of approach to these so-called “wide” spots in the road.

The sheer drop-off is always on the passenger side of the car.

The sheer drop-off is generally also the piece of property that’s for sale.

“Wow, this looks great!” says the Man I Married as he gathers his boots and hat and loppers (which were once mine) and welding gloves. “Look, isn’t that a madrona tree? You love madrona trees!”

He points to a tree that is growing horizontally from a cliff.

I remain in the car and talk to him through the open hatchback. No way am I getting out of this car. Opening my door might upset the gravitational balance, and I will go plunging to my death as the Passat slides off the berm, unless it gets hung up on the madrona.

“It’s a cliff,” I point out to MIM.

“It’s waterfront,” he counters. “I’ve been listening to your needs, and I know how important it is to you to be close to the water.”

I look out the passenger window and down, down, down to the beach at the base of the cliff. “It’s not waterfront. It’s water.”

“This will be perfect for your writing retreat,” he says.

The real estate agent had told him that another writer had been considering this property for his writing retreat, but the writer eventually bought a piece of land two parcels over. The writer is Gregg Olsen, who writes true crime, profiling serial killers and the like: Olsen’s characters jump to life and his plots are so intricate you never see the killer coming. I’m not sure I want to be at a retreat two parcels over from this guy.

I’m all for driving away without further investigating this “property.” I’ve seen enough, but the Man I Married and the Little Monkey crash together down the bluff. I hear them every step of the way as they whack and crunch and oof and slide their way down. They don’t give a thought to the most important question, which is how will they get back up? Pretty soon the sounds of their footsteps crunching on the rock beach waft up to the car.

While he’s out there, MIM takes a “nature pee.” I have to go, too, but I’ll need to hold it until we next find civilization. The Little Monkey never needs to pee, unless he wants to procrastinate chores. Then he’ll sit on the pot for hours, and then forget to flush. I myself am usually not picky and am open to “nature pees,” but I prefer flat land, not cliffs, so that I can plant my feet firmly before crouching. I would hate to slide over a cliff with my pants around my ankles.

MIM is thrilled when he returns to the car. “What a view!” he says.

“There’s no driveway. Nowhere to put a driveway.”

“You just have to be clever.” He thinks I’m being negative.

“It’s a bluff,” I point out. “Bluffs around here slide. A whole row of houses around that point slid a few years back.”

“Yes, and I could choke to death this afternoon,” he says, patting my hand affectionately. His point: I am far too fearful and need to learn to take risks. I need to learn to sleep peacefully at night in a house he has cleverly built on a sliding bluff while the tide is out.

We drive to visit my uncle, who lives not too far away. I roll my eyes behind MIM’s back as he discusses the property with my uncle, who says, “The main consideration with buying property is the water availability.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of water,” I say.

“Isn’t that bluff property?” my uncle asks. “You know bluffs around here slide. Some houses up the road were destroyed a few years back.”

That blows my argument totally. It is now in MIM’s mind a “family gene” issue and not a “reality of sliding bluff country” issue. We are worst-case-scenario worrywarts, not sane realists who can clever our way out of minor challenges.

I find myself shrieking all over the state of Washington in the hunt for property. We park on “berms” on Whidbey Island and Vashon Island. We park at the base of bluffs on Whidbey and North Bend; at least with these I will be suffocated under tons of mud rather than breaking my back as I slide down a cliff and then suffocate under tons of mud. MIM is enthused about all of the land parcels we investigate. Potential! We never locate a few of them, despite avid searching; they appear to be vertical plots between hairpin turns on roads. Surprisingly, some of these are not even affordable.

We head farther afield, where there’s more rain but less cliffs. We head for Aberdeen. “Kurt Cobain was from Aberdeen. I might have killed myself, too,” I tell MIM on the drive there, “if I had to live in Aberdeen.” But, in truth, we wind up having a nice time in Aberdeen. I’m a little smitten. Parts of Aberdeen remind me of Amsterdam. The parcel is green, on a quaint canal, and we can afford it. And it’s flat!

“That property is under water for half the year,” says the lady who lives across the street as she walks over to us. “You can’t build on it. They recently chased out a homeless camp and recovered thirty needles. Must be lots more in there. Oh, honey,” she cautions the Little Monkey, “don’t go in there.”

MIM ponders, looking out longingly over the canal as he pulls his boots from the ooze that he’s slowing sinking into. “I could always build something on stilts.”

We found one other piece of flat property, in Goldbar, but this flat property also made me shriek when we found ourselves a long way down a dead-end road. MIM forged ahead past numerous KEEP OUT, NO TRESPASSING, BEWARE OF DOG, YOU WOULD BE STUPID TO DRIVE PAST THIS SIGN, YOU’RE ABOUT TO BE SHOT, BUSTER notices. MIM will talk to anybody, but even he knew better than to speak with the folks gathered around the numerous camping trailers, lean-to shacks, trash, and weeds.

“Backupbackupbackupbackup!” I whisper- shrieked to him. The folks didn’t even look up from what they were doing since we weren’t waving cash out the window.

“Why didn’t you talk to them?” the Little Monkey squeaked from the backseat. Even he knows that his dad never passes up on an opportunity to shoot the shit with strangers.

“They were busy,” I told him. “We didn’t want to bother them. They are making…stew,” I said.

Over six months the numbers morphed. A budget of about ten grand for an acre led MIM to this beauty of a piece of property:

"About 80% of the building can be saved," said one helper.
“About 80% of the building can be saved,” said one helper. My response: “Why would you want to do that?”

Which is listed at sixty grand for a half acre, half of which can’t be built on (cliff, creek), but it comes already equipped for some Fifty Shades of Grey shenanigans, if you aren’t worried about tetanus:

"Sign the contract here," said Christian.
“Sign the contract here,” said Christian.

MIM approached the next door neighbor, who was a dead ringer for Kathy Bates. She was aggressively smoothing out ruts in the gravel drive left by the mailman.

“What do you know about this piece of property?” MIM asked her.

“Not a damn thing!” she said.

I happen to like Kathy Bates. MIM felt it was a good sign, since he’s been told by a good dozen people that he looks like Jeff Bridges. “Kathy Bates and Jeff Bridges would make good neighbors,” he mused out loud.

MIM returned later to inspect this piece of property along with a phalanx of common-sense helpers, not including me, but including my brother The Agitator. Somehow they all gently convinced MIM that HE WAS OUT OF HIS FUCKING MIND to consider that dump.

For which I was glad. Not because HE WAS OUT OF HIS FUCKING MIND to consider that dump, but because the Great Property Hunt of 2013 turned out to be a lot of fun, more fun than an expensive cruise, and I hated to see it end. We bicycled together on Anderson Island and ate lunch at a horse training facility near Darrington. We reconnected with friends and attended cider festivals on Vashon. We took tours of distilleries in Aberdeen and Steilacoom. I told MIM that he could buy me the house on a river bridge in Raymond (at which point we had an argument). We ate pie pretty much anywhere we could find it, and we talked to lots of people, and we stopped at every antique store and bookstore we came across. In six months, we took more time to get to know the small towns of the western side of Washington State than we had in 25 years. I’d never even heard of Anderson Island, and I remembered hating Darrington from a motorcycle trip through there years ago, where the only other woman at the bar we stopped at was wearing a blue chiffon dress and I was openly scoffed at (I did something rude like ask for water). This time Darrington was good to us; there’s a nice bookstore/coffee shop there now. MIM and I have travelled a lot of the country by motorcycle over the years, but we’d never spent much time at backwater towns in our own backyard.

I was looking forward to continuing the land search, but saying no to that last piece of property seems to have taken the wind out of MIM’s sails. “I don’t know what planet I was on, thinking I could take on a piece of property like that,” he told me today.

“Planet MIM,” I said.

It’s at the center of my universe.


EWH front cover

The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
12.5 humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.