Posted on: January 18, 2010


The closing on the property was the following month, mid-November, delayed only for paperwork and logistics. We went north only once that winter, staying at one of the local motels, an experience in and of itself. Arriving at that motel, we found a note on the door to the office, that told us what room was ours and that the key was on the desk inside. At the time, I thought it an odd way to do business, but found out later that it was pretty much the norm in the town of only 200 people.

The next morning we drove down to the road leading to the property… only to find three feet of snow landscaping the entrance. So much for our grand ideas of the 4WD truck ride! We wouldn’t be seeing the property for several months.

In early April, 1994, we drove up again, and straight into our land. The weather was wonderful, the air was clean and the trees were starting to bud… and most importantly, the road was free of snow. Little rivulets crossed the soggy dirt road here and there, but nothing that even challenged the truck down. We put up the tent and proceeded to create a semi-permanent campsite where we had parked the first time. Pete cut down a nearby dead tree, and taking two of the larger, 6” diameter branches that forked , set them upright in holes we dug five feet apart. By placing yet a third log across those forks, we now had the beginnings of our cooking fire pit. We suspended a grate from the cross-beam using chains we had brought to hang over the fire. This could be raised or lowered as needed. It wasn’t difficult to find large rocks to encircle the area, and we built our first fire. The weekend was spent exploring the property and our future. As dusk settled in that first night, we sat by the fire, snuggling, and talked until the stars came out.

What we decided on that night, was a “five year plan” to retirement. Grand idea… and grand ideas all too often go awry. When we got back home, we set up a story board, both being organized and anal about details, listing everything that needed to be done, in what order, and how much it was going to cost. We agreed we needed to keep working, and that the five years was a good goal. We would take time to explore the property to find ‘just the right’ building site. After all, it was to be our home.. Forever. Then we would have the basic house roughed in by local help and we would spend the next few years working at finishing the interior ourselves as we could afford it. The idea was to have the house 100% finished before moving in. yeah, right…

We broke ground in mid-August. It was an exciting weekend for us, watching the excavator, who also happened to be the listing agent we bought the property from. It wasn’t unusual, in fact quite normal, for many to hold several part time jobs at once. In an area where winter virtually shut down the economy, one worked hard all summer. With the area cleared of trees, and the stumps moved out of sight, the excavator dug the basement. Having previously contracted with a mason to lay the block and build the chimneys, we had nothing to do but wait. During that time, we finalized arrangements with a local builder to rough the place in, and weather seal it before the next winter. Our visits began to stabilize at every two weeks, as it seemed enough time to see progress. And it was. First we saw the basement done, then the decking, then walls and a roof. Wow. By late fall the unique wavy edge siding I selected, was on and ready for staining. The siding was cedar and didn’t require additional color, but the 5 year sealant we chose added a depth to the natural grain. It was beautiful. We spent a long weekend protecting our new house from the elements. WE finally were working toward our goal. The following visit, we brought the old pot-bellied stove I had saved from my mothers cottage, and hooked it to the chimney where my new wood cook stove would eventually go. With the pot belly and the fireplace going, it was barely warm enough to stay. The interior of the house was all 2×4’s, no walls and open to the roof. We stapled up heavy duty plastic to the ceiling, and I climb into the rafters to gently lay down some insulation to hold in what precious little heat we generated. After hanging plastic on the walls to section off the front area from the rest of the house, the fireplace and stove kept the room at 50 degrees. Warmer than it had been, but it was an improvement, and it got us thru that Fall.

In December, the company where Peter worked for 17 years and held a middle management job, announced it was undergoing major changes in upper management. Although his job was not in jeopardy, he was not happy with the changes being made, and therefore was not getting along with the new managers. It became evident that we would have to up our time-table. A lot.

In February, 1995, we started packing, moving non-essentials into a storage locker in the nearest big city, a locker we added to weekly. In late March, we held a huge moving sale to get rid of the all the household items we had doubles of. Stuff that came from merging two households. Pete’s house was on the market, and we had a firm offer. In April, Pete gave notice at work, and I sent letters to my clients, referring them over to another therapist. It was all in motion, no going back. I sold my lucrative practice, my car, my timeshare, my life.

At the end of April, Pete closed on his house. We had moved the last of everything except absolute essentials to the storage locker a few days earlier. Those few essentials were in the back of the truck now, along with my two cats, who had been given feline tranquilizers for the long drive. From having been to the property early last spring, we anticipated a smooth entry, but it was going to be a very long drive and arranged to stay the night at the motel in town.

The next morning we loaded the cats back into their travel cages and headed to our new home. It was a good lesson on how each Spring and each melt-down was different and varied year to year. We couldn’t get in and had no where to go. It was time to adapt. Part of those last essentials, were a toboggan and snow shoes. So we loaded the cats in their cages, plus a cooler with food, donned our snow shoes and walked in the 1.2 miles to the house, dragging the toboggan behind us. Exhausting.

In a moment of lucid foresight, we had left two old snow mobiles parked at the house the previous Fall. While I got a fire going to warm up the room, Pete started the machine and began shuttling our supplies to the house from the truck. It was a few more days, and the snow melted enough to drive in. We were home… four years before planned. And our work was only beginning.

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