Tabula Rasa, part 2

Carrying in my heart the lesson I learned at Northwest Camp, I knew that my life needed to take on something new. Some way of finding that serenity, that periodic method of releasing the need to put a deathgrip on the next, and allow the now to penetrate. Meditation, as it turned out, could touch on this. But I was raised in the deep country, and I have a love for the woods. There was something perfect about my experience at Northwest Camp. I knew that the direction I had to take was already clear.

The fire pit, version 1.0.  No fires yet.  Nothing but an idea, shining in the dark

I began looking for property. The idea of it, the very notion, thrilled me. To find some remote plot and develop it. To retreat there regularly, work on it, develop it. To have a cabin the woods. It was a dream of mine, and had always been. When I told my father, he said, “You’re really going back to your roots,” and he was right. A few of my friends shared the deep excitement I had, but most looked on it with mild interest. A project like this is something that certain folks connect to the significance of a lot more than others. Some people pine after it, pun intended. Some just think it’s neat.

I looked at a few different properties over the course of about two years. I talked with real estate agents. I browsed listings. Oh, the hours browsing. Imagining. Fantasizing. The magnitude of the cost and the enormity of the commitment were not lost on me, and this is why it took so long to find the right place.

In 2013 I went to Massachusetts to look at a plot of seven or so acres being sold by a private owner. The place was hours away, so I made sure to talk to him on the phone and try to get any bombshells out of the way before taking a whole day trip to look at the place. He reluctantly confided that, “There’s a spot down there at the bottom that’s good for swimmin’, and some folks like to take their clothes off when they’re down there.” He followed this with explanations and excuses, e.g. “You could chase ‘em off if you got some fence,” etc. And I made sure to act disappointed, but inside I was actually kind of excited. A nude swimming hole? I knew of some of these in New York. Not uncommon for off-the-grid sites.

I went to the site and as usual, the problem that would be the dealbreaker presented itself immediately: most of it was untraversable slope, covered with garbage, leading to soft marsh, also covered with garbage. The place was a sty. The fellow could have shared that particular bombshell before I drove all the way there, but whatever. I still walked the property and wound up at the swimming hole, and even swam before heading back. There were indeed naked locals there. All men. All gross. Add to all this the fact that not a foot of the plot was untrodden by frequent public use, and it was very clearly a no-go. But hey, at least it was an adventure. And trips like these helped me put terms on what I did not want.

Over time a list formed in my head for all the things I just had to have in this property. Things like the type of forest, natural water on site, proximity to my home, easy access (but not too easy), a building site, etc. In the end I decided that if I found a place that had all but one of the needed things, I’d go for it. And that happened in the fall of 2014, when I found what would become Salamander City in a listing on It had everything—challenging but do-able access, a running creek, and old growth pine forest… The only thing it did not have was an ideal location. It was only about 75 minutes from my home, which was great. It was the proximity to neighbors I didn’t love: the nearest were only several hundred feet away.

But there was something on this acreage I had not expected to find inside my quite limited price range, and it won my love from only a handful of pictures: the plot had an old log cabin on it, and it looked like it was workable.  Not into a high quality home, but into the sort of primitive camp I was after?  Sure.

The real estate agent showed it to me in September of 2014. She didn’t know about the natural spring I’d find later, which was just as well seeing as how the bedrock is too shallow (about six inches at the spring) to make it usable. I checked out the cabin itself, and all the motivation and desire that had driven me to search for land was thrumming in my chest. I felt like a giant compressed spring, nervous and giddy.

Of course, there was a catch: the cabin was in deep disrepair, and the grounds had been neglected for so long that the slope of the plot had eroded much soil onto the back of it. The moisture had rotted the back ends of the sill logs.

It’s important to understand that in those days I knew nothing of home repair, log cabin restoration, or even the action of moisture rotting wood and how that worked. The idea of trying to repair something like that was a complete mystery. And what else did the cabin need? I didn’t know. I knew it didn’t look right. It had no material between the logs, which I’d later learn was called chinking. It had crappy, misfit windows I had no idea how to replace. It had a bare metal and strapping roof with a broken chimney in a crudely cut hole, with wasp nests in it. None of these did I understand or know how to handle. I was starting at zero.  There was one thing I did know: I was willing to learn, to teach myself with research and trial, and I was willing to put in the work.

It took some hard thinking to decide to make an offer on the place. But within a short time the sellers and I had settled on a price, and I hired a legal representative to make the sale happen. Bill, his name was. And he did a great job. The seller’s attorney tried to snow both them and us with regard to legal access to the property. The process took months.

During this time, in December of 2014, my girlfriend and I made the trek through the snow to visit the site and get a look at it in wintertime. It would be her first visit and my second. I felt much like I had the first time, full of excitement. The real estate agent had left a key for us to use to get in. Though a final price had been agreed upon, the sale was only in its initial stages at that point. But I was already feeling a sense of ownership. Plans for where things would be built were knocking around in my brain.

I took photos and a video of the inside features of the cabin on that trip, which I sometimes go back to along with the scant images I have from the fall of 2014 when I want to get a sense of how far things have come.

You can check out the slideshow of that trip, featuring myself and my lovely lady, here:

Or watch the short video I took of the interior, here (turn down sound):


On May 1, 2015, the sale closed and I walked out of Bill’s office with a key to the padlock on the door.  By then I’d spent the better part of a year dreaming up a future at this place, and now, in 2017, I’ve accomplished a portion of those dreams.

~~~> Next: Getting in Touch

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