02. May 2010 · Comments Off on Land, Lots of Land · Categories: General, Home Front, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine..., World

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.

So, I came to a decision about a week or so ago, one that I sensibly should have come to a couple of years ago . . . except that a couple of years ago might not have been the time, either. This was just one of those things that I don’t think about very much, except twice a year when I have to figure out how to pay the taxes on it. Yes, when I get the bill from the San Diego assessor’s office for the three acres and some of unimproved howling wilderness that I own – that’s when I remember that yes, indeedly-do, neighbors – I am a landowner. It’s a nice little tract, which would have been covered with black oak, pine trees and mountain laurel, on the edge of a national forest – save for a plague of bark beetles throughout the 1990s, topped by a massive forest fire in 2003. But everything should be fairly well grown back by now – look at how Yellowstone looked, a decade after fires there. I saw the pictures in the National Geographic; natural cycle and all that. As far as So Cal goes, my land is so far back in the woods that they have to truck in sunshine. The roads are graveled, but the electrical lines have crept gradually in, as other owners built little cabins on their patch of Paradise. Me, I have only visited it once in twenty years, although I have a fair number of pictures.

About halfway through my career in the military – a career spent almost exclusively overseas, my daughter and I came home to visit my parents, who had retired to build their own country hideaway. For one reason or another, I thought – well, I shall retire eventually, and why don’t I start by purchasing a bit of land close by, something that I could build on? Having lived in a series of drab rentals and equally drab military housing, the thought of a bespoke home of my own was understandably enticing. And so, my parents drove me around to look at some nice little bits, eventually focusing on the mountains near a charming little town called Julian. We hadn’t actually fixed on a suitable tract – but my parents knew my tastes by then. Basically, I bought my property on their advice. Used a reenlistment bonus granted when I re-upped for a second hitch in the Big Blue Machine for the down payment, and religiously for the next ten years or so, I mailed a check to an address in Ohio. I don’t think I thought about it too much then, either. I think I was stationed in Utah when I came to the final payment – even then I had written to the former owner, asking plaintively if June or July’s payment would be the last, for I had rather lost track.

So – I had the property; now to sort out how to build a house on it. When I finally returned from overseas, I had pretty much resolved that I would buy a house to live in for the rest of my time in the Air Force, rather than continue pouring money down the rental-rat-hole. I’d continue working until the mortgage was paid – then sell the house and use the equity to fund a new house on my land. When I first formulated this plan, I had kind of half-expected that my last active-duty tour would be at a base of my choosing: the assignments weenies for my career field used to be rather good at this. You could retire in a town where you already had done the ground-work for a post-service career, bought the house, got the child or children established in a local school. Lucky me – I got sent to Texas. Which was third on my list, by the way – but I did buy the house.

And then . . . well, things happened. It’s called life, which happens even when you have plans. One of those things which happened was that Texas – rather like bathroom mold – grows on you. Really; after a while, practically everywhere else seems dry and savorless, devoid of an exuberant sense of place and identity. And the countryside is lovely: east and central Texas is nothing like what it looks in Western movies. It is green, threaded with rivers lined with cypress trees, interspersed with rolling hills dotted with oak trees and wildflowers star-scattered everywhere. I put down roots here, made friends and connections, both personal and professional. I wrote books, set mostly in a locality not very far away, books which have garnered me readers and fans, and a partnership in a little specialty publishing firm. I have come to love San Antonio; which I have described for years as a small town, cunningly disguised as a large city. (Really – you can connect anyone with anyone else in this town in about two jumps. There’s only about two degrees of separation here. You simply would not believe how many people I know who are connected to other people I know. And I don’t even belong to the San Antonio Country Club, though I was a guest there, once.)

Another of those local connections is to a semi-occasional employer, the gentleman known as the Tallest ADHD Child on Earth. He runs a tiny ranch real estate bidness from a home office, but since he is hopelessly inept at anything to do with logical organization, computers and office management, I put in a small number of hours there, every week or so, just to keep his files and documents from becoming a kind of administrative black hole, sucking in everything within range. I put together his various brochures for the various properties that he has listings for – and last week, while assembling one of them, I was thinking all the while, “I so want a bit of that.” I’d rather have a bit of land, maybe park a little cabin on it for now, where I could go and spend quiet weekends. I’d rather have something I could drive up to in a couple of hours, rather than in two days. So, I told Mom and Dad to put the California acreage with a local realtor, and my friend the ranch real estate expert that I would be looking for a nice acre or two. It feels good, it really does.

I expect that I will eventually be driving a pickup truck. But the gimme cap, the gun rack and the hunting dog are still negotiable.

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