I lived in Geneva National for a while. In a few different places, at a few different times, with a few different goals in mind. I lived in a house, a grand, tall house with three layers of gable fascia that I was rather proud of. I lived in a small condominium while I built that tall house, and the condo received some new countertops and a new fireplace surround and some new paint. I sold both of those, but returned to a condo some time later to rent, a different place. Before that, before the tall house and the small condo I had rented a different condo, this one with a split staircase so that some of the rooms were up and some were down, the only thing in the middle being the landing for the stair. Because I lived in all of these places, I think I know Geneva National better than you do. I think I know it better than most Realtors, because if they’ve never lived there how, then, can they tell you about the experience?
In the same way, I lived on the lake for a while. From the time I was a day or two old to the time I was 18, I lived on that lake. I know what it feels like, what it looks like, the way it is when you walk to the pier in the morning with a fishing pole in your hand and leave footsteps in the dew. I know how the carp swim in the shallows during those early mornings, two at a time, large and purple, menacing looking but not really. I know these things because I lived these things, and the experience helps me every day as I try my best to convince others what it is they’re missing out on.
Currently, I’m building a small cabin on the side of a hill quite a distance from here. The cabin is a few hundred feet from a trout stream, and the views are delightful to the north and to the south, also to the east and to the west. There’s nothing I don’t particularly like about what it is that I’m doing. I’m building this cabin to exercise some of my real estate ADHD, but mostly I’m building it so that I have a place to hang my hat when I’m out fly fishing with my family. It’ll be a nice thing, this little cabin, but I never really wanted to build it. When I started considering the concept of a small cabin from which to fish, I could picture it in my mind. It was small, sure. Basic, with a wood stove and a small kitchen, the pots and pans hanging from hooks. The bedrooms, small, maybe only two, maybe just one. I wasn’t clear on that part. The bathroom, ideally inside, but an outhouse was a possibility. After all, it was just a cabin to hang ones hat while on a 24 hour fishing trip. Luxuries were not necessary, only a dry, warm place to sleep.
After some time of considering this basic idea, I looked around for the cabin that might fit the vision. I’d spend less than $100k and I’d buy this place and it would be next to a trout stream and I’d sit on the porch and watch for trout to rise. Once they did, I’d grab my three weight and I’d walk over to the stream and I’d catch the rising trout. I’d hold them briefly and then release them, content in my skill and pleased with the process. I’d then walk balk to the cabin and sit on the porch, maybe to think about that trout or to watch for the next one, I wasn’t sure. That’s what I wanted to do. And so I kept looking for the cabin that would allow such an evening on that porch, near that stream with the rising trout. And I’d spend less than $100k to do it.
It was soon apparent that $100k wasn’t going to work. Small Amish built cabins on posts could be bought for that price, but if my wife and kids were along for the trip we couldn’t really function out of a space so small, so unstable. The outhouse would have been okay if it were just me in residence, with my son perhaps, but Curry women and Curry girls don’t like outhouses, so that wouldn’t do, not at all. $150k might work. I could set up a gofundme.com on this website and ask for donations, the money would be well spent on my mental health, which would benefit everyone who knows me, personally or just through these pixels. $150k it would be. Local Realtors got to know me. I’d tell them what I wanted, and then I’d go see something that I described. The places were not right, too this or too that, too rustic or two boring, too far from the stream and to close to another house. I didn’t like decorating out there. I didn’t like the bathroom fixtures. I didn’t like the landscaping, which generally consisted of a gravel driveway that was mostly dirt and grass.
My vision, this easy, wide open, simple goal, was proving elusive. The large area of several counties had been narrowed. I decided that I only really liked two different valleys, maybe three, but the one had a farm on the corner with too many cows and too many broken down implements scattered across the fields like some sort of scrappers obstacle course. If I spent $300k, surely that would solve this thing. I can’t really spend that much money, but I’ve done more for less. LendingTree told me I could borrow lots of money, and if some anonymous algorithm confirmed I could spend more, then who am I to argue? Let’s spend more, I figured, and we could rent the house out most of the time. After all, this place is too far away to frequent, and if we had a garage and some other bedrooms I could store things in them that I cannot store here. The basement would be nice. Who ever said a cabin in the woods should be so basic? Hooks for hanging pots and pans seem nice until you realize that I’m of a certain height and I’d most definitely hit my head on them, which seems problematic and very un-relaxing.
The market yielded nothing. For a region settled by Norwegian Immigrants there were no relics of style that I had expected to uncover. The area seemed small to me. Little to buy, little to look at. If I upped my search to one million dollars and pretended that I had infinite funds, no house was appealing. Land, that’s what I needed. Just a couple of acres would do. Nothing big, just easy. Near a stream, so I can build that deck and sit on it and watch for rising trout. Valley land was soft, sandy and silty at once, and certainly there would be some available. And there was. That’s when I learned about hydraulic shadows and flood plains. I could buy land near the stream, but then I’d risk being swept away in the night, my wife and kids swept, after some time of floating, into the Mississippi, never to be seen again. Valleys, perfect for watching trout rise, terrible for living through floods.
Hillsides, that’s where I needed to be. Not bluff tops, but hillsides. Something half way up the hill. All the way up would be too high, too hard to get to, too windy. Half way up, just out of the flood plain so that when the levies break I would have a solid view of the carnage below. 3 acres, that’s all I needed. Until it became apparent that 3 acre lots are next to other three acre lots and my plan here was to escape. To hide. To sit on that porch without asking the neighbor how he’s enjoying his porch. I’d need more land, 10 acres, 20, 30 even. 40! But the folly was that I couldn’t afford 30, not then and not now. And so finally 15 acres hit the market and on a snowy day that felt like a whim, I drove out and I bought it. I paid for the land and I thought that perhaps I had made a big mistake. I had buyer’s remorse last week when I bought the $29.98 package of fireworks instead of the $19.98 package. What was I, a Rockefeller? I had the larger package in my cart for a while before swapping it for the lesser package, and then I thought of my kids and how they’d be so disappointed with me and so I, after some time of staring at my options, grabbed the $29.98 package.
The land was bought for a price that was my original cabin budget. The cabin is being built now, and I’m so far over budget that I’m not quite sure what the total cost will be. I have a good idea. I won’t be able to sit on my deck and watch for rising trout. But I won’t get swept away in floods, and I’m not so high that I’ll be blasted by the unceasing wind. The bedrooms, there are a few. Baths, some of those as well. The space swelled when the plans were drawn, and even though it’s still small compared to what I sell and see here, it’s still bigger than I originally intended. It’s more money than I intended. It’s not exactly what I had intended. But it’s in the valley I like and the trout aren’t far away, and the kitchen will have shelves to put away the pots and pans.
This ongoing experiment has given me terrific insight into what it is you struggle with. I didn’t plan to do any of this, I just wanted something simple and easy, but it’s grown and turned and it’s become something very different. But it’s something that I want, and when I first sit on that deck and watch the stream in the distance dance and twist through the valley floor, none of the other things will matter because it’s the pursuit of a lifestyle that we’re after. We’re all just Mr. Blandings, after all.