This Land

We’ve been very busy since I last posted.

The big news is that we discovered, fell in love with, and purchased land last September. The property is essentially a meadow – with pristine views of the San Francisco Peaks and Kendrick Mountain, nestled up against Saddle Mountain, surrounded by national forest land. The parcel is approximately 4.67 acres and located in Kendrick Park, about a 20 minute drive along Highway 180, northwest of the Flagstaff town site and about an hour away from the Grand Canyon.

Kendrick Park has always enchanted me. I remember driving back and forth from the Canyon while vacationing in Flagstaff years ago, looking at this quiet neighborhood “out in the country” and envying the residents who got to enjoy such a view everyday. I never thought I would be able to join them, for reasons ranging from financial feasibility to getting my husband (then boyfriend) on board with “pioneering.” It became one of my “happy places,” often visited in my head during daydreams….

On a weekend in early September, my husband, son, and I decided to take a drive up north of town. Our intention was to visit Red Mountain, a popular hiking spot at a lower elevation, not too far from Kendrick Park. We stopped at Whitehorse Park along the way, a heavily-forested residential neighborhood. There was one property there that we were excited about, about 1 acre with an alternative septic system already installed and a small studio cabin onsite. Across the street was a stand of aspens, with the tip-top of the Peaks showing just above the tree tops, pines and spruces scattered along rolling hillsides…. A beautiful place, truly. $89k for the land; not too far out of reach for us – with a loan. But no snow plowing (unless we hired a private company). And not the kind of mountain views we were hoping for.

We meandered a bit further down the road, stopping at a unique cinder block home hidden deeper in the woods at the end of a meandering driveway. Another beautiful place. But not great solar exposure. Asking price, while reasonable, would have put us at the top of our budget – without the financial ability to remodel the home to our liking. So we moved on.

We exited Whitehorse Park and continued north along 180, passing the Chapel of the Holy Dove, a small building with unique architecture and breathtaking views. (After we first visited Flagstaff many years ago, I tried to design houses using the same kind of floor space and roof line as the chapel.)

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A few hundred feet later, we found ourselves drawn to the entrance of Kendrick Park along Forest Road 514 (despite the abandoned, burned-down White Buffalo building). When we found a for-sale sign at Lot 31, we parked and I couldn’t stop myself from running across the field. In the middle I paused, my eyes tearing up. It felt right. It felt so right… and I was terrified that my husband wouldn’t feel it too.

He walked over to join me and without a moment’s hesitation said “This is it.” Words cannot fully express the joy I felt that day.

Our 4 year-old son captured the moment on camera.

Needless to say, we did not make it to Red Mountain. We rushed home and started researching the property on the local MLS. $75k, seller willing to carry (huzzah). No utilities (a challenge, but not a deal-breaker, of course; no trees, so no problem going solar with wind as a possibility, too). Parcels cannot be broken up into smaller lots – maintaining the “wide open spaces” intent of the neighborhood (good). The County provides snow plowing (a must). Not in a flood plain (a must). Guest house allowed, half the size of the main house or up to 800 square feet (nice option for the future).

The next day we visited agent Howard Mansker with ReMax Peak Properties and offered the seller $60k with $20k down, 5 years to carry loan at 6.5%, amortized like a 15 year loan until ballooning at the end of the 5th year. The seller countered, and we countered again, ending with a deal that felt like it was right in the middle of what the seller wanted and what we wanted, so I feel good about that: $68k with $25k down, 6 year loan with same terms.

In the months since, we’ve been throwing every penny we can at the property. My goal is to have it paid off by the end of 2016, although it is nice to know that we could take the full 6 years to pay it off if we find ourselves in tough financial circumstances in the near future.

Things I recognize: my family has the fortunate circumstances of savings, that we’ve worked hard to maintain and have been adding to whenever possible. We’ve had years where we had to tap into it because our annual income was below poverty level (after the crash of 2008 and we were both laid off… and then, surprise! – pregnant). All along the journey, I have tried to buy only what we needed, with a little fun here and there on the side….

To put it into perspective: I get mad at my husband for spending $5 without running it by me first. We kind-of laugh at it now, but… I’ve been accused of penny-pinching to a fault. But I’ll tell you why I do it – because I knew this was coming. I knew that one day we would find the place where we could live life on our terms, and I would have never been able to forgive myself if we had spent our money on things that are fleeting and unnecessary.

So here we are, land owners. I think we’re on our fourth house plan. More on that in another post.

There are two things on my mind when I think about property ownership: 1) good stewardship and 2) communal.

Stewardship is an important word in my life. I work for a local community church, so “stewardship” is a word oft used when referring to “time, talents, and treasure.” We have a stewardship season, usually in October as we’re putting together next year’s budget. We have a pledge drive, and committees recruit volunteers. The key question surrounding it all, after acknowledging that we have so much, is “What can we give?” My answer – everything I can, in my own unique way. So when I think about our new property, I am met with a sense of duty.

Is there anything I can build there that will improve upon it – the land itself? No, there isn’t. I recognize that. I bought this property to protect it as much as I bought it to enjoy it.

I often think about Teddy Roosevelt’s comment about the Grand Canyon: “You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” I have actively taken on a huge responsibility – to live lightly upon the land, while holding great respect for it. Whatever structure we build, it must be built with honor.

I have mixed feelings about private land ownership, to be honest. While I understand the necessity of it for today’s society to function as it does, (and I do not have aspirations of creating social change to the point of anarchy, socialism, or any other extreme), I am a questioner by nature and am compelled to ask “Is there a better way to do it? Does it have to be done this way?” In the end, I prefer to undermine¬† social norms that I don’t agree with through non-violent, sometimes playful, acts of rebellion. One such act would be refusing to install walls or fences on our property, thus allowing not only the free passage of animals, but also neighbors, hikers, and, yes, hooligans. I’ve also been inspired by a house we used to walk by when we lived over in the University Heights neighborhood, with a pretty yard and a sign nailed to a tree that said “Sit a spell,” with a bench below it. And we did, indeed, sit a spell. The only thing missing was our neighbors, whom we had never met, coming out to greet us… but truth be told this was almost just as welcoming. It gave me pause.

I think Woody Guthrie was on to something when he wrote “This Land.” Yes, it is a deeply political, subversive song with an interesting history. Some of the lesser known lyrics are:¬†As I went walking I saw a sign there; And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”; But on the other side it didn’t say nothing; That side was made for you and me.

What does “community” really mean? I’m following that question down the rabbit hole. You and Woody are always welcome.