September 2004: We had just finished our 2nd cross-country bicycle ride (from San Francisco to New York City) in August when the Realtor called to say he found a buyer for our cottage in Fort Erie Canada. The bad news was that the buyers wanted to expedite the closing and we were stranded on Stanton Island — in a broken down vehicle — hundreds of miles from home. We bought the Canada cottage a few years earlier and tried living the snow-bird lifestyle, residing in Florida over the winter and Canada in the Summer. But what we really missed were the seasons and therefore wanted to relocate to a place we could afford to live and where we would enjoy a more temperate climate than either Florida or Canada could offer.
After getting the RV repaired, we finally arrived at the Canada cottage on a Wednesday morning only to learn the closing was set for the following Monday. Remember, at this point we had been away from our house for nearly a year (we spent the winter in Florida training for the ride) and did not know what to expect. Since we had only four or five days, we decided to stay in the RV in the driveway (we had been using it as our support vehicle for the 3800 mile bicycle ride) rather than move back into the house. Somehow in that short period of time we purchased a box trailer in which to store and move what we couldn’t sell or give-away and held a yard sale on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was, to say the least, a whirlwind that I can barely recall.
Once the house was sold we headed to West Virginia where we planned to buy land on which to build our papercrete house.
Why West Virginia?
When people ask us why we wanted to build in West Virginia, we ask them “Have you seen it?” The state is located entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range and all areas of the state are mountainous. It is beautiful, rugged, wild and filled with ancient forests, valleys (called hollers around here), ridges, mountain laurel, rhododendron, creeks and rivers. The forests are full of critters: deer, turtles, snakes, squirrels, raccoon, possum, chipmunks, fox, an occasional black bear and a wondrous variety of birds.
Land is cheap, taxes are low, building codes are relaxed (in fact, the state’s motto is “mountaineers are always free”). And if all of that isn’t reason enough to live here, our closest neighbors are our grandchildren!
We parked our RV in a friend’s back yard in Morgantown WV. Then we looked for listings that met our criteria: rural, inexpensive and reasonable far from the nearest neighbor. It also mattered to us if the neighboring properties were reasonably well-kept. That last criteria proved to be the sticking point on several otherwise good possibilities.
October 2004: In early October, after driving all over North Central WV and traipsing through acres of woods and fields, we found an ad for 6 acres in Harrison County, about 60 miles from where we were staying. After driving for what seemed to be hours along winding country roads bordered by trees whose leaves were bursting with the colors orange, red and yellow, we finally came to Big Elk Creek road and wound another 3 or 4 miles until we found the ‘Land for Sale’ sign.
There were no stakes in the ground designating property lines. No buildings, no utilities, no driveway. The only information the Realtor gave us over the phone was the size (6 acres) and the price ($10,000). We walked up what appeared to be an old logging road to a “landing” that looked like a good place to build because it was quasi-flat with just a few small trees. While we stood there looking, we both felt that there was something special –possibly magic – about this place — a feeling we did not get from other sites we visited.
We hiked up the steep hill and made our way through the thick woods. We came upon the ruins of an old oil derrick whose frame was rusted and toppling. The ancient iron and wooden wheels that turned the pump so long ago were still attached to the axle.
Just beyond the derrick we saw what looked like the entrance to a camp. There was a grassy path that curved along under a tree that was bent to create an archway. We ducked under the tree-arch into a large clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a circle of stones sticking upright, like gravestones. In the center of the circle was a dirt mound and on top of that, a deer skull. There were four “stations” around the circle — one facing East, one West, the others North and South. At each station there appeared to be a “gate” made of colored pieces of material, filled with something and tied onto a string like paper cut-out dolls, draped between sticks that were hammered into the ground. Clearly this was some place special — a healing circle? It felt very safe, warm and peaceful there.
We were not sure if the circle was part of the property for sale, but even if it wasn’t, it was definitely a plus.
On the way back to the car, we saw 2 beautiful box turtles whose shells seemed to be painted gold, red and brown to match the dappled forest floor. Once we saw the turtles (my spirit animal) we were sure we were finally home.
After we purchased the land we headed back to Florida for the winter and started thinking and planning the design of the house we would start building the following Spring.