First View: A Homestead-Made Holiday

December 4th marks the fifth anniversary of our first visit to the homestead. We observe this day as “First View,” a family day of “little T” thanksgiving.

To honor First View, here’s the story of our first visit to our new home:

We learned of the property through a newspaper ad my brother, Dave, saved for us. The siblings had gathered to look at islands for sale in Sitka. Our sister, Beth and I owned land in common, and planned to sell it and buy new property that better suited our needs.

I promptly lost the clipping. After unsuccessfully bidding on the Sitka property, I recalled the ad and searched the Internet. What I found amazed me. The photos and descriptions seemed too good to be true! Beth was less impressed—the property didn’t suit her needs. We couldn’t stop thinking about it, though. We decided to go see it.

We contacted the Realtor and arranged a tour. We could make a day trip, arriving in Haines on an early ferry and leaving on the next one south about three hours later. On a day when the tides allowed crossing the bay within that time frame, we could spend almost two hours at the property.

That day came December 4th. We packed lunch and clothes in knapsacks and dressed for cold weather, including rubber boots, which the Realtor stressed were absolutely necessary for the hike to the property. As a bonus, we took one of Alaska’s new fast ferries for the first time.

Our Realtor met us at the terminal, and drove us to the bay. The season’s first snow had fallen the night before. It shone in the watery sunlight as we crossed the bay and hiked into the woods.crossingbay

Soon we passed along a steep ridge, and buildings appeared in the forest below us. The trail dropped down close to sea level, and we arrived on the homestead.

View from the ridge as the homestead appears through the trees.

View from the ridge: the homestead appears through the trees.

I tried to view everything objectively, carefully gauging condition, quality, and potential. The buildings looked forlorn and neglected in the snow. The family had moved away almost two years before, yet it appeared they’d just stepped away for the day. I worked at finding fault, looking for reasons why we shouldn’t buy the property, even as my excitement grew.

Aly made no such effort. Her enthusiasm increased as she surveyed the cozy little rooms, the two half-finished tree houses, the rope swing!—all with a grin that could glow in the dark. Michelle and the Realtor went to inspect the shed while Aly asked for help testing the swing. As we returned to the cabin, she asked, “So, can we make the dream a reality?” It broke my heart to express caution, but I told her a lot depended on how her mother felt. I reminded her that such a big decision shouldn’t be made hastily, and that many factors had to be carefully weighed.swingtest

Carpenter ants caused us concern. Most of the peninsula’s top soil is organic material, and ants thrive in it. The front of the cabin had, over time, become saturated by sea spray, leading to an ant infestation that destroyed the wall. It had been repaired with pressure treated lumber and plywood.

The boathouse/guest cabin walls are paneled with wormwood, planks cut from driftwood bored by teredo worms. I loved it, but when Aly saw it, she grew quiet. When we pulled down the fold-up stairs to view the half story above, I had to coax her to join me. She climbed halfway up and stopped, leaning away from the wall. Watching her, I suddenly realized she was afraid.

“You know that these holes are made by woodworms, right?” I asked, “Ants didn’t make them!” She relaxed immediately, greatly relieved! She understood that carpenter ants were big, but never having seen one, her imagination and the evidence around her unsettled her.

Aly expected carpenter ants to pour from the holes in the walls at any moment!

Aly expected carpenter ants to pour from the holes in the walls at any moment!

As we took stock of the homestead, the situation took stock of us. The Realtor told us honestly that we had passed the first crucial test by arriving dressed to view the property. She described turning away potential buyers who arrived in dress shoes and pantsuits! The nearest neighbors came over to start the wind generator, and stopped to chat. Apparently, favorable impressions got back to the sellers. Eventually, we understood that everyone hoped to find the “right” buyers—people who would appreciate the homestead and fit into the neighborhood.

Lunchbreak in the main cabin.

Lunch break in the main cabin.

As I snapped photos around the boathouse, one caught Michelle, and I noticed an odd expression on her face. She frowned in a way that means she’s lost interest in what’s happening at the moment. I told myself that it didn’t matter; we’d had a wonderful day trip, and enjoyed a rare opportunity to tour a really great homestead. I saw no reason to be disappointed.

Before long we had to hustle back over the trail to catch our ferry home. As soon as we boarded and settled in, Michelle looked at me and said, “Okay, how do we make this happen?

I was pleased, but confused until I downloaded the photos. When I saw the one of Michelle, I realized that she too had tried to remain objective. A subtle yet unmistakable twinkle in her eyes betrayed her excitement.thinking

We did make it happen. By the second anniversary of this first view, we had moved to the homestead, where, with luck and effort, we’ll be celebrating First View, our homestead-made holiday, for many years to come.

Our priceless view!

Our first look at the priceless view!

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2 Responses to First View: A Homestead-Made Holiday

  1. Jacquie says:

    Ever since I can remember I have wanted this lifestyle. It’s tough here because everything is about money. You are expected to work all year round for someone else and to not have any time to save food for yourself or make blankets for christmas presents. I’ve always thought about Alaska as a possibility and I’m not afraid to work hard at an honest life. How can I do this? What did something like this cost you?

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Jacquie, great questions! You inspired me to write a whole post in answer, called The Cost of Living. I hope you find it helpful. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have further questions.

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