Looking Back Four Years…

Four years ago today, the buyers got funded for my house in California, a house I was sad to leave and a place I where expected to live out my life, but as happens seemingly random stuff coalesces around fate and there you are. Rather spontaneously, while at a conference in Colorado that spring, I did the paper work to retire. In the background other things were happening that I didn’t even know about. My intuition had been right. It was over.

I was scared. My real estate agend thought I was brave to do what I was doing — selling a house and moving to a town where I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t really have a choice. I had an income and some cash from the sale. I knew what these numbers were and I had to live within them. That’s why I left a small mountain town in California and my dream house. California had become not only incredibly hot (temps in my town in the summer had gone from an average high of 90 to an average high of 104) but incredibly expensive. Gas alone cost me $400/month. I learned how much our lives depend on petroleum from that — food, utilities, clothing everything has to be hauled somewhere. All blood under the bridge.



My house in Descanso, CA


“We want to hear about your adventure,” said my agent and her boss at lunch one day. “You have to blog about it.”

I did. Yesterday I had a look at that blog (now set to private). I read the post I wrote the day I drove away from my house, the first step toward Colorado. Packing had been an ordeal. I was getting up at 4 am to have a few hours to work before the blistering heat descended.

“I spent several hours (8) cleaning and packing the car and taking the dogs to the kennel where they’ll be until I take off Friday morning. It was liberating to close the door, knowing there was nothing more I could do, and drive away. I loved my house and I loved the dream I had when I moved there, but it didn’t really pan out. I made some mistakes and the world changed, still, I always felt that house was more than a roof and walls. It has a soul and it loved me. More than once it helped me and it helped me again. Since it was made by hand of local rocks, it’s never been (for me) just a house. It’s a piece of the mountain it sits on. I know the new owners will love it, and if they don’t, they won’t stay long. (And they didn’t…)

So now I’m in a motel near the university where I taught for most of 30 years. It’s convenient and nice and I knew I could find it. 😉 And, it’s air-conditioned.” (Colorado or Bust, September 18, 2014)

I thought all the time I was in California that I wanted to be in Colorado — but there was a moment when I stopped yearning. It was a weekend in 2002 when I was pondering a job offer in Wyoming. That weekend I took a hike and saw 7 mule deer, a beautiful sunset, and had some great experiences at school. I realized I had a great job and I loved the university where I was teaching. Why should I go anywhere? It was at that moment — about 20 years after I move to California — that I arrived psychically. Soon after I bought my house in the mountains.

No one knows what the future holds. And there I was, ten years after buying my house, selling it and driving east, home.

“It’s…bewildering to close the door on a time in my life. I’ve thought that our lives seem to break naturally into thirty year chunks. The first thirty years of my life seemed to have been growth, learning, mastery and self-definition. The second thirty were giving to life what I had been made for. Now? How could I possibly know? For whatever it is I bring the tools life has taught me — a viable living space and safety (thanks, Maslow, for stating the obvious), financial security and time to create. I don’t know what else there will be. I know only that those are the things I must prepare — for whom? Sometimes I think about the person who moved to San Diego with her husband in 1984. I think of all the things she did and hoped for. I packed up some of her work in preparation for moving here. She left some good things behind. I feel she left them for me. A book about Pearl S. Buck as a writer in the Chinese literary tradition and the other a love story. ‘I can’t do this now,’ she said. ‘I must teach. I must try to find my road. I have to make this marriage work. I have to settle these questions with my family. I am holding up the sky. I’ll make a start, but I’m afraid you’ll have to finish.’ I love that young woman. I am proud of her. She got here.” (Colorado or Bust, September 21, 2014)

I have friends who are in the time of life of holding up the sky. I have friends who are older than I who are still holding up the sky. I let go of it when I moved here. I thought of it recently in terms of Rainbow Girls. When I was a member, I held two offices — Nature and Service, yellow and lavender, opposites on the color wheel. I’ve been struck a few times by how those two colors ended up describing my life. I arrived here wrung dry of any desire to serve, but once it was my mission.

I’ve written three books since I moved here. I haven’t made a lot of friends, but I haven’t tried very hard. I’m not that kind of person, anyway. I realize that I keep a distance from my town and the people in it. Retired, I have the luxury of solitude that I didn’t have as a teacher. I like the friends I have very much and am grateful every day that they live next door and across the street. I still haven’t been up in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean I won’t ever go. If I hadn’t moved here I wouldn’t know how potatoes are grown, I’d know nothing about the migration of Sandhill Cranes, or the prisms on old snow on a -10 degree day — or thousands of other things — big and small — that are part and parcel of this place. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the conversation I had yesterday with my dogs’ vet about the courage and sweetness of dogs like Bear. I would not have heard his stories. I would not have Bear. There are thousands of ways in which my life would be diminished if I had not made that rather radical decision four years ago.


20 thoughts on “Looking Back Four Years…

  1. martha, i read every word of this, twice. i am in much the same spot, as i read this. at least the first step. i’ve put my little cottage up for sale, one that is more than a home to me, one that was the first one i ever bought on my own, after being divorced for years. i plan to sell and move to a condo of a few townhomes in my same town, but down by the river side, close to the parks and woods i love to walk, near family, and walkable to town. once i do this, it will free me of debt, give me less to worry about caring for (100 year old house), and my own little cozy space once again that i’ll find my way towards retiring early within. thank you for the inspiration of your post –

    • My house now is 90 years old as was the one I left. But this one was built better and has things like a furnace so I’m not toting wood in all the time. It makes a difference in ease of life and peace of mind. And, I’m in Colorado which means a lot to me, though I’m grateful that I was finally happy in California. It took 18 years. I still haven’t figured out who I am at this point in life — but I also no longer thing I have to know. As in Theodore Roethke’s poem, “The Waking,” “We learn by boing where we have to go.” It’s true. Good luck in your transition! ❤

  2. I wish I could get enough for this house to move elsewhere. Like — where YOU live — for example. But this house needs a lot of “fixing up” in the cosmetic sense. Even doing the little (it seems so little) we’ve done has come close to $30,000 of debt we’ve built up because, for complex reasons involving HARP, we can’t refinance without taking back $80,000 on which we currently pay nothing. So we are here and here we stay because we don’t have a choice. I never imagined a time when this house would be too big, or 6 steps up (or down) could become too much to handle.

    Life is pretty funny that way. So I am doing what everyone in my position does: fix what can’t be avoided because the house will fall down otherwise, and hope for the best on the rest.

    I’m not sorry to be in New England, though. Other than Colorado or maybe New Mexico, or the upper stretches of Arizona — the mountainous part — this really IS home. I know New England isn’t the most welcoming of places to move to from anywhere else. Black people think it’s because they are Black, but actually, it’s because they aren’t from around here and New England is rather standoffish compared to most other places. It just is. It’s even worse when you go further north and I’m told Alaska is serious about solo living.

    I’m comfortable with the politics — and that DOES matter. I know a lot of people by face and if I were more inclined to trying to form new friendships, I probably could — but I’ve gotten pretty New Englandy myself. We have good, solid friends, though I wish they lived a LITTLE closer … like 50 to 100 miles … but at least we do see each other. I miss the local people we loved who died, but there will be more. That would be true anywhere we lived. Age just IS.

    • It comes down to finances… I couldn’t have stayed where I was so I didn’t. I’d have been bankrupt in a year even earning $75k/year which I was. So here I am and that’s good. It’s very close to being easily affordable (if nothing happens 😉 ) I think in life we sometimes just have to choose to be happy with what we have.

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