A Self Indulgence

I just returned from a weekend at our second home in the Redwoods of Northern California and the glow of the visit is still fresh. My wife and I lived in the Eureka-Arcata area from the summer of 1980 through the summer of 1990, in an old Quonset-hut style mobile home on five acres of wooded land. Last summer my eldest son, who was born on that land, helped me complete a project we had been planning since February 2000.

We hired a crew to scrape the old home off the hillside, and then to dig a new foundation for a manufactured home built in Oregon. It was trucked to our hillside in two halves that were joined together atop the foundation. My son and I did some of the site work, notably the plumbing. We also built a 60-foot long boardwalk over a wetland area that separates the house from the roadway. Two years ago the wetland was a headache. Its existence threw off the timeline for the project, greatly inflated our costs and could have derailed the construction entirely. But I stuck with the permits and the paperwork and last weekend we enjoyed the reward.

Weeks of heavy rains had left the hillside breathtakingly green. Frogs croaked. Rivulets of water streaked over the gravel that lined the main watercourse. The purpose of the visit was to get a final inspection by the biologist we had hired to supervise construction. He gave us a clean bill of health and some suggestions for native plants that would add variety to the landscape and control erosion in a couple of placed where the slope was settling. The wetland was not our only water feature. The rear of the house is about 30 feet from an underground streambed. So the house sits perched between a wetland about 50 feet deep and a streambed that forms a moat-like separation between the human habitat and the forest.

The house itself is unimposing. It is a rectangle 27 feet wide and 47 feet long, undistinguished except for the covered porch that look due west over fog-shrouded Humboldt Bay. I called it our second home but that implies it is vacant when we’re not there. In truth we have rented it to a family who used to live down the road, in another soggy old Quonset-style mobile. They enjoy the place in our absence and help cover the costs of the building loan.

We got some work done. My son used a machete to clear the thicket at the entry to the property. I had carried him there as a baby before we moved away in 1990, my heart heavy with the sadness of leaving. It was a joy to see him back, man-strong. When it started raining again the tenants invited us in to play a board game called Settlers of Catan, a sort of Sim City played with cards, cooperation and competition. My son took them up immediately. (Did I mention they have a daughter his age?) I lingered out of doors for a while, transplanting native grasses to the wetlands, coming in only when my clothes were soaked through to the skin.

Tom Abate
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