17 Miles Outside of Alturas

I went on a trip this weekend.

Since I was a young boy I wanted to go out, build shelters, and survive off only my own hands. I have a vivid memory of begging my parents to let me camp out overnight in the woods near my school when I was six. As I've grown older it's stuck with me, strengthened by all those years at summer camp, hiking, backpacking, learning valuable skills for being self reliant.

Some time around when I got my first job, I looked up "land" on ebay to find that there were a number of affordable listings, still out of my budget, but only just nearly out of reach. Later on when I was working for my parents, I got to experience the joy of working with my hands and improving land. The eudaimonic rush of sitting down after a hard day of work and seeing all of what I had accomplished.

This summer I've discovered the wonders of reclaimed wood. Being able to take what was once mere trash and repurposing it into something useful once again. Sawing through pallets and scavenging the piles of trash that line the streets for sections of plywood or half-rotted 2x4s fills me with joy and lights that spark of creativity within me. I've built a couple planter boxes and used parts for my new desk, but it has made me ache to build something larger, a structure of some sort.

A few weeks ago on a whim, I looked up "land" once again on ebay and was met with the realization that I was fully capable of affording a small acre plot in a beautiful remote part of north-eastern California. I impulsively bid on one of the numerous auctions and won. Within a few days this distant dream suddenly was tangible.

Yesterday was my first time driving up to finally see it and get started. I packed just about every tool I could possibly need and six deconstructed pallets, along with camping supplies and headed off on my grand journey. The five and a half hour drive took me through the beautiful landscape of northern California, through winding mountain passes, over roaring rivers, past towns whose population size would drop from the triple, to the double, to the single digits. Periodically I'd put on a Marty Robbins' cowboy ballad as I rode into my new west.

Finally I had arrived down the gravel road to the coordinates and bore witness to the beauty of my humble lot that I had dreamed of. A neighbor spotted me from his porch and helped me to find it, as the lot markers had long rusted away or been damaged by the snow. Over the course of our conversation he mentioned how a lot of people had done as I did, only to turn back when they made the realization that they couldn't start anything without the required septic and well systems installed. This sounded odd to me as my reading through of the bylaws made no mention of such a requirement. Once he returned to his home I pulled up the property owners association website once again and realized that I had made a mistake. The "Unit 3" marker was not the same as "Lot 3" label, and that lot 3 was part of the subdivided unit 3 of the property owners association, which came with a long list of required permits and rules I would be subject to in order to build anything as simple as a fence. As I read each line, my plans were smashed one by one through my head. I found myself once again surrounded by the system I had traveled so far in order to escape.

I cried in my car for a while, before accepting my fate and deciding to make the most of what I could with the night. I sat around the small fire I had built, the tendrils of impermanence tearing deep to my soul. I found myself scrolling through listings once again, waiting for each page to load over the single bar of signal, that fire withing me still smoldering through the bucket of water that was poured upon it.

This was a setback, but not one I can't recover from. I'm able to back out of the deal and will only be out $200, not my most costly mistake. I'll keep looking and saving, but I'm not giving up on this dream, and not wasting my youth to live a slave to a system I so despise.

I will have my dream, and it will be beautiful.

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