Chapter 1: In a Wild Sanctuary

By the summer of 2013, I could no longer stay where I was living at the time. After enduring years of emotional agony, I needed a place to heal, so I began searching for land where I could build a home for myself, by myself. Much to my surprise, by October I'd found just such a place: seven acres of rugged woodland at the very end of a half-mile private drive. It would be challenging to find a place more secluded in central New Jersey.

The property listing had a dozen images, but two in particular (below) caught my attention and drew me to the place. I vividly recall the day I first visited the property: I stepped out of my car, walked about 15 feet into the trees, grabbed my cell phone to call my realtor, and said to her, "I want this. Now."

Building my own home had been a lifelong dream, one that I hadn't thought possible. When circumstances turned favorable for me, I wanted home-building to be a full-time experience; in other words, I'd planned to live on my property while I built the house. To that end, I bought a 22-foot camping trailer and tucked it in the trees next to where the house would eventually go—I knew from day one exactly where that would be.

Unfortunately, it would take a year for me to extricate myself from my living situation. It was, to be sure, very complicated. And very messy and very painful. It made the need to escape and be secluded all the more urgent.

Things finally came to a head in September of 2014, and I made my exodus. But the process of getting out was so harrowing that I was utterly drained, and did nothing for nearly a year except hibernate in my camper. The only bright spot was that I'd rescued a kitten. Who turned out to be pregnant. One thing was certain: it was going to be an interesting winter.

But what a brutal winter it turned out to be. Snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm. Lows below zero. It was a struggle to keep the camper above 60—some nights the little heater ran full-time, and the water system froze a couple of times. More than once I was on the verge of giving up and renting an apartment; the only thing that kept me there was a cat that had just given birth.

It was May before all of the snow had melted. By then I was beginning to recover from my funk; it was finally time to start doing stuff. First, I got all of my ducks in line. Property survey, check. Wetlands survey, check. Architect, check. Zoning permit, check. The zoning officer at the Township was impressed, exclaiming she'd never seen anyone so well prepared. Well, I certainly had the time to get it right.

I really balked at having to hire an architect—the only thing I needed him for was a seal on the blueprint to satisfy the Township. The architect didn't need to do any design work; I'd already done it all, right down to the plumbing and electrical schematics.

But nothing ever goes quite the way you'd planned...

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