Chapter 1. In a Wild Sanctuary

After moving out of my parents' home around the end of the 1970s, I have lived in many places, and under many circumstances, but it's always been somewhere in New Jersey. This was well and truly my home state, and I've always been quite certain it would remain so. Anyway, let's cut to the chase...

By the summer of 2013, I could no longer remain where I was living at the time, which was a condo near the Jersey Shore. I really hate condos as it is, and I'm not a beach person, but the principal issue was that it had become emotionally toxic, and I desperately needed a place to hide and heal. So I began searching for land where I could build a home for myself, by myself. By October I'd found just such a place: seven acres of rugged woodland at the very end of a half-mile private drive. The fact that it was in central New Jersey was like winning the lottery.

The property listing had a dozen images, but two in particular (below) caught my attention and drew me there. 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, "I want this. Now."

Building my own home had been a lifelong dream, but one that I hadn't thought possible. When circumstances suddenly turned favorable, 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. When things finally came to a head in September of 2014, I made my escape post haste. But the process of getting out was so harrowing that I did nothing but hibernate in my camper until the spring. The only bright spot was a kitten I'd rescued. 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. Bitter cold, with 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 just renting an apartment nearby; the only thing that kept me there was a cat that had just given birth, and I wasn't about to relocate her and her newborns.

It was 22 April when the snow had all finally melted. By then I was beginning to recover from my funk; it was 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 was quite impressed.

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


Whys and Wherefores


My Wild Sanctuary

> Chapter 2

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