Infatuation

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I’ve become more familiar with our immediate surroundings now that I’ve started going for regular walks with Raven. Although I’ve only walked about a kilometer to the south, I’ve gone about two and a half to the north along our road, and the same distance along a side road that branches off from it. I know where all the houses are along these stretches, which ones have year-round residents, which properties don’t have buildings at all. As I was walking Raven with my mom last week, we passed this one, which she commented on. It’s a simple gated driveway, but the driveway itself is all grown over with knee-high weeds to the point where it more resembles a linear clearing than a driveway, and its connection to the road and the gate going across it are all that identify its past purpose.

Mom asked if I’d wandered around down there, and I said no, of course not, it’s not my property. But after a few more pass-bys, my curiosity got the better of me. Okay, I admit it – I trespassed onto someone else’s land. But it was vacant, and obviously hadn’t seen vehicular traffic in ages, so I wasn’t worried about the owners finding me there and getting upset. And I was curious. I knew the property must stretch back onto the lake, and I wanted to see what some of the surrounding landscape was like. Aside from the park immediately across from us, though, and one small 2 acre parcel that’s vacant and for sale, we haven’t wandered through any of the forest that neighbours us.

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So yesterday I stepped around the gate and headed down the lane. The driveway beyond was in the same state as that before the gate, overgrown by goldenrod and raspberry canes, and with downed branches that gave me the impression that it hadn’t been used in at least a year, perhaps two. Not far down I found a patch of evergreens. Coniferous trees are conspicuously lacking just half a kilometer down the road in the area around our house, but here they were reasonably abundant. Mostly white pine, it seemed, but there were some cedar in an area of wet ground that the driveway passed, and a few hemlock scattered in. I love coniferous trees, and miss having them around the house here (there are a handful of little saplings that seem to have been planted in the yard a few years ago, but they hardly count). Just that discovery alone made me like the place.

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Generally speaking, by this time of the year I tend not to use the word “beautiful” to describe forests, but the property was beautiful, and held so much potential for the return of leaves in the spring. A small creek cut across the property, and though the water level was low, it was still running. Hemlocks and cedars lined portions of it, and mossy stones made the water trickle lightly in others. The landscape of the surrounding property was rolling, and many of the beech trees still held their bright yellow leaves, lending colour to the now mostly gray forest.

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As I neared the end of the driveway, I could see a building hiding behind some trees. At first its darkened sides looked like it had perhaps suffered a fire, and was now abandoned. That would explain the disuse of the driveway. Right near the house a couple of large trees had come down across the driveway, and were old enough to be starting to decay, but hadn’t been removed. Underneath one, protected from the clutter of falling leaves by the large trunk, I could see gravel, suggesting that the driveway had actually been surfaced at one point.

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The house hadn’t been in a fire, it turned out, it was just weather-worn. It looked like the owners had begun building it, got as far as getting the frame completed and a roof on top, and then ran out of money. There were cement pilings with rebar set into the ground around the front that looked like they were intended to support a deck. All the windows were boarded up, but you could see where they were intended to go; the front of the house was designed like a Viceroy home, with big windows opening into a vaulted living space, perfect for looking out over a vista such as a lake. Inside it was a bungalow design, with a big, open living space and a couple of bedrooms framed in in the back. The washroom and kitchen hadn’t yet been laid in, so I wasn’t sure where they were intended to go.

They had put siding up to protect it, but it had been so long since anything had been done that some of the boards had come off, or been broken. The top boards from the front windows were missing (or had never been put in place), and when I peered inside, I could see whitewash across the floor; evidently crows or some other large birds had been perching in the windows.

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To say I was enamoured with the place is an understatement. The land was beautiful. And there was so much of it. When I returned home after I looked up a map of our district that included property lines. Based on this, I figure the house includes about 15 acres. It faced out onto a quiet lake – although there was no provincial park on the other side, neither were there any houses, and the same district map indicated the far shore consisted of just three properties. And the house has so much potential. (Nina of Nature Remains recently coincidentally mentioned that that was the word they kept repeating upon discovering their own home in the woods.) It reminds me of buying the puppy – someone else has gone through the planning and first early stages, but you take over it young enough to shape it and make it completely your own. I can envision that great room finished, with bright, wide windows overlooking the lake, a fire roaring in the woodstove in the corner. I’ve totally fallen head over heels in love with the idea of this place.

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Unfortunately, there is no “For Sale” sign out front. Not that this is necessarily a roadblock to owning the home, but it does complicate things. I suppose talking it over with Dan and getting him on board would also be important. We’re getting a bit tired of doing the renting thing, for various reasons, and it would be good to invest in the real estate market, the most secure investment one can make over the long-term. We’re locked into our lease till next summer anyway, so wouldn’t be looking to move anytime soon, but that would give us time to complete the house…

Okay, so it’s all pretty much in the realm of fantasy and daydream right now, but boy, how I would love to own that place and finish it up.

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There were lots of birds about there. Mostly chickadees, which seem to be ubiquitous even after most other birds have cleared out (this one seems to have dropped a couple of tail feathers and is in the middle of growing in replacements). With them I found a number of other species. Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches were usually in the flocks, often several together. One flock had a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets traveling with them. Kinglets are later migrants, but I was still surprised to see them there. Some do actually stick around southern Ontario in the winter, where there’s enough food. They tend to favour conifers, and I found this group in a patch of hemlock along the creek edge. Still, they’re such tiny, delicate little birds, it’s amazing they can weather the cold so well.

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Also a few Brown Creepers, I think I counted four total. Creepers, like kinglets, are small birds that I tend to think of wintering further south but that do stay in Ontario in small numbers over the winter. They get their name from their habit of creeping up the trunks of trees, peering into crevices, looking for food. It’s an interesting evolutionary process, complementing that of nuthatches, which crawl downwards on trunks, head first. Nuthatches find all the prey in the cracks as they go down, and the creepers find all the prey on the other side, going up, that the nuthatches miss. This one’s checking out some Shelving Tooth fungi.

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I saw a few woodpeckers, too, mostly Hairys. Lots of old and downed wood in the forest gave them ample foraging substrate for food. I saw evidence of Pileateds having worked some trees in the area, too, though no sign of the birds themselves. Along the driveway I flushed a Ruffed Grouse that was wandering underneath the pines, there were Canada Geese on the lake near the shore, and a group of Blue Jays calling from the trees near the house. I was surprised by the amount of bird activity I encountered, outside of the presence of any feeders.

Infatuation with the property aside, it was a lovely walk, and a whole lot nicer than hiking along the road. I’m toying with the idea of contacting the land registry office for this region to see if I can find out who owns it, to ask for permission to hike there regularly.

And to know who to talk to about eventually buying it…

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5 responses to “Infatuation

  1. It makes one wonder if the owners ran out of money, or desire or….?

  2. Maybe you could work out a rent-to-own deal, say $2 a hike until the lot price is covered? :)

  3. Potential, indeed!
    And what perfect owners (you & Dan) to take it over. Young enough and willing to “do the work,”–caring for the land surrounding it, too.
    I have to admit, after 16 years here, and the slow progress that comes from jobs consuming much time, I’d wish to snap my fingers and be finished. But, the land…not what we could find in a newer home site–and that has made all the difference.

    In our county, the auditor’s records are public and on line.
    Property owners’ names, prices paid and when sold, taxes,…

    I hope you can follow this along!

    Nina at Nature Remains

  4. Never buy a fixer upper!!! Especially that big of one. It will drive you insane.

  5. themarvelousinnature

    I was wondering that too, Marvin – the full story, it turns out, is that the owners bought the place to move out to the country together, but then shortly after work started on the house, they ended up getting a divorce, and lost interest/motivation.

    Which may relate to your advice, Robert!

    I like that idea, LavenderBay, I’ll have to bring that up to them!

    Having the records online would be handy, Nina. I poked around but couldn’t find anything like that for Ontario online, just the listings of Land Registry Offices. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist online, just that I haven’t seen it if it does.

    I’ve had a few people caution about the amount of work and stress involved in such a project, but wouldn’t it all be so worth it at the end? Since discovering that the property has essentially been abandoned by the owner, I’ve gone there several times, and am still just as (perhaps more?) enamoured with it now as when I first found it.

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