I had been looking for land and “a home in the heart of the country” for many years. On a camping and birdwatching trip in 1979 to eastern Oregon with my friend Barbara, I made some inquiries in Fossil for property for sale. Not much, except an 80 acre parcel with a mobile home on it. But going to look at it, I stumbled across an old homestead, which had been lived in during the depression, but abandoned after World War II. The rancher who owned it happened to be soon retiring, his son didn’t want to carry on ranching, and it was for sale. The roof leaked, half of the bricks of the chimney had fallen down, all the doors and windows were gone. But it was on a stone foundation. I bought it, no questions asked, except the owner, who asked how much do you think the house is worth. I said about $4000, and he agreed! It came with 340 acres.

The next 17 years I spent fixing it up in my spare time. Using hand tools; there was no electricity. Finding or making 13 windows and several doors. A milestone was building the outhouse, double-seated for accompanying a child or philosophizing with a friend. Another was building a sauna. Brian Kazlov, my Wesleyan University friend, was the artistic vision and energy behind that. One less reason for returning to civilization (to shower!) In 1993 I happened to meet Ted Bradwell, who helped me (an understatement: I helped him) to install solar power, compact fluorescents, a 12-volt refrigerator, and an on-demand tankless hot-water heater. The water is gravity-fed from a spring, eternally maintenance-free; the locals call it “juniper water”, clear, cold, delicious. The stages the homestead went through, the waxing and at times waning of my energy, the friends who helped, Sandy Culver who clambered onto the roof with me when we were both younger men, Shulamite, an architect who designed the needing-to-be-relocated stairs, Jim who buried his dog Rembrandt, best friend of my own dog Sally, my beautiful adopted stray cat, Sammy, who kept the packrats out of the house, the Bluebird People, who erected more than 200 nestboxes and studied their nesting success for 20 years, local people who helped or looked on dubiously while I undertook the job of rehabilitating an abandoned house home to packrats, mice, bats, owls, and birds nesting in the walls. Friends came to visit, all of whom mention the good night’s sleep, or to stay: Jennifer who lived there with me full-time for a few years, Tammi who said she felt more comfortable there than anywhere she had known. Years later, my notebooks are filled with of daily observations of nature, rainfall, snows, birds, lizards, snakes, butterflies, ceanothus silkmoths, flowers, grass species. And still there are new discoveries, eclipses, comets, shooting stars, calls of nightbirds, and overall the Milky Way, brilliant in the clear dark sky of the eastern Oregon night.

(photos link to external gallery)