We Bought a “Fixer-Upper” Country House

One Sunday afternoon a week or so after we’d bought the ranch, Woolsey and his brother Chris–their black cowboy hats dusted and their boots polished–pulled up in a big, old pickup to have a look around. We showed them the future building site (see picture of view) and then headed down the hill to the old foreman’s cabin Dave planned to use as a guesthouse–the one I said should be bombed. The guys went in while I waited under the shade of an ancient walnut tree. “You think you can do anything with it?” I asked when they emerged. “I believe so,” Woolsey answered. “Why don’t you get me some pictures of what you want, and I’ll try and build it for you.”

We’d already bought the place, folks. I didn’t have much choice other than to believe him, did I? Basically—as sweaty as my palms were—there was no going back at that point.

My story isn’t too different from Pioneer Woman’s. She was young and fell in love with a cowboy. I was middle-aged, tired of the city, and my husband and I fell in love with a piece of land up a winding one lane road with its ancient oaks and ducks on the pond, with it’s view of the snow-capped Mineral Kings, with its red-bud trees and its buckeye, with its fields of baby-blue-eyes, and poppies and delicate fairy-lanterns. It wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all. But love never is. And here we are, hard as it all was—is—here we are.

I have to admit that my idea of country was all sort of hazy. It was Vermont or Maine in the summer (no snow) or North Carolina in the spring (no heat and humidity. No copperheads, either. Don’t forget that.) It was Colorado with warm enough nights to grow tomatoes. It was the South of France with all my friends and family nearby and no nine-hour flight to get there. See what I mean? Hazy, to say the least.

One thing it wasn’t was this.

Here’s a picture of a couple of friends checking out our new digs. Looking a bit dubious, wouldn’t you agree? And they had already left the Bay Area, bought a place up here, turned it into an artist residency. (link to Stonehouse) I mean they loved the mountains and the rolling, oak filled meadows that surround us. They were committed. They were even resigned to driving an hour and a half to Fresno for groceries.

This is when I can hear all my Bay Area pals start to howl. Fresno? Kind of rhymes with God. No.

If there were a map of California made by folks in the Bay Area, the world would end just past the last winery in Livermore where 580 hits 5. Instead of little gargoyle-y like creatures from medieval seafaring maps warning sailors they were about to fall off the edge of the earth into the mouths of sea serpents, there’d be a picture (taken by a i-phone) of a pickup with a McCain-Palin sticker. Frightening, I admit, but again—the only way out is through. And, in spite of the shouting fools in the Tea-Party, it is possible to have a civil conversation with (some of) these Republican folks. Maybe the way to change the world is to listen, as painful as it is. Then maybe they’ll listen to me or to you—about health care and global warming. I’ve seen it happen.

Read Part 2 of this article

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