The snow lay thick in places, thinner in others. It was the tail end of the year’s coldest week. As the estate agent pushed open the rickety wooden gate, I felt the pulse in my neck throbbing. The snow crunching underfoot only adding to the enchantment, with trees intensified by their new frosty highlights. I saw one stone cabana. Two. No, three! And a gentle, rock-littered slope. My initial instinct was, finally! This is what I was looking for.
I was here, of course, due to a somewhat irritating kink in the line of fate. A week ago back in my coastal abode, I had relived my aversion to apartments. My neighbour had decided to renovate her bathroom. Hammers and drills assaulted the other side of my walls. I am horribly noise-sensitive, and it drove me mad.
So in a bid to escape the brain-clobbering home improvements, I had driven back inland to the car park. My magic car park. You know, the one where I’d spotted the green van and Maria. From there I had trotted straight into the town to find an estate agent. Might as well do something constructive with my time, I thought.
So here I was a week later, squashed into a small, rather bruised looking Fiat with an estate agent. The car didn’t in any way appear fit for the dirt tracks and mountain passes, but Manuel was undeterred. We skidded higher. The road shed its asphalt and narrowed.
“Agh iss snow! I think we must walk.” Abruptly Manuel pulled off the track, parking the car squarely in the entrance of a cow field.
“No problem. I like hiking,” I said. I tugged my hat over my ears before opening the door.
Five minutes later we were standing in the middle of three stone huts. Manuel was a taciturn young chap, more interested in the trees than in selling me anything. Perhaps this was why I warmed to him. There was no sales pitch, not even a tour round the property. He just stood quietly at the gate and let me do my thing. Fine by me.
So I did my thing. Running my hand along the stone cabana wall, I tried to sense the life of the place. Next I wandered down to a bare ash tree, which I could see straight away was special. Standing beside her, I rested my palm on her moss-adorned trunk. Rocks poked through the ground, craggy heads rising ready to speak.
Next I walked the boundary of the land. It was a hectare, so it took a while. And even though the snow concealed much, I found each corner possessed its own character. There was a brook gurgling energetically on the lower edge of the property, and a gate at the far side leading to the road.
As I wandered back up to the cabanas where Manuel was waiting, excitement simmered inside me. I couldn’t see anything wrong with this place. But everything was snow-covered. Perhaps I was missing something.
I returned often to that land over the next two weeks, and each time she revealed something new to me. I saw her in rain and in sunshine. I discovered the spring water pipe, and explored the cabanas. On the second visit I noticed just how bad the condition of the larger stone granary was. It would need a total overhaul. A half moon hovered over the trees that day, and I couldn’t escape the feeling more was to come to light.
One time when I sat under the ash tree, I asked for guidance, for clarity. And just as I did, I heard a clip-clop-clip. Turning my head, I gaped at two wild horses trotting along the road. They turned into the small path leading down to my gate and waited there, staring at me, apparently expecting a visit. I scampered up to the gate, and these two brown beauties embraced me with their hot equestrian breath.
Over the next few days, I took various documents to various government offices, speaking to various officials as I did so. I learned my rights and my limitations. I pondered much on the land and off, before finally making an offer.
My first offer was refused. So was the second. The estate agent explained what the owner’s minimum price was, and I promptly gave up, because it was financially out of reach. Thus I began visiting other plots. As usual, they were bucolic lovelies, but not quite right. There was always something. North facing. No water. Or a neighbour too close.
My space kept calling to me, the rocks and the ash tree beckoning in my mind’s eye, until one day I walked up there one last time. Sitting under the ash tree, I watched the clouds rolling to and fro in firm, grey waves. The bare trees in the gulley began to sway. Hence I decided to try a third and final offer, because the magic number is always three. Don’t ask me why. It just is.
I drove down the winding road, past the village, along the ridge, down, down from the land. Back in the town, I was just walking to the estate agent when the church bells chimed. I paused, alert, knowing the bell of providence was ringing.
Sure enough, twenty metres further along the street, who should I bump into but the owner of the land himself. I smiled. Because it was obvious a door was being opened for me. We talked. We laughed. I asked if he could reduce his price just a teeny weeny bit. He agreed.
Thus the conclusion of the land hunt skidded into view. Before too long, I returned to the estate agent to sign a deposit agreement. And as I walked out of the office, what should I see parked in the very same road, but that psychedelic pea green camper van. :)
For those wishing to know more details (prices, sizes, etc.) of the various plots I’ve viewed during my land hunt, and my reasons for not choosing them, I've created a photo-filled PDF for all supporters of The Mud Home on Patreon, regardless of pledge. You can also see more photos of my land there.
As always, thank you to the Mud Sustainers and all patrons for their support. It’s wonderful to work and share with you.
Atulya K Bingham
"This is such a compelling book. It will make you want to abandon everything you know, move to the forest and commune with the trees and earth." Luisa Lyons, actor, writer and musician.
"Inspiring and beautifully written."
The Owner Builder Magazine.