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Cameron: "Lots of trees, open space..."
It really started back in 2002, right after our trip around the world. Now that we had spent a full year visiting 20+ different countries, Russell was curious which one Cameron liked best. So he asked his 11-year-old son, "If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you want to be?"
Cameron, as usual, gave a very thoughtful and introspective answer that wasn't quite what his father was expecting. "Well… I think I'd like to live in a place with lots of trees, open space, and maybe a river nearby."
Russell looked around at our suburban house in the middle of California's Silicon Valley. We were adjacent to one of the noisiest freeways in California. Behind us was a two-story apartment building whose inhabitants could peer down into our backyard. The acres of fruit tree orchards that Russell remembered from his childhood had been completely replaced by high-density housing. This clearly was not the place of Cameron's dreams.
Gail was coming to a similar revelation. One of our post-trip plans was to set the boys up in separate bedrooms for the first time. As part of this movement towards independence, Gail allowed each boy to set up his bedroom in any way that he liked. Cameron chose a very simple motif, outfitting his bedroom entirely in orange (his favorite color).
Nine-year-old Joss went through a few more iterative process with his bedroom. First, he wanted a color motif similar to Cam's -- in this case, blue and yellow (Joss' favorite colors). Then he asked for a mural depicting an outdoor scene. Gail dutifully painted a landscape on Joss' closet door. Joss asked, "Where's the rest of it?" and Gail expanded the mural to cover his entire bedroom wall. This was followed by outfitting Joss' bed with tree branches and a full canopy. The finishing touches were Joss' stuffed animals -- by now numbering more than 75 -- who now adorned Joss' shelves, curtain rod, and of course the tree branches surrounding his bed.
Cameron's and Joss' bedrooms
One son wanted to live in the wide-open spaces surrounded by nature. Another son was trying to turn his bedroom into a forest.
Gail and Russell had always held a similar love of the outdoors. In 1987, the year before we were married, we made an offer on two adjacent lots in Shelter Cove, overlooking the Pacific Ocean on California's famed "lost coast." Our bid did not win.
In 1991, we put earnest money down in Western Oregon, on a 100-acre parcel that included a river, swimming/fishing hole, and a waterfall. The deal ultimately fell through, mainly because Gail was not comfortable with the drinking water situation, and also because it was a 10+ hour drive away from our primary home.
So here we were, not only suffering from post-travel depression after a year away, but feeling confined back in our smoggy, high-density, and traffic-laden home environment. We all fantasized about having a place to get away to. Then, Russell did that strange thing that always catches Gail off balance. He began pursuing the dream.
From the time that Russell returned to work in August 2002, he began chatting with coworkers about ideal areas for vacation properties. Consensus started guiding him to Arnold, a growing town less than three hours' drive away in the middle of California's historic "gold country." It was near Bear Valley, which would enable us to enjoy snow-related activities. It was less expensive than the Bay Area, though prices had almost doubled during the last three years.
On February 7, 2003, at the tail end of the snow season (and the start of the home buying season), we took a trip to Arnold to see what was there. Our contact was Patty Zunino, a realtor with Prudential California Realty, who proceeded to show us a variety of vacation homes in our price range.
On the following day, Russell saw a property that he liked very much: an "A-frame" on a one-third-acre lot. We were literally minutes away from signing on the dotted line that evening when we decided to sleep on it, just to be sure. We took one more visit to the property and stood on the backyard deck under the night sky.
The skiers were just returning from Bear Valley along Highway 4. For a full minute before each car passed, you could hear the sound of an engine getting louder. For a full minute after each car passed, you could hear the sound of an engine fading into the stillness.
Gail decided then and there that she couldn't buy this property. As she put it, "I don't want to leave my home where I hear constant traffic in my back yard, then come up here where I hear constant traffic in my back yard."
As we chatted further on that dark and noisy back deck, more of Gail's feelings surfaced. When she thought of a vacation spot, she pictured acres of open space -- not some lot where you were surrounded by your neighbors' houses. She was not crazy about A-frames. And she hated snow.
The gist of the conversation was that although this property fulfilled Russell's fantasy, it did not fulfill Gail's fantasy. We telephoned Patty, who was very understanding. We decided to start all over again in our search, but this time Gail would take the lead.
Several weeks later, on March 17, Gail took a sunny day and made a day trip back up to Arnold. With map in hand, she simply began driving away from Arnold, seeing where the car and her intuition would take her. She ended up several miles north along Highway 49 (get it? California 49ers?) in the northern part of Calaveras County. She told Russell that this was the area where we should look further.
On March 28, 2003, the four of us took a weekend trip to Calaveras. We literally picked a realtor at random -- Stark Realty, in Mountain Ranch -- and made an appointment with Scott Bur, one of the realtors. The following day, a gorgeously sunny Saturday, he proceeded to show us a variety of parcels ranging from 25 to 75 acres. We had asked especially about several that we saw on Stark's Website. One of them, Scott said, would have to wait until just before sundown.
So after a full day in which nothing particularly caught our interest, Scott drove us outside of town shortly before sundown. After driving on a winding dirt road up a seemingly never-ending hill, Scott turned the final corner and Gail's jaw dropped. We were on top of a small mountain, looking out at a panoramic view that seemed to spread 360 degrees around us. Wildflowers dotted the green slopes of the hillside. To the west, the sun was nearing one of the most beautiful and spectacular sunsets that we had ever seen.
As Scott proceeded to walk us around the 50+ acre property, Gail leaned over to Russell and whispered, "We have to have this, even if I have to pitch a tent to be here."
Gail overlooks the southern panorama from the mountain top
It was more than twice our original budget -- and that was with no house. But we asked ourselves the same questions that we always do in situations like this: "If you bought this, would you ever regret it later?" "If you didn't buy this, would you ever regret it later?"
Gail declared that if we didn't buy this, then she would regret it someday. Scott informed us that the property had only been on the market since yesterday. We put down an offer that night, and wrote up the paperwork the next day.
There was very little haggling with the owner, and Scott did a terrific job in helping us through the closing process. After a little more than a month of paperwork, title passed to us on May 21, 2003 -- Russell's birthday.
We are the new owners of 50+ acres on top of a mountain in Calaveras, California. There are forests, meadows, hills, and hiking trails. There is no river, but Cameron doesn't mind.
Now all we have to do is figure out how to pay for it… and what to do with it.
March 29, 2003: One of the most beautiful and spectacular sunsets that we had ever seen
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