It’s February 16th and about time to pull weeds again around here. The air is full of smoke from weedburning.
Ever since my husband and I moved to this town 13 years ago, we’d been looking for land to build a house on. It’s a rural area with a slow economy. I figured, “How hard can it be to find a five-acre chunk of land?” Turns out, pretty hard.
For yeeeears, I trolled the newspapers, drove around looking at empty fields, kept my eyes peeled for “For Sale By Owner” signs on rusty barbed wire fences.
There were a few false alarms along the way. One 5-acre piece seemed pretty good. It was fairly close to town, had a powerline at the property boundary, and had a ready made track for dirt bikes. Bonus! It didn’t end up working out, though. Partly because of the colony of gang people who rented the adjacent piece.
Another false alarm was an even closer brush with danger. It was a 20-acre parcel at the base of the mountain. It was really nice, and we could maybe have enough land to start what the family calls “a patch,” and all our kids could grow up together on some kind of Griffith compound. Good times! We even put down earnest money.
But further investigation showed it was in a major floodplain. Like, the whole entire mountain drained through the parcel. Since then the people who dropped trailer houses on that parcel have been flooded several times, I’ve been told.
One bit of land would’ve been great if our town’s landfill didn’t charge. Why? Because there was so much junk on it already we could’ve filled half the city dump. But it would’ve been fun to do shooting practice on the sixteen old toilets that were out there, among other things. It’d cost us half the price of the land itself in city dump fees to clear it off.
It got pretty discouraging as literally years would go by and I could find nothing in a reasonable price range without some intensely impervious defect. (Like being situated at the end of a three-mile, pothole rutted dirt road with no utilities, or being adjacent to land zoned for a hog farm, or being on the loop of road where most of the city’s assault cases originate. One place we liked was a mile from land that suddenly got approved for the first open pit mine allowed in the U.S. in over 25 years. Scratch that.)
Anyway, long story short, fall before last it finally happened. I scanned the paper and saw in the classifieds a one-liner: 4+ acres. It was on a paved road about a mile from where we live, but surrounded by fields (and a couple of the nicest houses in town). It had water, power, septic. And it was a reasonable price.
It had to be a misprint!
But it wasn’t.
And we bought it.
And last year we planted trees on it, the beginnings of a fruit orchard. Nectarines, pomegranates, peaches, apples. We’ll plant the pecans as soon as my husband puts in the drip system. And the pistachios. I’m excited about the pistachios. Who can ever get too many of those?
Someday we might build a house, but for now, it’s providing something even better: goatheads.
Raise your hand if you know what a goathead is.
Raise your foot if you’ve ever had one embed itself in it? Holy ouch! Those thorns can pop a bicycle tire (and have done so to me more times than I’d like to admit.)
The land we bought is so covered with goatheads (despite my vigorous pulling of that weed and tumbleweeds with the kids for hundreds of hours last year in the blazing heat) that you have to use a plastic knife to scrape them off the bottom of your shoe before you get in the car or else they’re all over the carpet here at home and in your foot every time you get up to go to the bathroom in the night.
My dad likes to name stuff. He names his trucks. He named his farm “Disappointment Acres.” We thought we should name our land. When it was just a bit of ether in our imaginations we had a bunch of names for it I won’t bore you with.
My husband wanted to name the land “The Orchards” since he’s planting so many trees, or “The Hundred Acre Wood,” in honor of our daughters’ decade long obsession with Winnie the Pooh. The kids and I are in agreement, it should be called GOATHEAD ISLAND. If I had a nickel for every tear my 8 year old has shed over getting one of those thorns in her foot…
Still, I guess it’s far better than hogs or toilets or floods or a huge mine. The goatheads (and the mountainous tumbleweeds that have officially “gotten away from us”–and I had to pay a guy with a backhoe to shove them together and burn them today, which is what has me thinking of this whole process in the first place) are not a bad thing. They’re a great reason to wrench my kids away from TV and computer screens (and myself, if truth must be told) and stand in the fresh air (not hog air, thank heaven) and labor for a good cause.
Pulling weeds is good for the soul. I hope Goathead Island gives the kids a sense of the land and the sky and the dirt. We all need a little more dirt. Seeds grow in dirt. Kids grow in dirt. I grow in dirt. Whether we ever build a house on that dirt or not, it’s a grand thing to have dirt that belongs to us. That, I think, might be the American dream. At least it’s my American dream. And I’m thankful for that beautiful, goathead-infested dirt.