For almost twenty-one years, I have lived my life in a space defined by iron pins.
The deed to my home in suburban Ohio doesn’t say anything about acreage — which is reasonable, because there isn’t much of it. Rather, it describes the lot as being made of straight lines between iron pins driven into the ground by the township surveyor. “The north bound of the property shall be a direct line between an iron pin driven into the northeast corner…” and so on. Shortly after the home was built and I moved in, on the first of April, 2001, I set out to find these iron pins, expecting them to be engraved or perhaps set into concrete. I thought there would be something to authenticate their placement. Imagine my surprise to find them as nothing but twelve-inch sections of rebar hammered into the ground at various angles. The larceny that is ever present in my heart surged to the fore of my brain: I could make my lot larger, simply by moving these. Not in any way that would be obvious via satellite, but just five or ten feet. Who would know?
Over time, however, I realized that I wanted no more of this land than I could legitimately claim. I wanted less of it, really. In fact, I saved several thousand dollars by refusing to clear out the dead trees on the other side of my iron-pin-bound line; the homeowners association felt I should pay for it, but the land in question didn’t actually belong to me. There was a moment in the process where I could have accepted the burden, maintained the land for twenty-one years, then filed claim to add that thousand square feet of dirt to my baronial holdings. Ohio has a law called adverse possession. Treat the land like it’s yours for long enough, and you get legal title to it. So I did none of that. Instead I cleared the trees down to my line, mulched that area, and planted eight blue spruces. Had I done this in 2001, I’d be looking at a wall of spruce now. Instead, I’m looking at five grand worth of trees that appear to have grown by about three inches in five years — referring, of course, to the 6/8ths of the spruces that haven’t just given up and shed their needles for all eternity.
Oh well. Goodbye to all that. At some point in the near future, I will be abandoning Pin-land and taking up residence on a particular plot of land too spacious for mere pins. Out here in the authentic hick country of rural Ohio, the lines are delineated by blaze-orange C-channel signposts cut off at waist height. Today was my first day to walk the lines between those posts, to figure out just exactly would be mine and what would belong to others. In the past month I’ve only visited the front part of the land, relying on satellite imagery to understand the tidy eight or nine acres of forest that sits within my orange posts but which is not visible from the road.
What a surprise to find things that were not suggested in Google’s satellite photography. What looks like the proverbial ragged wood from above, dead flat and uniform, has a bit of hill and dale to it. And there is a… creek? It’s ten to fifteen feet wide, so I’ll call it a river. A secret river, running across a forest floor, at the bottom of a five-story hill. I didn’t know it existed when I made the offer, nor was I told of it when the offer was accepted. But it is there, and real, and mine.
I wish I could tell you I have a thousand acres, as Jeremy Clarkson does, but alas being a video clown pays considerably better than anything I’ve ever done. I have something like one percent of that. A little more. Not much. The longest line I can walk on the L-shaped property without leaving it measures as 1,321 feet. Just over a quarter-mile, as if by design. Still. I was born on New York Avenue in Brooklyn, so let’s look at in urban terms. This property could hold two of the largest city blocks in Manhattan. You could build the original Twin Towers on it. There’s a very nice fenced-in field up front, meant for horses or cattle, that could hold 432 Park Avenue, no sweat. Washington Square would fit here nicely; maybe I can have my own chess tournaments.
Up front there’s a barn that can hold all ten of our cars, both race trailers, and all six motorcycles, but it will need a floor and some wiring to work correctly. The barn was what drew me to the place; I envisioned a sunny future where I was not swapping vehicles between six(6) storage locations, as I do right now. That sunny future is approximately $60,000 worth of improvements away. It will be a long time before this project makes strict financial sense. Nevertheless, when I think about being to roll up a door and see all of my rolling hardware in one place, I can’t help but smile. The great temptation will be to fill it with cheap cars. Oh, look, a decent ’76 Talisman! A 1983 200SX! More Neons! But if I do that, I won’t have space or money for the Radical SR8-RX I really want to park on a freshly poured 3,200-square-foot concrete floor.
I’d have bought the place for the barn and the five front acres alone, and paid the same amount. The forest out the back didn’t enter into my plans. It was a lagniappe, nothing more. A place to get firewood. Maybe do a little airsoft match, after confirming that we aren’t holding said match during any active part of Ohio’s astoundingly convoluted hunting calendar. (Cottontail rabbits? Nov. 5-Feb. 28. Turkeys, youth shooters only? Apr. 9-10. And many more, particularly if you like hunting with a bow and arrow.) We could pull a couple of meals out of the forest, in the event of a temporary disturbance in American society. That was all the thought I put into it.
Today, however, while walking through an area represented by Google satellite images as “brown nowhere”, I came across a long curving set of wooden steps that led to… nowhere, just more empty slope. That, in turn, led to an S-shaped bend in, ahem, a “river”. There was flat ground next to the river where someone had set up four log chairs and a stone fire pit. No motorized vehicle short of a GASGAS trials bike would get you down there or back up, and even then you’d really need to know what you were doing. Our little Mahindra Roxor can take you to within two hundred feet of the steps, however. Once down there, you’d have no way to know if you were a mile from civilization — or a hundred miles from it. It would be a great place to sit in the evenings and have a few drinks next to a fire. The problem would be climbing back up in the dark. I have a flashlight called a Prometheus Alpha, turned from stainless steel in the USA, that would get you to the stairs but would not necessarily provide the requisite coordination to climb them. Might be best to pack a hammock down there as well.
Spend a full night down there, and my fifty-year-long transformation into Country Mouse will be complete. As complete as it’s ever going to get, anyway.
Today’s idea: Sell the house ASAP, buy a trailer, set it down next to the barn. Escape the city, the suburbs, the iron pins, the neighbors who call the cops just because you have a hundred people in the house for a Friday night party and you’ve got your SWR Workingman bass amp cranked to eleven. I won’t miss these things. Won’t miss the unpleasant virtual net of gig-economy services that surround my current location: Uber Eats, Doordash, Same Day Prime Delivery. I will exchange the architecture of immediacy for an unplanned natural spontaneity. A great place for Wordworth’s emotion recollected in tranquility:
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
If the saying is true, and Hell truly is other people, then by this summer I expect to be in Heaven. At the banks of a tiny river, on land that is mine, with nothing in sight. My friends and rivals have multi-million-dollar homes in the finest neighborhoods, showcase co-ops thirty floors above the avenue, the hippest places in the hottest corners of the city. I will have none of that; nothing that most would envy or even want. Just a place without a specific address, beyond the reach of Zillow or StreetView or satellite imagery. Nominally it’s about a fifty-mile move, but I think of it as nothing more than a single step over a line defined by two iron pins. From: inside to outside, here to there, somewhere to nowhere. Nothing more than that. But also nothing less.