My childhood home sits at the end of a dirt road that’s riddled with potholes. It’s a tall tan house with a big porch, surrounded by a sea of dandelions. A tall evergreen stands sentinel at the end of the driveway, kept company by a delicate paper birch. Past an old stone wall, a prickly thicket of raspberries; beyond a wooden fence, the vegetable garden. Behind the house, my treehouse peeks out of a thick forest, where I roam unmarked trails and hide in the ferns.
In this memory, I’m 8 years old, and those five acres in Winterport, Maine, are my playground.
When I left the woods at age 14 to move to a neat little housing development, I rejoiced at the change. In town, I was closer to friends, school and the mall — all important things to a teenager. Then I became an apartment tenant, and the rentals always ended up being in busy residential neighborhoods. And so I grew accustomed to falling asleep to the sounds of road traffic.
It wasn’t until I moved back to the woods that I realized how much I’d missed it.
This month, my fiance Derek and I purchased a home in the forest of Hancock County, on a hill near a beautiful lake. And when my dad first drove out to see how we were settling in, he said, “You’re really out here, aren’t you?”
Yes, we are. And we like it.
But it’s been a bit of a transition. Though Derek and I both grew up in the country, we’ve been living in town for many years now.
“You’re not peeing off the porch,” I told Derek as we discussed the luxury of having so much privacy.
“OK,” he said, agreeing for the sake of the lawn. We do have running water, after all.
Privacy is the first noticeable benefit of living in the woods. There’s no need for shades when the only strangers looking through your windows are red squirrels. And you can play your music as loud as you want — not that you’d want to — the songbirds, peepers and crickets are constantly serenading you as it is.
But there are some downsides of living in the woods, too.
During the first week of living in our new home, our dog met his first porcupine (which resulted in 30 quills and a $350 vet bill) and got caught in the crook of a tree while trying to climb after a squirrel. By the shed, we found a large eastern milk snake, and inside the shed, a dark fishing spider — one of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen. We’re constantly dodging squadrons of blackflies. And on our first night there, I found three ticks crawling on Oreo’s neck. (We never had to deal with blackflies or tick at our previous in-town home.)
Critters aside, we have different concerns in the woods than we did in town. For instance, our grocery list has become a lot more important now that we can no longer take a 5-minute drive the grocery store to pick up a lime for the guacamole. We need to plan out our meals, down to the smallest ingredient.
We also have had some odd conversations, ones that we never would have had in the city.
“When you’re driving up our road, what are you doing?” Derek asked me recently.
“What?” I said, with a puzzled expression.
He repeated the question.
“I’m looking for the porcupine?” I guessed.
“No. Evening out the ruts,” he said.
“Oh, I’ve been trying to do that,” I replied. And I had. Our gravel road, which climbs quite a steep hill, needs a little work — but it’s a great place to walk our dog, Oreo.
I don’t mean to complain about our new lifestyle. It’s just that little misfortunes are often funny to write about, whereas if I were to relate all of the good things about our life in the woods, I’d feel like I was bragging. But here it goes…
We listen to the loons every evening. They live on the lake below, and their haunting song carries up through the woods to our little house on the hill.
I’ve set up the bird feeders so I can photograph birds from our covered porch, where we sit and eat breakfast, no matter the weather.
The air is fresh. We never hear traffic.
Our neighbors are trees — striped maple, sugar maple, red oak, beech, paper birch, yellow birch and eastern hemlocks. And in a great white pine by our house, I
spotted a bald eagle, another one of our stately neighbors.
We’re close to hiking trails, and if we ever want to go for a paddle, all we have to do is drive our kayaks a few minutes to the nearby lake, which is dotted by beautiful little islands. Plus, if Oreo wants to go with us, we can take the Old Town canoe that we found discarded on the property — a freebee with the house, I guess.
The lifestyle, while it isn’t for everyone, suits me (and Derek) perfectly. Building a home together, it seems right to be back in the woods, at the end of a dirt road that’s riddled with potholes.