I pull into the driveway at 9 a.m. – no dumpster filling half of it, no portaJohn on the car pad.
I have a lot of cleaning yet to do before the movers arrive. Many hours ahead of directing the crew, unpacking boxes and putting things away.
Before the day begins, I want to just look at her.
Last night, I was too angry and tired washing the walls to appreciate the simple beauty of this house. Today, Moving Day, I want to take it all in and remember why I fell in love with Azalea 10 years ago.
From the front, she’s nothing fancy to look at. Her lines are simple, her decks flowing into the steep grade of the mountain. In compliance with our community’s architectural guidelines, she is painted a pewter gray with a neutral light sand trim, and so blends in with the tree bark and humus-covered dirt that surrounds her.
At 2,100 square feet, she’s 500 smaller than the average American house. On the drive from Atlanta, I pass many enormous new houses – 6,000, 8,000, even 10,000 square feet – taking over the land. When I think about these houses, or the biggest mountaintop houses in my own community, I am staggered by the money that their owners must spend on mortgages, utilities and upkeep.
Our community began as a summer weekend getaway, so it has plenty of smaller houses. I’ve spent most of my adult life in one-bedroom apartments; even the house that Tom and I rented in Seattle only had room for a single office that we shared.
Azalea is just the right size for us. A master bedroom, two big rooms for our offices, a large living room with space for a dining table, a kitchen with bar counter, and lots of deck.
When we were looking at houses in 2007, Azalea was called a “cottage” in the real estate listing. We had a good laugh at that. If you want to call 2,100 square feet a “cottage,” go right ahead, but it’s the biggest house I’ve ever lived in.
Inside the front door, I stand in the empty, open living room and admire her.
The floors, refinished, look brand new. They’re pine, and now they’re bright and smooth and clean, even better than when we bought her.
The stone fireplace, with its mantel that I no longer fear, gives the room a focal point. My gaze follows the organic lines of the rocks, up to more wood panels that reach to the 20 foot ceiling.
I look for a long time at the place that in August was a gaping hole with a black oak limb protruding from it.
Now it is smooth white, the recessed lights in an unobtrusive line. I take a few minutes to appreciate that my house is sealed against the elements again.
I run my eyes up and down the sweep of the ceiling, and finally along the sides to the walls and the windows. The raw wood walls, now truly clean from last night’s labors, wrap the room with warmth and simplicity.
Just beyond the three sets of back windows, trimmed with wood blinds, is the new deck, yet to be painted.
I hardly notice the deck, though. I just want to look at the view out the windows, across the valley to more mountains. It is this view that I have missed more than anything, in these five months at the rental house.
Sunrise with my coffee in the winter, birds flitting through the trees in the summer, the soft green rising of new leaves in the spring, and the glorious colors of autumn…
This is why I put up with the inconvenience of living on the side of a mountain.
It’s an extra 12 minutes of driving from the main road up winding, steep, two-lane roads with scant shoulders, no streetlights, and no guardrails. There are at least a few days every winter when I’m snowed in and can’t get out except on snowshoes. I have to drive 8 minutes down to pick up the mail or send a letter, at our community mailroom – no U.S. Postal Service here.
It’s almost 15 minutes’ drive to the trash disposal site; no garbage pickup, and you can’t leave cans outside because of the bears. I can’t begin to count the number of times that delivery drivers and service people have gotten lost trying to find this house. One large truck had to be towed out because it couldn’t handle the steep hill.
Then there’s the surcharge built into so many services – the competition that keeps prices down in the city has evaporated by the time you get to 2,000 feet elevation.
When I look out the windows, all that is moot.
Our backyard adjoins dedicated green space, preserved forever by the community’s covenants. Trees are protected here, with heavy fines for cutting one down without prior approval, and no lawns are allowed, only native-plant wilderness landscaping.
Azalea is, and always will be, surrounded by mountains and trees. It’s the closest I can get to living in a national park.
Standing in the middle of the living room, I feel the quiet peace that extends from the floors to the loft where the master bedroom is. Tom and I love this open floor plan, where we can always call out and hear each other.
Upstairs, the bedroom windows look down the valley for miles. When morning mist runs like a river, we can see beyond to the rising sun.
The closet, which was caved in by the fallen oak, is back in working order. The refinished floors extend into it, and there’s a new light fixture here and in the bathroom.
The painters did a marvelous job. The white paint is perfectly smooth, edging clean, no random spatters on the wood trim and baseboard. The whole loft looks much better than when we bought the house.
Downstairs is the family room and second bedroom, which we use for our offices. The carpet, replaced after the water heater broke, got soiled from the tarp leak’s damage, but this morning it was immaculate after the steam cleaning it got.
From my office I have that view across the valley, and now I’ll be able to see it every day as I work. At last I’ll have the chance to use my new heater, and work in a warm office.
Next week the new underdeck system will be finished, and I’ll be able to stand on the lower deck staying dry as I watch the rain fall and run down the mountainside. I’ll listen to the creek fill, its waters rushing in small waterfalls, heading to our lakes, filling our reservoir.
This is the water I drink every day.
Tom’s office looks particularly good now that it’s empty. For years it has been quite full, and then it was stuffed with boxes after the water damage, and he never had time to unpack them because he was so busy at work. He’ll have time now.
When we bought this house, Oct. 18, 2007, it was the start of a new life after five years living overseas.
Today it is a new house again. Azalea is restored.
In these moments of silence and emptiness, enfolded in Azalea’s beauty, I hope for a new life in harmony with her grace and with the spirit of the mountains around us.
The penny is a 2007.