Land, Lots of Land

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in.

About two weeks ago I made a decision about some land I own - which I don't think about very much, except when I have to pay the taxes on it. When I get the bill from the San Diego assessor's office for the three acres and some of unimproved howling wilderness - that's when I remember that yes, indeedly-do, neighbors - I am a landowner. It's a nice tract, which would have been covered with black oak, pine trees and mountain laurel, on the edge of a national forest - save for a plague of bark beetles throughout the 1990s, topped by a massive forest fire in 2003. Everything should be fairly well grown back by now, though.

About halfway through my career in the military I thought I should prepare for eventual retirement by purchasing a bit of land close by my parents in Southern California, something that I could build on.  Having lived in a series of drab rentals and military housing units, the thought of a bespoke home of my own was enticing. My parents drove me around to look, eventually focusing on the mountains near a charming little town called Julian. We hadn't actually fixed on a suitable tract - but my parents knew my tastes by then. Basically, I bought my property on their advice.

When I returned from my last assignment overseas, I resolved to buy a house to live in for the rest of my time in the Air Force. I'd continue working until the mortgage was paid - then sell the house and use the equity to fund a new house on my land. Lucky me - I got sent to Texas. Which was third on my list of preferences, by the way - but I did buy the house.

And then  . . .  well, things happened. It's called life, which happens even when you have plans. One of those things which happened was that Texas - rather like bathroom mold - grows on you. Really; after a while, practically everywhere else seems dry and savorless, devoid of an exuberant sense of place and identity. And the countryside is lovely: green, threaded with rivers lined with cypress trees, interspersed with rolling hills dotted with oak trees and wildflowers star-scattered everywhere. I put down roots here, made friends. I wrote books with a Texas setting which have garnered me readers and fans, and a partnership in a little specialty publishing firm. I have come to love San Antonio; which I have described for years as a small town, cunningly disguised as a large city.

Another of my occasional employers runs a ranch real estate bidness from a home office. I put in a small number of hours a week, just to keep his files and documents from becoming a kind of administrative black hole, sucking in everything within range. I put together his various brochures for the properties that he has listings for - and last week, while assembling one of them, I was thinking all the while, "I so want a bit of that." I'd rather have a bit of land, maybe park a little cabin on it, where I could go and spend quiet weekends: something I could drive up to in a couple of hours, rather than in two days. So, I told Mom and Dad to put the California acreage with a local realtor, and my friend the ranch real estate expert that I would be looking for a nice acre or two. It feels good, it really does.

I expect that I will eventually be driving a pickup truck. But the gimme cap, the gun rack and the hunting dog are still negotiable.