Early on when our house was just a dream and a list of wishes, must-have’s, and deal-breakers, living on a dirt road was on my don’t want list.

This, by the way, was a helpful tool: Daydreaming together about what you want in a house. Making a list of the features you want, how you want to feel in the house, what matters most, what’s optional, what you will never ever put up with. That’s how “no carpet” ended up on our ditch list. Michael put his foot down, and I shrugged and agreed. Given how much dirt and lint I vacuum up every other day, I now wholeheartedly agree!

The Search for Land

So we drove around the county a lot, looking for For Sale signs; browsed Zillow and Craigslist. We found a hidden gem with a beautiful swimming hole on a large creek near town and on a paved road. Fortunately it was listed with a realty company and had a FEMA flood designation. Michael could remember that whole swath of the county under water at least once in his lifetime. With a sigh, we let it go, and then breathed a double sigh of relief when it got ripped up the next year in a twenty-year flood.

So that would be another piece of advice: Don’t ignore those kinds of details. Building on a flood plain is no joke! It’s one good reason to go with a realtor when buying land because they’re legally obligated to disclose that kind of information.

No Dirt Roads

Michael owned property, but it was on a dirt road. I had looked at the house where he lived, the house where he raised his kids and now lived as a bachelor after the divorce with kids still fledging out of the nest, and I knew I didn’t want to live there. Living in someone else’s memories is tough, especially when you’re moving into the position recently occupied by a much-loved parent. It also wasn’t the house I wanted, though it does have a million-dollar view! But that view comes at the cost of a crazy steep gravel driveway.

He had another driveway onto another section of property off the same dirt road and completely out of view of the main house. I wouldn’t even consider it.

We spent a lot of time looking.

I have a photo of a bird up in a lone tree reflected in the hood of the truck I took the day we looked at an especially sketchy FSBO, also in a flood plain, but on a paved road less than 10 minutes from town. I think it was the last piece of land we looked at before I thought – why am I fighting this?

Later that day–I remember it was beautiful spring day–we clambered up the overgrown roadway. According to Michael, the road goes back a hundred years to when it was a cattle farm. It was a civilized climb, mostly under trees, and opened onto a high meadow that had grown up into a thicket in most places. It was hidden from the road by a steep thickly-treed hillside, making it feel very private even though it was relatively close to the road. And the meadow sloped downhill nearly due south with a view over the treetops of mountains beyond. My mind sprung with the possibilities!

The win-win-win really appealed to my sense of symmetry!

The Synergy

I don’t know how the idea came, but it struck like a bolt of lightning. Michael’s son was getting married that fall and looking to start a family. No one liked the idea of selling the family home. “What if we sold the house to Robbie, carved off that little side piece for us, and gave Robbie a great deal to help start him off in life?” We would basically have the land for free, keep the family land in the family, and help his son start building equity straight out of the gate. The win-win really appealed to my sense of symmetry!

Robbie and Mollie agreed to the idea. Then, before we knew it, Robbie was in a rush to get the project off the ground so he could move his dad out of the house and get started on his own new life. There is nothing like the urgency of youth to get a project moving! He and his friends cleared the whole thicket for us in a few weeks’ time. They hauled away truckloads of wood, motivated by friendship, free firewood, and cold beer. Now that’s what I call synergy!

Each person’s synergy will be found in a place unique to their situation. But this experience taught me the power in looking for it, in being open to unconventional solutions, in letting go of some things so that you can embrace other more important things, in making choices for the right reasons, in honing your values by solving the challenges before you.