Land Hunting

We had been hiking for 45 minutes up a steep rutted mountain road before we finally got to one of the properties on our must-see list. We couldn’t drive our car up to it, we needed a ATV or a good sturdy 4×4 truck to do the job. So, basically, the road was hardly passable, who knows what one would do in Winter under snow and ice. Maybe it was the endorphins from the exercise or the magic of the mountains themselves, but up on the 4200′ peak with 360 degree views of Appalachia sprawling as far as the eye could see I started weeping. We could live here? We started brainstorming how we could make it work. We became inspired by the idea that we could build a place not only to live in, but to share with others. The landscape made for an ideal retreat setting, and we started imagining off-grid hobbit-like earthen homes complete with living roofs smattered across the property resembling a fantastical Tolkien scene. We had many questions about the lay of the land so we called our real estate agent Tom from to come look at it with us. Remaining true to his firm’s name he suggested we go up the next morning to see the sunrise. So we met him in pitch-darkness at 6 am, and started back up that road with our headlamps. We made it up to the top just in time on that particularly freezing morning to watch in awe as the pink and violet rays lit up the hundred or so peaks we could see in every direction. Ok, we were officially intoxicated. It had only been two weeks since landing in Asheville, but we were chomping at the bit. We made an offer, and went promptly into due diligence.

It wasn’t just the view that made the property attractive. It also had many of the features on our list of requirements: Year-round spring, meadow and forest, southern exposure, and within 25 minutes to Asheville (but not including the time it took to get up or down the dirt road). Before lining up consultations with experts to figure out things like electricity, septic, grading, and so forth, I spent a few solid days researching zoning regulations. I made the fatal discovery that the property was within a special zoning for ridge-top protection which effectively foiled our plans. Without spending a dime on the other inquiries, we backed out and went back to the drawing board in our land search with a fresh perspective.

We now had a more concrete plan for our future home, and we wanted to find a beautiful place that we could also share with others. We also realized that we would never find another property that was as pristine as that first one while also being accessible, not zoned out of our plans and within our budget. But I now have a strong appreciation for those zoning ordinances. That land is too beautiful for any kind of development, even little earthen huts. All of the properties around it have been put into conservancy and I wouldn’t be surprised if the owner ends up doing the same with his.

It was not very long before we found a much more user-friendly spot, just outside of a little town we love called Marshall. Twenty five minutes from downtown Asheville, five from Marshall (people who live there call it “Magic Town, NC”), nestled in a little hollow (or “holler” as its called in Appalachia), awaits our future home. We’ve spent about four days out of every week for the past month and a half getting to know the land and really taking advantage of our due diligence time. It is totally private, has Southeastern exposure which is ideal for building passive solar housing, a few springs, creek, septic, electricity, a big old tobacco barn, pastures, woods, and its chock full of wild edible/medicinal/useful plants. Some are highly invasive species. But I am learning that a great method to help control the invasives is to take advantage and eat ’em (much more on that in a future post). Another very successful tactic is to unleash goats on them, which we also intend to do. The forest has been logged sometime in the past 40 or so years, and is definitely in transition. We are excited to help it heal, and to apply what we will be learning from ecology, forestry and permaculture to stewarding our land and turning it into a place where trees, plants, birds, deer, goats, sheep, insects, fungi, and humans can all thrive.

Now, time for me to divulge its downside. Every property within our budget has had one: be it a crazy rutted road for access, huge power lines, a cell tower, no privacy, or steep slopes, etc. For this one, on the other side of the mountain, out of view, probably about 5-7 miles away there is a landfill where several law enforcement agencies practice shooting and do their yearly qualifications. It’s not everyday, and not that loud, only one person ever shoots at a time, but very occasionally we hear semi-auto and automatic weapons being fired. This was not disclosed by the seller, who claimed they were unaware of it. We were able to renegotiate the price and save quite a bit of money. Other good news is that an indoor range is being built for the agencies currently shooting at the landfill, and we may hear even less shooting in the future. We really had to consider how big of a deal the presence of the sound is to us, especially compared to other properties with their own issues. The thing is, these are the rural mountains of Western North Carolina. There will be guns. Heck, we will likely get some of our own, as we start delving into hunting (the most ethical way to eat meat in our opinion).

So that is that, and we close on the property this Friday, the 29th of May. Which also happens to be our son August’s first birthday! We will be going home and we will have so much to celebrate.