The Homestead

Our homestead was in a bit of disrepair when we bought it, an unusual situation brought about by a sudden loss of the prior owner's wife. After her death, the previous owner ( let's call him Joe) just didn't have the heart to continue to live in a home he had built with his wife with the expectation that they had many more years together.

Joe received several offers on the place and signed a total of two sales agreements, both contingent on other home sales that ultimately didn't pan out. In the mean time he remarried and moved in with his new wife, eventually renting out this place for nearly a year, then leaving it vacant for another six months before we came along.

While the grass was mowed and basic maintenance was performed over those two years, when first built this place was essentially hacked out of the woods. Unless one is willing to push back each growing season, the woods eventually reclaims its former territory. And this is precisely what happened over two winters and three growing seasons until we moved in during June of 2013.

We actually closed on the property in March of 2013, but did not want to move in until the child unit had finished school. So during the spring I was traveling the 12-14 hours round trip in order to try and stay ahead of the woods and at least mow what had been cut in the past. Within a month I realized that many areas would need to be hacked back over the summer and following fall/winter.

Of immediate concern to me with the area directly behind the house and out buildings. The land slopes away from the road and that slope steepens after the house. Joe had cut back the woods another 100 feet deeper into the woods on that steep slope after the home had been built in order to brighten up the place a bit and push the woods back some more. This area now had 3-4 foot high weeds, grass and various invasive species that grows like the dickens and doesn't give an inch unless repeatedly cut to the quick.

In another section I talk about reclaiming the field across the street. That was relatively easy compared to trying to work on the steep slope behind the house that was already over run by a maze of thick brush cover with long hard thorns. The woods were not going to give up ground without a fight. See below for an early spring (morning) and late summer (afternoon) photo comparison of the back slope from almost the same angle.

Back Yard Before

Back Yard After


About twenty feet behind the house the land begins that sharp slope off into the woods. During the spring I managed to cut up to the beginning of that slope, but because the top of that slope had not been cut in over two years I wasn't going to try to cut it back on dash weekends when all I was trying to do was cut the lawn, make basic repairs to the house and get back home to start work on Monday.

Below please find an early spring back yard image and a late summer back yard image from nearly the same point of view. The jungle was twice as high as it was in the spring image before I finally started hacking it back. I still have some scars from those nasty thorns. Lesson learned? Hack back the thorns in the winter. It's easier and you already have heavy clothing on.

Behind House BeforeBehind House After 2


The North side of the property where the garden and tool shed (formerly the chicken coop) are located was fenced in with the woods behind the fence overrun and nearly impassable during the summer. Over the summer and fall Mrs. Cog and I cleared the woods back and removed the fence.

The change is remarkable and the before and after images don't do justice to the amount of work that went into clearing this area. The before picture is taken from a slightly different perspective simply because one could not penetrate the brush where the after picture was eventually taken from. There was even more landscaping done since the 'after' picture was snapped.

Fence BeforeFence After


The images below were taken just a few steps further down the slope and looking towards a more true south (left from the perspective of the camera). We saw this same view, only looking north from the other side during spring and late summer, in the first images in this article.

Behind Garden BeforeBehind Garden After

There has been, and will continue to be, more clearing done on the homestead so come back often and check out the progress. And please.....leave comments and feedback because it is always welcome.

Cognitive Dissonance

4 thoughts on “The Homestead”

  1. You have it right. And the vision, courage and work to get to this point is commendable. We had attempted such a thing, 10 years back. Although ‘escaping’ Johnson County, Kansas (the wealthiest in the State) 20 miles South to country, was but slight matter in degree. Mordor’s Orcs and Gobblins are far from our shores, yet I awakened to the drumbeats years ago none-the-less. But the plan was shortsighted; the goal and intent not clear. In the end, I created a show-property on 10 acres; mostly wooded. “Behold”, look what ‘I’ have built built. Five bathrooms (plumbed for a sixth) for a family of four. We grew one $400 tomato; the cost of two ’boutique’ raised beds – all that was left – weary of driving home and seeing deer standing in their nightly buffet troughs. Unmanageable, unwieldy, unknowing, we fell back, sold, found a foreclosure in need of rehab close to school in our hamlet; for which this community is golden. Wiser, more focused – we prep in a spacious suburban setting. Ever since I read you on ZH, the notion of cognitive dissonance resonated deeply with me; and later, two ice floes – so aptly named for the struggles here and yet to come.

    Thank you for what you do.

    1. Sometimes the best we can manage is to move forward. Other times we do so with purpose and intent. We all do both, some more than others. Hopefully, and with the benefit of hindsight, we catch some of our errors in time, salvage what we can and take another step forward.

      Contrary to the “Living Life for Dummies” books out there we live each day as unique. There are no blueprints, only some paths more worn than others. Choose a path, try it out for a while, then choose another. Or not. The value gained is in the walking, not in what’s at the end.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      Cognitive Dissonance

    1. RE

      It does look like New England, doesn’t it. In fact we live in Southwestern Virginia within spitting distance of the NC border ‘up on the mountain’ as the locals like to say. Though in reality it is more like ‘up on the Blue Ridge Plateau’……or for us ‘on the edge of the Blue Ridge Plateau’. Our back property line runs along the ridge, with a nearly 2,000 foot drop off the edge and down ‘off the mountain’.

      Because our elevation is 3,000 feet, the weather is more like upper Maryland near the Mason Dixon line than Richmond VA. Meaning the frost comes early and stays late, making the growing season quite a bit shorter than just a few thousand feet lower off the plateau.

      During the winter the wind blows nearly half the time. Not a lot of snow, at least not during ‘normal’ winters. But it gets cold up here, with the average temp difference about 8-12 degrees lower than just off the plateau. It reminds me of my native southern New England birth place.

      The image in the the article above showing the side of the cabin is old, from our first summer here. Since then I have caulked and sealed all the logs and wood checks and splits, the satellite dish has been removed (we do not watch much TV) and last December (2014) I installed some solar panels on the roof (an article series on the complete installation is coming to TIF) as well as upgraded the panels on the side of the house. Many more panels to come over the next few years.

      Here is what it looks like today.

      Side of cabin Dec 2014

      Cognitive Dissonance

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