Early Days on the Diagonal: Part One

(The first of an eight-part series on our first steps toward modern homesteading.)

It had been building for years, this desire to make a bold move. The mountains had long ago wrangled a home in my heart, and they weren’t moving out. I yearned to make my physical home in the mountains, too. The Gnome’s long-term fascination with architecture was just itching for some creative expression.

We both imagined a bucolic life in the country, away from little houses all in a row where bedrooms were so close to the neighbors’ living rooms that they could hear every snore. We were two introverts leaning hard into recluse territory. The Gnome wanted to give our children an outdoor life, and he wanted to play in the dirt and build things. Me? I’m my mother’s daughter: I needed some elbow room, a place where no one was likely to drop in to borrow sugar or gossip over coffee. I dreamed of the freedom to roam the land, to run around outdoors naked if I wanted to (which makes me my father’s daughter, too).

So it was really no big surprise that in early 1979 we decided to make all our dreams come true at once. The only surprise was how long it took. But we’re not innately risk-takers. It was a slow, labored journey to convince ourselves we could make such a big change in our lives.

Once we got ourselves on the change bandwagon, the big question was where. Ultimately, we settled on western North Carolina, much closer to family than our current twelve and sixteen hour drives from our home in Louisville, KY, but still far enough to maintain our independence. The Gnome recalled a summer science camp he attended at a mountain college. That sounded like a good beginning point.

In April, we took a week’s vacation to look for land. Our good friends marveled at our daring—to leave secure jobs with no prospects, to take on a major designing and building effort with only books for guides, to move where we knew no one and had no support system. Yet, more than one of them admitted some envy and a secret wish to do something similar.

The local realtor who specialized in rural land took us all over the place, but nothing satisfied. Too steep, too near the highway, too close to neighbors. We were feeling pretty let down. It had never occurred to us that we might be unable to find anything suitable during our one-week window of opportunity.

We were ecstatic when Realtor John remembered one more piece of property. It met all our needs. At almost ten acres, half woods and half open meadow, we could count on privacy. The place was about a third of a mile from the graveled state-maintained road.


Portion of the meadow. In April, Spring’s still waiting in the wings.

Not a house to be seen. Exactly as we’d imagined. We had just enough time to sign on the dotted line before heading back home to prepare for the biggest move of our lives.


All manner of mosses, mushrooms, and lichens awaited us in our woods-to-be.


The locust rail fence along our eastern boundary captivated us.


We were delighted to find this creek on our property.

(Stay tuned for the next installment of Early Days on the Diagonal.)

23 thoughts on “Early Days on the Diagonal: Part One

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