Saturday, February 2, 2013

13 Miles From Paradise

 12 Kay Wood Drive, Plains, Montana 59859

In the aftermath of closing our business, Kevin and I finally came to the decision that in order to pay off the bills, including the loan we had taken out to start the business in the first place, I would have to sell my beloved land in the Bitterroot.  This land had been in my family for almost sixty years, and it was the one place that was a constant as I grew up.  Even after we moved to California, we spent one month each year at the three-room log cabin west of Stevensville.  When Berkeley got to be just too much, and I wanted some solitude to write my dissertation, I asked my parents for the keys to the cabin and in January, 1975, I moved to Montana and lived in the cabin for eight of the snowiest months I've seen since I've been back in the Treasure State.  It was wonderful, I was twenty-five, and the healthiest I've ever been.  I never envisioned losing that place, and for the past thirty years I have dreamt of building my retirement home in a meadow behind the cabin with a glorious view of St. Mary's Mountain to the west.

Ah, but things do change in our lives, and reluctantly I came to understand that my dreams would not come true.  We placed the land for sale and it sold in one day.  Obviously we priced it too low, you can say, but nonetheless we were able to pay off the loan, and start remodeling the house in Missoula, preparing it for sale.  You see, we had decided that if we couldn't retire on our land, then it was time to reinvent our lives, and time to leave Missoula.  We started looking for new digs in June, 2012.

Looking across the deck on a snowy October morning

The first place we checked was Seeley Lake.  Kevin had lived in Seeley years before, and I own a time-share condo at the Double Arrow Ranch there.  It seemed like a good place to start.  A local realtor showed us several places, and one stood out.  I was ready to sign a contract, but the Stevensville sale had not yet closed, and I didn't want to commit money I didn't have in hand.  That's what got us into trouble in the first place.

The next area we checked out was Anaconda/Georgetown Lake.  We only looked at a few homes there, but they were among the most amazing places we saw.  One was a beautiful hand-built log home, high above the valley, and completely off the grid.  Gorgeous views, but did we really want to be that far up the mountain?  We did submit an offer on a home just outside of Anaconda, but in our offer we asked for more than the seller was willing to give, and we refused to counter.  In fact, purchasing the house with its twenty fenced acres, barn, horse stalls, and storage units would have really pressed us financially.  But we would have had enough space for all our stuff--if only by filling up the four storage units that went with the property.  The house even had a nice pond off the front deck.  When I asked if it was possible to swim in the pond, the response I got was "There are fish in it."  OK.  There have been fish in every river and lake I've ever swum in, so what's your point?  I was only wondering if the pond was deep enough for swimming.

One of the three "pet" white-tailed deer that stay around the house, 
driving the dogs crazy

We spent one day looking at property in Lake and Flathead Counties, seeing some beautiful homes just outside of Whitefish, but again, we didn't think the asking price reflected reality--at least not our reality.

In July we started looking in Sanders County.  I'm not sure why, as neither of us had any ties to that northwest corner of Montana.  We phoned several realtors, leaving messages, and one, Denise Goodwin, got right back to us.  Denise was amazing.  She led us all over the county, from Plains to Noxon, and everywhere in between.  The fourth house she showed us was all it took for me.  After seeing the house at 12 Kay Wood Drive, nothing else came close.  Of all the property we looked at in our quest, I had three basic reactions.  Several houses left me feeling that the property could only be improved by bringing in a bulldozer.  Other houses spoke to me saying, "You could make this a home."  The house at 12 Kay Wood Drive said quietly, but very, very clearly, "You ARE home."

We submitted our first offer in late July.  We noted in the offer that while it was possible to build a legal road to the house, there was no legal access currently in place.  The driveway to the house crosses another piece of property and there is no easement given in writing to allow us to use our own driveway.  This could prove to be a problem.  The property we were trying to buy included the house and approximately 6 acres of timbered hillside, subdivided from a larger ranch, with its own cul-de-sac road.  The house was the only house built on that cul-de-sac, the rest of the parcels remaining bare land.

The property we were trying to buy had been foreclosed, and we were dealing with a bank headquartered somewhere back East.  Their response to our note about the driveway was to pull the house from the market, saying that "Obviously the title company has made a mistake, and they will have to fix that problem."  Well, the way we see it, the title company had nothing to do with the driveway, and there was nothing they could do to fix the problem, short of building a brand-new driveway.

An October sunrise viewed from the deck

We submitted a new offer stating that we were aware of the problem and would deal with it ourselves.  The bank responded by hiking the asking price.  WHAT????  After a few more of these insane back and forth paper flows, we gave up, and walked away.  The house at 12 Kay Wood Drive was not supposed to be ours.

I took off the month of August, and spent it driving cross country in my new Saab 9-4x and visiting my family in West Virginia.  I've written up that trip at length in early posts.  Once back in Missoula, Kevin and I half-heartedly looked at some property near Missoula.  We saw one of those "I could make this a home" houses in Lolo, and put in an offer.  As it turns out, the realtor selling the Lolo house was the same one who had listed 12 Kay Wood Drive.  He told us we should put in another offer on the house we loved.  Our offer in Lolo was second, so we lost out on it, but when we went back to Denise, she found that the asking price on Kay Wood had dropped considerably.  We immediately put in an offer for the full asking price, including all the provisions we had stated earlier about the driveway.  This time the bank accepted our offer.  The sale closed on October 12, 2012, three months after we started the process, and I moved in that afternoon.

We've now been here three and a half months.  I'm beginning to believe that we will never be fully moved in, and when I look around, I still feel as if I'm dreaming, or vacationing, or have somehow ended up in a spectacular setting that isn't really mine.  When that happens, the house continues to tell me, quietly but firmly, "You ARE home."

The house sits at the top of the 6 acres, with views to the southeast of Pat's Knob, the second highest peak in the Coeur d'Alene range of the Bitterroot Mountains.  A few years back I wrote a post about spending Labor Day on top of Pat's Knob with Kevin's ham radio folk.  Now I can look out my windows and see the mountain every day.

Looking out our front door--our Christmas card for 2012

The house has an attached, oversized two-car garage, a pantry, a huge kitchen with lots of counter space and cabinets, a formal dining room, a living room with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the property and the valley beyond, a master bedroom suite with his and his closets and a master bath with shower, jetted tub, and two sinks and medicine cabinets (his and his again).  The front entry also sports a half bath, guest closet, and the stairway leading upstairs to the balcony which opens over the living room and three large bedrooms with a full bath.  We sit in the living room and watch our three "pet" white-tailed deer who seem to live on the land and drive our dogs crazy at some point every day.  We also watch our flocks of wild turkeys who strut their stuff across the land at some point every day. 

On the lower level, there is a 3/4 bath (it has a shower, but no tub), the mechanical room, a large family room with wet bar, another bedroom that Kevin is using as an office, and two blind rooms built back into the hillside.  These rooms are each nearly thirty feet long, and as they have no windows, I can put bookcases on all four walls and not block anything.  One of the rooms is now my library/study, where I'm sitting as I write this.  The other has two large floor looms, my piano, guitars and other instruments, storage for my yarn and record collections, and will soon have a 3-manual Rogers organ.

As I said above, for thirty years I had dreamt of building a retirement home on my land.  If the man who designed and built 12 Kay Wood Drive had had access to my dreams, he would have been hard put to come up with anything closer to what I actually wanted.  I am home.

We're out of the way, off the beaten track, but if you don't mind unpacked boxes in almost every room, you're welcome to come visit.  We can even put you up for a while as two of the upstairs bedrooms are fully fitted out with beds, chests of drawers, and dressers.  There's a hide-a-bed couch in Kevin's office as well, and with bathrooms on every floor, there's no need to wait.  Ya'll come.

Part of one of two large flocks of turkeys that visit regularly
Taken out the front door 

And why do I call this 13 miles from Paradise?  Way back in 1975, when Amtrak still crossed southern Montana on the old Northern Pacific rails, my friend Jim came up for a visit.  He crossed Washington and Idaho at night, and woke up when the train came to a stop around 6 am.  Looking out the window, he saw the station sign reading "Paradise."  Jim felt that he wasn't quite ready for that final destination, but I've never forgotten him telling me about it.  Well, don't ya know, our new home is just outside of Plains, Montana, the next town west of Paradise.  Jim's wake up station is just thirteen miles down the road from 12 Kay Wood Drive.  It's now thirty-eight years after I first moved back to Montana, and since Jim woke up in Paradise.  For now, I'm quite content being thirteen miles away.

By the way, should you want to write us, don't use the street address.  We have a post office box.  Our phone numbers are unchanged.  Here's our mailing address:  
Bryan Spellman and Kevin Kerr
P.O. Box 69
Plains  MT 59859 


txhern said...

What an adventure!
Can't wait to come out for a visit. Set up the labyrinth and Medicine Wheel for ya.

Take care my friend.

BDSpellman said...

I'm looking forward to your visit.

High Anglican Hiker said...

Glad you remember my waking in Paradise. By evening of 4/4/75 that memory had been displaced in my thoughts by your temp job in Hamilton counting heads for 'Seven Alone,' the theater manager with his security courtesy of Smith and Wesson, and his instructions to the snack bar clerk: 'Fix extra popcorn.' '. . . What kind of movie IS this?'

lizz moore said...

I live in mobile Alabama. I came to Billings Montana 3 weeks to see snow and looking for work at the laurel refinery plant. My roommate got the job and i got to stay at the hotel with the pets and see snow for the first time. I have enjoyed your blogs and all the pics of montana. Thank you so much.