From 1997 to 2010, home was in a forest, with trees literally growing through our deck!
The house was built in 1979, the year I graduated Berkeley, on a knoll, with the hillside dropping away on three sides. The deck between us and the trees gave us a feeling of space. Of course, the Santa Cruz coastal climate is not always conducive to balmy evenings on the deck! But when it was nice out there, it was very, very nice. During our early years, while the older children were still young enough to care, we kept the hot tub clean and heated on the deck during the summer. The planters were irrigated and the plants flourished. The table and chairs under the sun umbrella outside the French windows of the living room were a second living room most of the year, at least when the sun was up, a place to sit in comfort in the open air amid the smells of the forest.
The arial photo on the right gives you a flavor of the cadre at home in Happy Valley: that is what our valley is called! The sun was very bright and the shade very dark in the photo, but the nature of our surroundings is clear: verdant. From the air, the pathways through the redwood forest are all but invisible. Bottom right, the road heading further out into Happy Valley cuts up across the diagonal. The house is high above the road, at the top of a steep hillside, and our 400 yard driveway and its switchback are under the trees.
The upright object in the middle of the roof is Tom, not a chimney! He was determined to wave to us. The chimney (then not in use and later dismantled) is the upright object to the right of the roof.
We spent most of the years covered by this photo album in this home, and it reached the point where we would never have been able to afford to move. When property values are rising, as they were constantly for the first ten years after we arrived, California’s property tax system penalizes selling and buying a house. We paid $372,500 when we bought the house in August 1997, and its value went up and up. Since 1975, property taxes here have been almost locked into the purchase price, rather than the market value. So if you sell your home for twice what you paid for it, for example, and replace it with one for the same price, your property taxes double and your mortgage stays the same.
As time went on, we were less and less inclined to move. The more that we did to the house, or rather had done to the house, the better we felt in it.
By 2003, the house was in good enough shape for Marie-Hélène to take a patchwork of photos of the various rooms with her new digital camera. A selection is on the page “Home in 2003.” They marked completion of the basic improvements summarized there: it was now our home, no longer the home of the people we’d bought it from.
That was confirmed to us in no uncertain terms when the mother of the family which had sold us the house after living in it for 18 years returned for a visit. She burst into tears almost as soon as she walked inside, and left rather hastily. It was not the home she had left.
Every home evolves over time as pet projects are completed. In ours, these pet projects were one of the hobbies of the mistress of the house, perhaps her favorite hobby. Making the home our own was thus not the end of the story, and you’ll be pleased to hear that renovations and improvements continued!
The issue that remained with us is that we always seemed to be short one bedroom. Until Nick and Tom moved back in with us in August 1999, five bedrooms in the house sufficed. Once they were back, even when we added the studio as a bedroom, there were not enough. Some of the children had to share. During the 1999 -2000 school year, when Amélie was staying with us in the studio and helping looking after the children, there were only four bedrooms for six children. That meant four children sharing two bedrooms.
Once Amélie moved on, back to school in Berkeley, the older children each had his or her own room, and only Charlie and Alex shared. That worked for a few years, but as they too grew up, each wanted his own room. They finally got their own rooms during the summer of 2006. They had needed to wait for Nick to move out before there was an extra bedroom free. Fortunately for the ambitions of Alex and Charlie, Nick did move out fairly promptly.
There were not a lot of neighbors in the forest, but two were worthy of note. One couple was right next door. They were childless, and didn’t like children. Soon after we arrived, they wrote us a registered letter complaining about the noise that ours made. There was not a lot that we could do about children making noise, especially when the neighbors’ house was over 100 yards away from ours down a hill in a forest. Life continued on.
A few years later, I discovered something that freaked me out. Poison oak was a bit of a problem on the property, and we spent a couple of days every year cleaning it up, so that the children wouldn’t suffer from it. The clean-ups worked pretty well, and it worried me when some of the children began getting poison oak rashes regularly. Tom was particularly vulnerable, as am I. But I never got these rashes. Then on these neighbors’ land, not 12 feet from the property line, I found a gigantic poison oak plant trained up the trunk of a small tree, by ropes tying it to the trunk, so that the poisonous leaves billowed out under the trees own branches, almost invisible at about four feet up. Who knows why someone would train a poison oak plant?
The second notable neighbor was notable first because it is a tourist attraction, the “Mystery Spot.” They had a sign on our land when we moved in, perched on a metal post embedded in the road. The County damaged that sign’s support wires, cutting the grass I think, and without a by your leave, the Mystery Spot started rebuilding a replacement sign in our creek bed. A 12-foot high 2 x 4 post appeared one day standing straight up out of the water, and I promptly dispatched a son or two to dispose of it: the advantage of having a group of boys at home!
The Mystery Spot didn’t get the message, and began building another sign, which was promptly sawn off at the waterline. This time, they sent a sheriff’s deputy to warn us not to vandalize Mystery Spot property. You have to admire that kind of gall, just as you have to keep it under control. When the deputy didn’t understand that we were not obliged to permit the Mystery Spot to build on our property without our permission, the sheriff did.
Not a lot of hassle when you add it up, in an idyllic environment called Happy Valley.