We have 3 houses. Jerry says if I write this people will think we are rich. Well, we aren’t rich — but not poor either.
The house we live in most of the time is the largest and the nicest. It is about 1600 sq ft and has a bedroom, a sleeping loft, 2 bathrooms and a powder room (under construction.) The setting is rural, on a small island in Puget Sound. The house and a couple of out buildings — my studio and Jerry’s shop — nestle in 5 acres of woods, so it doesn’t have much of a view because of tall trees. It is part of a duplex; we try to rent the other side in summer as a vacation site.
Our second house is in Manley Hot Springs Alaska. It is very small, perhaps 900 sq ft. It has indoor plumbing — 1 bathroom, and 2 tiny bedrooms upstairs. We plan to add another tiny bedroom on the main floor this fall.
Our third house is a condo in Bellingham that we just bought. It is a little over 900 sq ft, has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It’s simple and basic. No frills. The condo buildings are about 30 years old and back on a large wooded park where there is a creek, waterfalls and many walking trails.
Each of these places comes with its own way of life and its own rules.
In Alaska you have the feeling of being able to do anything you like. There are no building codes outside the boroughs and no property taxes. Jerry built a new staircase in our house which was far steeper than allowed by building codes where they exist. There is no such thing as building inspection. Some people bury an old car as a septic tank. Gray water is often just dumped on the ground. There are no rules for outhouses. Junk accumulates in people’s yards — in remote parts of Alaska there is a reluctance to throw anything away because “you might need it sometime.” On the other hand, the town dump is littered with old appliances which are peppered with bullet holes.
At our house on the island the county collects property taxes and enforces building codes. Jerry does all the work on our house — wiring, plumbing and construction — but if it’s a big project that can be seen from the outside we have to get a permit from the county and it must pass an inspection when complete. There are rules governing every aspect of construction. There are rules about the uses of property for agriculture or business, about burning rubbish, about fence height, number of dwelling units per land parcel and so on.
When we bought the condo we were given a 3 ring binder with several inches of filler informing us of the by-laws and rules of the condo. These are in addition to rules of both the city of Bellingham and the county. The condo rules cover everything from number and kind of pets you can have to what kind of appliances you can install and who can install them to TV antennas and noise, parking, outdoor grills and more.
The way of life in each place is different. Manley is isolated and small. Only about 65 people live there. They regard themselves as independent and self-sufficient and in many ways they are. They hunt for much of their meat (but rules are enforced about game and hunting) and they grow vegetables in the summer. Many live without indoor plumbing and some even without electricity. Many of them repair their own vehicles and appliances. Jerry loves the freedom of not having to answer to authority.
But there is pressure to conform in a lot of ways, and within the small community there are quarrels and tensions both political and personal that stay unresolved and limit peoples‘ freedom and autonomy. I fell afoul of Manley mores with my blog soon after I got there. Now there are a number of people in Manley who don’t speak to me because of what I write. There are 2 native groups who are at odds with each other. Besides that, the natives have prohibited non-natives from walking on their land. Since they own most of the land in the town and its surroundings this is pretty restrictive. It is largely ignored, but it remains a source of tension.
Our island community is about 1000 people. I have been here for 11 years and I know many people of all ages and persuasions. I think there is less tendency here for people to try to control others than there is in Manley. People are generally tolerant of each other’s politics and quirks. There was a split here at one time among the church goers, and an attempt was made to fire the preacher at the island church for being too liberal. The attempt didn’t succeed and the conservative evangelicals formed their own church which now meets at the Grange hall. For a while I belonged to an island group which had the aim of developing low income housing here and that group became a target of the conservative faction. The low income housing group self destructed, mostly from its own internal incompetence, but it was helped along by outside factions which opposed its goals.
Bellingham is a small city, but it is big enough for one to be quietly anonymous. Since we have begun to occupy our condo nobody has spoken to us there or taken any interest in our presence. I have a kind of freedom there I have nowhere else. The first night we stayed in the condo I went to the nearby grocery store, one of the high-end stores in town, its shelves well stocked with a variety of items, like fresh baked bread, an extensive deli and sushi bar. I felt exhilarated at being just 5 minutes from a world of food. We can go out in the evening on impulse when we are there and not have to plan for the ferry. Haircuts, doctors, drugstores, bookstores and lattes are always available.
I love going to Manley. I will be sorry when we are too old to make the long trip. I love its quiet and lack of distractions. I get a lot accomplished there, mostly painting, but some writing as well. We still have some good friends there who don’t mind my blog and who think the way we do.
I love my island home, where I am finally becoming a real resident — it takes a while in a small community to belong. I love its beauty. It is full of good people who care about their community even when they don’t agree on every issue.
I think I will love the freedom of being in the city from time to time. I have a little trouble getting Jerry to go; he dislikes crowds and traffic, and money gets spent there. But he’s adjusting, and if it ever stops raining long enough to take a walk in the big well maintained park I think I’ll have him sold.
I have to add a post script about the condo. Since I wrote this I have talked to one other resident. I was outside walking the poodles and in the parking lot I encountered a youngish black man in lounging clothes and bedroom slippers. He wanted to tell me what a great location the condos have next to the park, and he pointed out an eagle’s nest nearby. His name is Jonathan.