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My House, My Life

Paradise Is a Great Place to Visit but Moving There Is Another Story

February 04, 2001|DAVID L. JENNINGS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A week or two spent vacationing at the ocean, mountains, lake or desert can be total bliss. But moving to that vacation paradise and living there full time can present many pitfalls.

Having been San Francisco Bay sailors for years, it seemed only natural that, set free by retirement, my wife, Monica, and I would go off to see the world by sailboat.

Shivering our timbers, we sailed first to Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. It was a great adventure.

Three of our four children, college students with no inclination to be seafarers, reluctantly came to visit.

"Are you crazy? You can't just sail around. You're too young; you should have jobs," they complained.

There certainly were inconveniences. Mail took a month to reach us, international phone calls were required to maintain business and family contacts, and all family visits involved international flights.

Because of the problems we moved on to Florida, but eventually decided to rejoin the mainstream and sold the boat. (One caveat: Even if you sell your home for a nice profit, you may find after traveling for a few years that in today's rapidly inflating real estate market, you are at a disadvantage.)

We moved to the southern coast of Oregon. In a small fishing and artist colony, we found a place with ocean views across from the harbor. How could it be better? This was Americana at its finest.

But then we discovered "The Breeze." Small-craft warnings or gale-force winds were the summer norm. Beach walks were great, but a sweater was de rigueur. Winter storms came off the ocean with winds of up to 125 mph.

Residents in any other part of country would have been requesting federal disaster assistance, but the locals just referred to "The Breeze," as they replaced roofing, wires, signage and landscaping.

The fury of the ocean at these times is spectacular, and well worth a visit, but living with it day to day can be depressing. One friend built a home on the beach and had to replace 17 custom dual-pane windows that succumbed to the onslaught in a year's time.

Then, 25 miles inland, we found our dream house sitting beside a beautiful stream. We watched salmon leaping and elk grazing as we enjoyed our breakfast coffee.

But within the first week, during a torrential downpour, we awakened at 4 a.m. to the ominous sound of rushing water. Flashlight in hand, I ventured into the blackness. What only hours before had been a benign, crystalline trout stream was now a raging torrent of mud and debris that had flooded its banks and was threatening the house.

The house survived, but it was one long flood watch through a week of continuous rain. A later storm buried the road under a 5-foot mudslide.

Beavers chewed down the fruit and ornamental trees, deer ate the roses, raccoons tore down the furnace ducts and made nests out of the insulation, and it was a continual battle keeping wasps and bees from building hives in the eaves.

Aside from the wildlife encounters, there was a septic system to maintain and a spring-fed water system to purify. There was no organized fire protection, so we maintained our own pumps and hoses with water supplied from the stream.

It was 18 miles to the nearest store, where the selection was limited to beans, bullets and Bud; and it was seven miles farther to the gas station. But the fishing was great.

In the five years we lived there, we watched helplessly as the surrounding forested hills were denuded and ravaged by timber clear-cutting.

Having put the pioneer life behind us, we now live in the High Sierra at Lake Tahoe. In previous years we had backpacked and camped there in the summer, and skied and snowmobiled in the winter. So we were aware that the area gets 400 to 600 inches of snow a year, and the major ski areas spend thousands to advertise the fact.

It is interesting to meet people who, after having spent many summer vacations here, decide to move here full time. Then they express surprise at how much snow there is, and by spring are ready to sell and move back to the lowlands. The high cost of living or a lack of all the services that they enjoyed in their hometowns shock others moving to this resort area.

But we have found much to our liking: the pristine natural beauty, kayaking and hiking in the summer, skiing and snowshoeing in winter.

The kids still think we're crazy. But now that we have a home base established, we can shop for another sailboat.

*

David Jennings is a freelance writer living in Kings Beach, Calif.

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