Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year and Reinventing Self

Yep, it's a new year, and virtually all the bloggers I follow have had posts with wrap-ups or reflections on 2014, and/or goals/resolutions/plans for 2015. I suppose I could follow suit in an extremely abbreviated manner: in 2014 I got out of the south far too late but I did score a year's worth of wonderful organic blueberries, I managed to accumulate yet another vintage camper, I lost my last Great Dane and my youngest daughter's Golden Retriever, I got rid of a whole lot of "stuff" up north and got the shop cleaned out to a point that a person can actually walk through it. Goals for 2015? Get rid of more "stuff", actually get started on restoring at least one of the old campers, continue paying off debt, and take more time for visiting family and friends. Oh, and reinvent myself, for what seems like the 20th time. 

I've always been a back-to-the-land sort of person, growing my own food, cutting and splitting my own firewood, etc. Then I decided to become a snowbird because after 50+ years of living in the northern plains I was seriously tired of dealing with the snow and cold. Especially after I broke my ankle. Turns out having 3 plates and 20+ screws with virtually no tissue covering them is miserable when it's -20 outside and you have to spend a few days digging out the 1/4 mile long driveway. So, ok, then I was a snowbird. Turns out that's not terribly compatible with growing your own food. Or having any sort of livestock. And if the place you buy in the south is in bad condition and needs to be gutted and rebuilt it's not good for paying down debt. At least the land in TN is paid for, as are the repairs, but many other things got pushed aside while the rebuilding was going on. Then I decided to should be a full-time RVer. I love to travel, I love to see new places, I already owned a camper and what better way to travel and explore than to take your house with you? 

This is all well and good, I became a South Dakota resident (SD has no state income tax, and I grew up there and have strong ties to the state so it was a no-brainer) but I still mainly travel between SD and TN, with a good part of the summer spent on the land in MN. I'm a homesteader at heart though, and can't really grow a big garden, or even a small one, can't can/freeze the produce or raise any livestock because how do I haul it all with me in the camper? And I'm up north for such a short time, shorter than most garden produce requires to mature. At the same time it drives me crazy to have to buy organic food when I've always grown my own.

So, I sit here and debate what I want to do with my life. In a perfect world, I would have a solid homestead, and travel frequently and for extended periods with the camper. Oh, and there would be a magic livestock genie that would pop in and take care of any critters along with weeding the garden while I was gone.  lol

If I decided to build a home base, where would it be? I've got 6 acres in TN, very little of the land is flat or even remotely level, just the bit right along the road where the house and sheds are located.  The single wide mobile home is comfortable, new roof, new subfloor, new water heater, all new fixtures etc, and it's all paid for. Taxes are pretty low. There's a lot of trees/firewood IF you can somehow drag it up the 45 degree slope from the holler, everything is electric and it would be expensive to convert to propane. One small 8x12 shed that was here and currently used for storage, and another 10 x 20 shed that I built for a shop. There is a small creek at the bottom of the holler, at least it trickles in the winter, I've never tried to get down there in the summer due to snakes. It's got a deep, 150+ foot  well that runs out from time to time, and it's located 15 miles from Arnold Air Force which is a Superfund site so who knows what's lurking in the ground water, I won't drink it or use it for cooking without filtering it. The weather isn't too bad in fall, winter and spring, but summers are a hot humid mess complete with subtropical plants and vines that can grow at a rate of something like 4-6 feet per day, poison ivy and poison oak, millions of biting bugs, poisonous spiders and snakes, and carpenter bees that destroy wooden buildings. It's on a dead end road, but there are still way too many people located way too close for my taste. Roughly 115 people per square mile in this county, 93 percent white, median income for the county is $34,900. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, could sell it for double what I paid for it in 2011.

I've got 18 acres in southwest Minnesota, 10 acres in pasture that's rented out every year to a neighbor, a good but aging grove on the north and west side so again lots of firewood and it's fairly level to haul it. The driveway is 1/4 mile long, and my nearest neighbor is 1 mile away in any direction on a seldom traveled gravel road. If 3 vehicles a day go past it's rush hour, and they're likely trucks or tractors either planting or harvesting. Also a deep 100' well, nasty iron and manganese which requires more filtering to make it remotely clear. The surrounding ag land is heavily treated with artificial fertilizer, insecticide and pesticide, and the aerial spray drifts tremendously making gardening a crap-shoot, some years it does fair and some years it dies completely after the crop dusters have flown over and around it. There is a 3 acre pond, not belonging to me but butting right up to my property and the water coming out of the dam runs across my pasture. Has a good south facing hill, an excellent 30x50' insulated steel pole barn with lights, heat and fans computer controlled along with a water hydrant inside,it was built as a hog farrowing house by the previous owners. There's also a concrete floored hog building, another small shed, a concrete floored milk house and a concrete floored granary which is basically a giant wind tunnel. The 120+ year old farmhouse is not habitable, but I really love this piece of land other than the horrible water. 29 people per square mile, the largest city in the county is 12,000 and 62% white, median income is $35,700. I still have a mortgage on this land but could sell it for 4 times what I owe and triple what I paid for it in 1999.

There is 6 acres also in southwest MN, the house burned down 15 years ago, and there is the remains of an old granary still standing. One concrete slab where a chicken house used to be before I bought the property and the slab from the attached 3 car garage that also burned. Mostly level land on a paved road, the nearest neighbors are 1/2 mile north and south, the one to the north is totally off-grid and I keep meaning to meet him but I haven't gotten around to it. Virtually no trees left, they were mostly elm and died of Dutch Elm disease, so not much for firewood other than the few ash and black walnut I planted there along with a couple fruit trees, if the rabbits haven't killed them. Very light sandy soil that grows watermelon like crazy. This has a 25 foot well with incredibly sweet water, with a large casing so a person could bucket the water up if need be. Located on a paved road, 1 mile north from a tiny village of maybe 50 people, the main traffic pattern is south from the town. There's a bit of an emotional attachment, as this is the first piece of property I ever owned. Population in the county is 20 people per square mile, 97 percent white, median income $36,200. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, could sell it for 3 times what I paid for it in 1989.

There is 1 acre + in northern South Dakota in what used to be the town of James, bare land other than a bit of garbage the next door neighbor hasn't cleared off yet and I think he's got a couple large trailers also parked on my land. This is the parcel I acquired this past summer from my brother, it's been in our family for 140 years, so there's an emotional attachment there as well. Located on a gravel road about a mile off a paved highway, nearest town of 26,000 is 10 miles away. 4 other households in what's left of the town. No poisonous snakes or insects, but the mosquitoes will carry you away. (Prairie potholes and glacial lakes)  One struggling little tree growing along the fence line on the north side. 21 people per square mile in the county, 95 percent white, median income $35,000. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, not considering selling it at this point. 

 Since I don't plan to become a year-round resident of TN, any other place I decide to settle will require building a house. One other option is the West Texas desert, where there are virtually no building restrictions, but I the land and climate are totally outside my experience. Land there is cheap cheap cheap, no water, no trees, lots of rocks and rattlesnakes and who knows what for insects. 1 person per square mile, 81 percent white, median income in the county $27,400.

I don't really want to become a Minnesotan again, taxes are too high. Don't want to become a permanent Tennessee resident, there's just too many people here for my taste. That leaves SD and TX. Both are rather unknowns, SD is a very small parcel of land, but there's nothing owed on it. Who knows what/if the county will allow me to build there. Winter in northern SD... UGH! TX would mean having to purchase the land, could buy a larger (40-80acres) parcel, probably build whatever I want. Summers in southwest TX... UGH!

Whatever I decide to do I need to do it fairly soon. I'm not getting any younger, and this old body has  been beat up pretty good by the decades. Who knows how much longer I will be capable of attempting anything like this?



  1. I would say you have a lot of options and are clearly aware of all the pros and cons of the properties you currently own.

    Hope you can find a location that is suitable for your situation.

  2. Each location has it's good and bad. You can't have mild Winters without having brutal Summers no matter how hard ya look. For long term self sufficiency though I am not sure either S. Dakota or West Texas is a good choice though. Both are dry and Texas is getting drier. SD East of the river in the North is pretty resource poor in the wood fuel department although it sure has enough fodder for animals.

    They also end their question sentences with NOT and that annoys me :)

    I would vote Tennessee but that's just me. Good mixture of seasons, longer growing seasons, better rainfall water resources and lots of trees.

  3. You are hesitant to go outside on Tenn land because of snakes and are thinking of buying in Texas????? Duh!!! Sell the Minn land get out of debt and start your life in Tenn. Sounds like a lot of analysis paralysis going on to me. Fish or cut bait!!

  4. I have been following several websites featuring tiny houses - self built as well as professionally built (much more costly). Because many of them are built on a trailer and are thus movable, the zoning laws for building a house don't apply. I think that is changing in many places though - states, cities and municipalities don't like to let people get by without taxing them as much as possible, requiring permits, etc.

    Only you can decide where you'd like to live, but SD sure has the best deal going for being a traveling resident.

  5. West Texas is hard. Water is something you cannot get around. Maybe sell more and buy something in TN that is more applicable?