It has been just short of a year since we left the perfectly manicured world of our suburban home near St. Louis for our wooded setting in Strafford, NH . I had always thought of New Hampshire with a healthy dose of nostalgia, having lived here for 16 years before leaving at the ripe old age of 26. A scant 30 years (or so) later, I’m back and am learning the reality of living with nature.
Our eight year old home in southern Illinois sat on a 1/2 acre lot, thoughtfully wooded behind the margins of our perfectly sown and maintained grass. Underground sprinklers discreetly maintained the optimum moisture level and periodic lawn applications kept weeds and undesirables at bay. Utility lines were underground as well, and our vinyl siding promised untold years of a mostly maintenance free exterior. Twice a year, I would drag my dear husband out for concentrated weed abatement and shrub trimming in our flower beds. It was quiet and predictable, and, dare I say it, aesthetically nearly perfect.
From that existence, we moved to our “vintage” 1980s cape set on three wooded acres. Power lines crisscross our front lawn and trees abound, freely dispensing branches, leaves, and debris onto the grass below. The woods just behind our “seasonal” pond are deep and mysterious — and littered with dead branches and years of decaying leaves, far from the neat idealized version I thought I remembered. As for the house, this is New England, so painted wood trumps vinyl. The deck , house, and our shed predict an epic painting project in our near future as paint peels and blisters. Inside, the relentlessly wallpapered and bordered walls promise many months of laborious stripping, wall repair, and painting. (I wonder why the woodwork and ceilings in each room needed to be painted different colors, but I digress.) Early on, the reality of living in the world of the elements and exposed power lines quickly sunk in. We experienced a multi-day power outage in our first weeks and installed something expensive called a transfer switch for our expensive new generator. We discovered our 27 year old oil furnace was nearing the end of its natural life and that most of our windows need replacing. Leaves overwhelmed us in the fall, along with hundreds of stink bugs that decided to move indoors, and the process of killing the crabgrass left us with a totally dead lawn in the late summer (who knew it was all crabgrass?). We resurrected the planting bed only to find that we were running a food pantry for the local wildlife because it lacked the exhaustive security measures needed to keep various critters out. I fought the unending battle of removing lawn debris by dragging all those small (and large) branches and piling them next to the outdoor fire pit behind the house (someday we’ll actually burn them). I think the impressive pile of wood now houses a family of raccoons. Just today, I saw that some of our hostas had been unceremoniously decapitated, no doubt viewed as some deer delicacy.
I admit it; I am out-maneuvered and outmatched. As my mother-in-law says, we have a “country” property, which means anything green or colorful is desirable despite its provenance, and a little wear is to be expected. What I do know is that it has been a true delight to witness the beautiful plantings that have surfaced to mark the changing of the seasons — phlox, peonies, daffodils, lilies — the flame of autumn leaves, and the cool green of spring in full leaf. I can’t describe the joy I feel when I go outside, look around, and think “I live here,” with more wonder than frustration. We have grown to love the lines and quirks of our home, and will take our time in slowly making it our own. Surely the years ahead will bring new challenges, but it is good to be home.