Thursday, January 18, 2007


We followed the trail from rusted wheelbarrow around sequoia
Past shrugging rhodys on to the broken foundation
Where we found the scurried consideration of a foray into the trench.
"Nothing of interest there" decided,
Prints doubled back and up to the brick wall where
Paws would have found a break from the icy cold
A balance beam run and down onto the sidewalk
Leading under the shelter of some haphazardly piled concrete. A new den?
We peeked in expecting pinpoint eyes to peek back.
Prints instead continued out the other side,
Five-toes neatly indenting the whiteness
Crisscrossing another track left by delicate hooves
Both steering off into the neighbor's trees.
Now I understand the circuitous route my dog's nose follows.

In fifty years of living without garbage service,
Kids raised, fruit trees planted and neglected,
Secret parties held, fences built and torn down
Gravel worn away and replaced
It's not surprising we've uncovered artifacts in the dirt here
Both treasures and trash-
A pair of blue glass marbles, a doubling die
A single fish earring and countless blackened tin can lids
The upturned clothes drying rack grown over with blackberries
An occasional coin.
I much prefer the evidence animals leave behind.

Our large footprints made clumsy trails beside the coyote's
Running alongside the woodpile.
I'm relieved tomorrow's thaw will wipe ours clean
But reluctant to lose the reminder of how busy the other residents are
Investigating this little acre of the world.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There's this tenant, see. Wayne.
I'd change the names to protect the innocent but we figured out several months later that no one knew him by this given name anyhow. We met Wayne the day we toured the property with the real estate people. He worked nights so we needed to visit on his day off to see the house, but he was still there when we showed up. The broker who showed us the property was disabled and didn't get out of the truck so that left Wayne to show us around. From Wayne we learned his mother had lived at the house until about a year and a half ago when she moved into an assisted living center close to her daughter in Oklahoma, then he moved in.
It appeared to us that he slept during the day on the couch in the living room, which made perfect sense after we eventually took possession and saw the state of the two bedrooms. Still, it was dark and dank and reeked of a house that hadn't seen the light of day in way too long. Nor had his pets. No problem, we make an offer on the place, we're going to tear down the house so the stink isn't worrying us.

A counteroffer arrives from the seller, whom we learn is the daughter in Oklahoma, Wayne's sister. They'd like to leave all the contents and the house as is. After some long waits and some wording changes, we all sign the sales contract, pending inspections of various kinds, and start the escrow period. We turn in our inspection results, request a lower price based on all the clean up involved, and they agree but... they haven't done the survey. Which is a bit puzzling because we understand they need the funds badly. So we grant an extension of an additional month for that and some clean up and we have a final deal. Or so we think. The extension period expires, not only have they not completed the clean up or survey, they return with a new sales condition. They claim they won't sell the property unless we agree to keep Wayne as a tenant.
I guess as is meant "AS IS" in their minds.

Visiting the site to deal with inspections of various kinds, we get more chance to chat with Wayne, and it becomes apparent that he does not clearly understand what is happening to his living quarters-and we learn from the broker that he is somewhat mentally disabled.

He talks one moment about how we will have to tear down the house in order to build something new, and then shows us where he is going to have his vegetable garden this summer. One time we arrive to find he has a large stack of pallets newly collected and piled in the driveway, his firewood to heat the house this winter. He's collecting junk we will eventually have to throw out! Even though we like Wayne and feel sad he is stuck in the middle, we can't have him stay in the house. The roof is sagging and could fall on him any moment, he could get ill from the bacteria in the well water... and no one is going to insure this place as a rental. A lawyer advises us we have a perfectly good sales contract without this condition, and warns us that we could get sued with many landlord issues should we agree. So eventually, much to my disgust, we have to send them a letter threatening to take the matter to court if they don't agree to meet their conditions immediately. For some reason they are completely unwilling to budge on this issue until the threat, but finally it seems we have their attention. Our money for the lot goes into the escrow company, and we agree to turn it over as soon as we have survey results, clean up, and Wayne has moved out. We give them one final month to complete this, knowing that Wayne probably does need the time to move.

The week before the last deadline comes due, things suddenly start happening. The diesel and well clean-ups happen. The survey results get turned in. And our escrow officer goes on vacation. Friday the seller (in Oklahoma) claims that they have completed all the terms of the contract by our deadline, and the escrow company fill-in sends the title into the county to be recorded without checking with us or the realtor. Within 24 hours our entire sale amount will be released to the sister in OK, and guess what? Wayne has not moved. In fact, the report that he has found an apartment to move into turns out to be a lie. We go beserk, elevating the issue up the title company chain until they reluctantly back-off (never admitting their mistake) and will hold the money until we tell them Wayne has moved. As long as its within 2 days. We sign up for an expensive liability insurance policy that we hope will cover us now that the title is in our name, and hope that Wayne doesn't get hurt before he moves out. And we show up to talk to Wayne, and his nephew who has arrived from Oklahoma to help sell off his grandmother's belongings.

The nephew is camping in a pup tent out front. Again, seeing the house, this makes sense.
Things are a little chaotic because he's been taking boxes of things from the house and storage shed and dumping them outside as a means of looking for anything worth selling.

There are appliances now dragged out onto the porch,

and in a wacky/twisted teen sort of way he has taken to decorating the place with decapitated doll and toy parts.
A couple of free-form burns have happened in the front grass area. Cigarettes, beer cans, and snack-food trash are strewn all over.

"We need Wayne to move by tomorrow (Tues) because otherwise your Mom can't get the money." "Well he's packed up, but he doesn't have a place to move to" is the response from his nephew. "Wayne, we thought you had found an apartment?" "They won't let me move in without a security deposit and I don't get paid until Thursday. I haven't finished the application, they need my past address and I can't find it."

This is crazy, we think.

"Can't you stay in a motel for a couple of nights?"
There's no money for this either. The irony of how much money we just handed the owners to buy this mess is not unnoticed. "But your sister is getting a huge amount of money from us!" The nephew informs us that in fact, it has been a surprise to Wayne that his sister sold the house. No one explained it well enough. In the 90 days since the original agreement was made, the family didn't bother to help their disabled brother/son find a new living place. There are other sisters and brothers who live in town. But now we were the mean evictors.

"We're sorry, but as of tonight we own this house, and its just not safe for us to let anyone stay in it anymore. We're really sorry."

We leave, agreeing we won't throw out the stuff they still need to move, wondering what will happen to Wayne, and stressing over next steps if he hasn't left.

The next morning its apparent that Wayne has indeed slept elsewhere, and later that day we run into the nephew. Wayne is moving stuff to his wife's place.

"Who's wife's place?"
"Wayne's wife. He's moving back in there."

Later that week as we start clearing things out, we come across a Valentine card dated Feb 2006. From Wayne's wife. "I love you" handwritten on the inside.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Actually this story about the land starts a few months back, but its been pretty busy and so I'll just have to work to catch things up. Lucky for you, that should leave out some rather boring stretches.

Every five or six months since I first moved to Portland 20 years ago I'd been driving up a certain road a few miles east of my house. This may seem a bit odd, but there was a little turn out at the top of a hill where I could stop the car alongside a section of s-curves. There was an old red barn, then acres of grass fields - grazing land - punctuated by trees and creek, rolling down and off as far as you could see. I live about 11 miles west of Portland and the area has turned into a very actively expanding suburb, so over time that rural view became more rare and more appealing. I guess that is what kept pulling me back to park and look out over the hills there. I went as far as looking up the plat maps and figured out the parcel I liked was 8 acres... more than I could afford or keep up... so in my mind it just became the place I dreamed about in no practical fashion.

Middle of last year, I took my boyfriend up to see the place. We parked, noticed how the farther views now included many new rooftops, and then turned around and headed back towards my house. I told him I'd always thought about stopping and seeing if any of the nearby houses would consider selling their places when about a half mile down the road I noticed a brushy grown over place with a sign out front. Sure enough, there was a for sale sign, with a broker's number, which we dialed sitting at the end of the long gravel driveway skeptically looking at the run down house and junk yard hound barking outside. Just under an acre. With a tear-down house and a motivated seller. I'd literally driven along this road for nearly 20 years and there had never been a place for sale along it before. But it wasn't anything like I had pictured sitting up at that turn out.

We set up a time the following day to go see the place and it was pretty scary up close.

The 1950s ranch house was in terrible condition and we couldn't even walk the back third of the parcel due to solid 8-12 foot blackberries and hazel brush. There was an orchard there they told us, but it became obvious there hadn't been any maintenance done in some 20 years. Why would I be interested?

Because of this view, which we could see when we walked to the edge of the parcel from the farmer's field next door.

Within a week we made our first offer. "Motivated sellers", and we offered cash. You'd think we'd wrap up the details quickly....

A late Christmas greeting...captioned "Bah Humbug" by said feline.

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