13 June 2014

The Subjective Nature of Ownership

Ian and I spent a rich and complex weekend on Orcas last week. As has been our wont of late, we chose to leave Seattle early Saturday morning--i.e. we were on the road to Starbucks on 45th (which opens at 5:00am) by six, and we had arrived in Anacortes by 8:00am for the 10:40 boat to Orcas. We were the 4th car in line for that sailing (note: not the first).

When we arrived on the land we encountered a wide, curving shag-carpet swath of mowed prairie. We conjectured as we followed the road through 4-foot-high banks of swaying grasses: access for West Sound Water? But no, the swath sharpened its curve and curled back toward itself, then suddenly opened into a wide, roughly square clearing. Crop circles? I thought briefly, then I realized that instead of stumbling upon evidence of alien interference we had, essentially, just arrived at home.

Burke had been out on Thursday and Friday with his excavator, getting the lay of the land with an eye to actually commencing building in the foreseeable future (although at an as yet unnamed date), and had realized that, unless all visitors to the site were wearing personal hovercraft, we would not be able to get any sort of perspective on it at all with the lush growth of spring. While setting out the rough outline of your house in the mowed middle of a tall and vast prairie creates a very good idea of where your boundaries are, it also appears that any structure plunked down in that laughably minute clearing will be way too small to live in. Perspective is hard!

Burke met us on our land about an hour after we arrived, and we hauled our 8-foot ladder up the hill and put it in various "rooms", and climbed up and looked at the views we'd have of the north side of the Olympic Mountains, Shaw Island, and the delightfully picturesque and charming village, harbor, and marina of West Sound. I perched at the top of the ladder and gazed out into the future, imagining what I would sew or write in my office, and what I would look up to see while I did it. I imagined what I would look at from my "stage" on the floor below my office, what inspiration my musical improvisation may take from the subtly different view.

It's beginning to feel like a real thing, this future house, instead of the theoretical energy suck it's been for many of the last several months. Not everyone is as excited for us, however.

Moving to a small island with finite resources and a small population of quirky independents, opens one up to a great deal of scrutiny, gossip, commentary, conjecture, advice, and endless iterations of the "joke" that once you're a resident of Orcas, you'll want to keep everyone else out, too, ha ha.

One of our neighbors got up the courage to invite us to look at our place from her deck, and it was eye-opening in a variety of ways. It is very clear that we have, completely inadvertently and completely thoughtlessly, messed up the bucolic, unpeopled view that she had enjoyed for the previous 40 years. She doesn't see the richly saturated emotional and spiritual sides of our little structures. She does not know that our Dacha tells, for us, a story of relationships in our lives, several of which no longer exist. She does not know the depth of our personal investment in Orcas, how much we love--love--to be there, and how staggeringly fortunate we feel to own this land.

We "own" the land, legally, according to the laws and customs of our society. But this neighbor very much "owns" the view up the valley, and we've sort of stolen that from her. "Owning" any part of nature is an illusion, though. Fundamentally, what the title of ownership means is that, as long as we choose to, we have the rights to pay taxes to our government. These taxes are based on an arbitrary cash value assigned to a section of the earth, and we have paid for the right to gain stewardship over this piece.

It's not ours. Someone else will live there after we leave, however we do that, at some unknown future date. The community will evolve, residents will cycle in and out, and we have--we have chosen to take on--a responsibility not just to ourselves and the land in our care, but also to our neighbors and friends.

We believe that being full-time residents will better the situation for everyone involved (ironically, it's easier to be a hermit in a big city). Once we're on Orcas full-time, we will have a better sense of our responsibilities to land and populace; we will have more time to fulfill those responsibilities; and we will be readily available simply to communicate and hash out differences.

We are grateful to this neighbor for telling us her truth, and reminding us that we are not alone in the world; that perspectives are varied, and there is value in the variation.

We are also particularly grateful to have had this awakening just in time to incorporate its significances into the house which, I've just learned since beginning writing this entry,


Theoretical dwelling, community, personal, and stewardship questions all about to manifest!

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