That’s what our favorite landscapes can be if we let them — whether we come to mountain or ocean, craving connection or solitude — they are the places that allow us to push past the boundaries, into the new territory of ourselves.
Cameron Walker, “These Are a Few of Our Favorite Places”
* * *
Cameron Walker has an essay at The Last Word on Nothing on the connections between personalities and landscapes, specifically flat and mountainous ones.
She notes recent studies in which psychologists have found that extroverts tend to prefer the ocean, while introverts prefer mountains. The research also suggests that introverts tend to live in mountainous states rather than flat ones.
I’ve been thinking about landscapes over the past year, wondering what the ideal plot of land for our tiny house on wheels looks like. In the beginning, I thought I knew. I envisioned different scenarios in my head, inspired by the images on sites like Tiny House Swoon, from cute A-frame cabins in the woods to minimalist micro-houses on picturesque grounds. Sifting through people’s pinned dreams on Pinterest boards have also fed and shaped these romantic images.
Surely, this is what home looks like: a little house perfectly located along a river, on a private shore. No neighbors. No wires or hoses in the background. No obstructions of a beautiful view. An idyllic plot of land — completely accessible, totally affordable. A piece of the earth, just for us. Right?
At the beginning of February, after coming up empty in Craigslist and online searches and a number of dead ends through our blog’s contact form, we came to a point where we needed to aggressively search for land — and reach out to everyone we knew in the hope that there’s someone who might know someone who might know someone who had a suitable property, and were also open to this unique hosting arrangement. And when we began to visit potential places, I realized some of the unspoiled versions of home that I’d shaped in my head were not realistic — nor what I needed or wanted.
* * *
Walker lives near the sea in Santa Barbara and, contrary to what the research shows, loves the ocean despite being an introvert. I, too, am an introvert, yet also love living near the Pacific. I don’t think you can be a native Californian and not love the ocean, or at least I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t. No matter where wanderlust has taken me, I’ve always wanted to settle near the water, whether it be the ocean, a bay, or a river. But I’m not attracted to lakes, as I prefer water that travels the expanse of a region — that opens up possibilities, that breathes and changes just as we do.
A few years ago, Nick and I stayed at an Airbnb listing on the Russian River, just outside the town of Duncans Mills. We loved this riverfront property, owned by a kind couple who let us use their kayaks and, upon checking out, gave us a gigantic squash and other goodies from their garden. When we started our tiny house journey, I envisioned their patch of land, steps from the river that I love, when I first imagined a location to park. I’ve grown attached in this way to other properties — rural and romantic, worthy of swoon — but not because they are the perfect places to live, as I understand now that perfect does not exist, but because I just haven’t seen enough. It’s one thing to bookmark pictures on the internet of adorable 150-square-foot homes strategically placed in fields; it’s quite another to scout around for such a setting in person. If you have the money to buy paradise yourself, great. If you don’t, you need to know or find people who are open to sharing their land with you. Design blogs and Pinterest boards aside, these locations aren’t simply for the taking.
We considered one piece of land in the woods, on a ridgetop in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was undeveloped, a bit wild, and away from the main house, amongst gorgeous old trees. The closest town was down the mountain — less than ten minutes by car on a winding road, yet the grounds felt quite remote. Before we even viewed the property, I pictured our tiny house, snug in the middle of a forest. I might have imagined the cottage that the fairies lived in when they raised Sleeping Beauty, or a cabin I’d seen on a recent Tiny House Hunters, or a combination of the two. It doesn’t matter what exactly I saw in my head, but I had preconceptions of what life in the woods might be like.
I think about this plot of land in the context of the research study. Being an introvert, I like the idea of retreating into the mountains: the cover and shelter of magnificent trees, and finding one’s place deep in the woods. Blanketed in mountain fog, above everything. But when we walked around, I learned something about myself: I didn’t actually like being up here. All these trees, beautiful as they were, swallowed me whole. The forest made me feel claustrophobic. I recognize this feeling from the weekends we’ve spent over the years in Lake Tahoe, in California’s Sierra Nevada, and atop the slopes of mountains. It’s one of the reasons why I have a fear of skiing.
On top of the world. Unable to escape.
We crossed this place off our list, but I began to learn what I really need — and that I don’t want to live in the mountains after all.
* * *
Walker talks to science writers about the appeal of flat, open spaces, from plains to deserts. I haven’t spent much time in deserts, though feel vulnerable just thinking about them. Nick, having lived in Egypt for a good while, tells me of his love and appreciation for a landscape that, while inhospitable, allows you to go deeper within yourself in a way unlike the sea.
In our search for land, we had early leads on a 43-acre Sonoma vineyard near the town of Petaluma, and an organic farm on the Santa Barbara coast. These flat, open landscapes are comforting because they’re familiar, but also because their expansiveness is liberating: I would love to look out of my kitchen window and see rows of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes. Or to sit on my front porch, sip a beer, and hear the Pacific. It’s important to feel at peace within that transitional space between inside and outside.
Residing along the ocean is different from living in other flat, open spaces, like the farms we considered. You live on the edge of the world, always staring off into elsewhere, at once empowered yet insignificant. Like me, Nick loves the sea. I first felt this when we hiked along the coast of Cornwall in southwest England, when we’d decided to spend a week together after just five encounters; and on a boat off the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, as he stood at the bow for hours, watching for whales. We both need to be close to water, so we’re lucky to be currently near the Pacific.
Over the past month, we narrowed our search to Sebastopol in Sonoma County, near Sonoma and Napa, the towns along the Russian River, and Bodega Bay and the coast. We visited a few lovely farms, full of animals, teeming with wildlife, and surrounded by protected wetlands. The more properties we saw, the easier it became to visualize what we were looking for: the type of flat, open space that Walker and others describe. But it wasn’t just a certain kind of landscape. Our tiny house, at 131 square feet, will simply be the innermost core of our world. And so we seek a connection to the plot itself: the immediate area surrounding us, the very dirt under our feet. I want to be able to open my front door and feel that the landscape before me is also home.
The first location we’ve decided to park is off a country road and up a small hill: it’s private yet open, while the dedicated plot for the house overlooks a valley and a neighbor’s pasture in the distance. My view out of the kitchen window, as I wash dishes, will not be so different from some idyllic settings I’ve envisioned. But it’s not perfect. No place is perfect.
And after this process, I realize that perfect is not what I seek. Thinking about Walker’s essay, our location mixes elements of both flat and mountainous landscapes, which I love. Yes, I’m an introvert, and I might prefer this or that. But the places we inhabit both reflect and shape us. It’s natural to seek these variations in the landscapes we call our own, which ultimately give us the space to grow.
You can read more about our tiny house in the Tiny Thoughts category.