Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Land Excursion #1, or Swampland and Mad Dogs, and Bears, Oh MY

General stress has really gotten to my husband and me lately. We needed a re-connect. The normal ups and downs of daily life have been seeming more and more like big potatoes.

Seeing that this might be our ONLY day to be together in a while, I cancelled an appmt and J and I grabbed a rare opportunity to gas up the truck and escape for a day of driving to check out several rural areas within a day's drive of here. We were able to work our way a two hour's drive southeast of here up in a fan-shaped arc ending two hours northeast, and then back down.

I've got to say Florida is not Tennessee. It's not Kentucky or Missouri or the Ozarks or the Appalachians. Does this mean I'm a mountain girl at heart? Well, I'm not sure, but when there are NO hills, gullies, rolling terrain, or hardwood forests here...eeek! And when there's a preponderance of swamps, double eeek. But there is a different sort of beauty, and I'm now accustomed to palms being a part of the landscape rather than something you only see in a hothouse. I love the beaches, sand hill cranes, water birds, egrets, herons, raptors, bobcats, and the amazing sunsets. Though I do feel nostalgic for some cold in the winter, I don't miss ice storms and sleet and winter-long bronchitis.

There's always a trade-off.

OK, so the trip...I had high property expectations. After all, Tennessee, my state of origin, is one of the most beautiful places on earth, so I'm spoiled! This part of Florida does not have the same charm potential. Especially after developers have stripped things bare and left gray pastureland whose best features are the tufts of weed sprouting from cow patties. It looked like a Dr. Seuss landscape, minus the charming characters, curving lines, and primary colors.

Some areas were just plain scary. Instead of the useful clutter of farm implements and equipment that usually distinguish working farms, there were entire areas where the rural homeplaces were...well...frightening. Pit bulls chained to rusted shells of cars on blocks, litter from trash cans (and some that had never seen trash cans) filling yards and ditches, old garbage in unlikely places, a smuttiness of not just neglect but of disintegration. Dirty diapers thrown in the bushes of the only drugstore down the road. Kind of like an End of the Line sort of place.

We stopped at one such place, sporting its For Sale sign, to pull an info sheet out of a realtor's Fact tube, and was met by two dogs. We just wanted to see the price to get some frame of reference for land prices in the area.

J had not pulled the truck quite close enough for me to simply reach and get the paper from the tube without exiting the car. He warned me about the dogs. They looked like Lab mixes, and I took the chance and got out to get the info. I was greeted by them, but they did not keep a respectful distance, and surrounded me, stiff-legged and butting me with their heads while barking like crazy. I pretended to ignore them and just talked to them in a calm voice. I just talked aloud to myself calmly "Oh, OK, here is the sheet I la la la lahhh...OK, now I'm going to get back into the truck...I'm walking...I'm walking..." and never looked at either dog in the eyes.

From the truck, J was calling to me and sounding more emphatic..."GET in the CAR, for crying out loud," he was urging. I continued my calm talking-to-self-and-him "hey fellas, yep, just calmly walking to my truck and honey would you please stop acting agitated or these dogs are going to take my leg la lahhh..."

I made it. After all, they were Lab mixes. They had also set off the Barking Patrol in the entire neighborhood. Every junkyard dog had chimed in and were straining their chains (most of them were staked in the front yards...yep...angers me to think about their lives). After safely back in our vehicle with the windows rolled UP, I took a good look at the two who'd been barking at me and bumping me with their noses. One of them looked alright, but the other sincerely (and I'm not exaggerating) had its eyes rolled back in its head. It was a Psycho Lab Mix.

I'll look more closely next time. I didn't even read the information sheet. I don't want to move anywhere I can't go to my own mailbox without risking rabies or a mauling.

There were two bright lights in the search today. Two areas we happened upon had slighty non-flat ground that looked like pasture dotted with big huge sprawling live oaks draped with hanging moss. The trees were stunning, and the place looked like a breath of fresh air. (It begged for white houses and cold pitchers of lemonade overgrown back gardens, and few fat hens foraging.) I think I even spied a few stray hardwood clumps in addition to the palmettos and pines. There was shade and pastureland and something that looked different than just miles of palmetto scrub, or worse, miles of overgrazed pastures that were barren due to having at some point been razed flat by some developer or farmer in years past.

One of these areas bordered a highway we traveled. I was admiring the beauty, which was a welcome break from the area we'd just left. And I couldn't believe what I saw as we passed by...a big sign with the symbol of a bear on it reading "SLOW FOR BEARS NEXT 6 MILES." What?? This was a flashback to the first time I was driving with my hub to the Ft. Myers airport and saw repeatedly for the nearest few miles to the airport similar signs bearing the silhouette of a black panther and reading "WARNING: PANTHER CROSSING." I'm totally serious. It was another reminder that I now live in Florida. :)

The panthers are real. We've seen one up close. But BEARS?? Yes, in fact there are some according to this website (

Moving northward from there, we hit upon the endless orange groves. I must admit the groves were beautiful, especially since they're currently in fruit and being harvested. Highland county was nearly nothing but orange groves and clusters of trailer parks.

We stopped in a couple of counties at the courthouses to check out the auction lists and such. More on this in another post. There really wasn't much of anything on those lists as far as acreages. We kept on going.

Northeast of here were some promising places, and it was a great way to wrap up the day. It had a different rural feel, and had meandering roads where you can get lost (I loved it!) but still get out without a swamp buggy ;-)

I especially liked the ones that had acreage 5 acres and up, and folks who obviously loved their places and liked their privacy. There were healthy goats and horses and cattle and geese and ducks and chickens...and No Trespassing Signs...and yes, more big dogs, though none looked quite as rabid as the former ones. And no dogs chained to anything, and no rusted out junkyards as backyard conversation pieces. You could hear the birds and no highways. There were some hardwoods and not as many cleared sites, which I particularly love. We like things pretty wild, if possible, and lots of privacy.

We only got a start, and went down donkey trails to our heart's content, and there is still plenty more left to explore another day. How exciting!

Can we buy yet? Probably not. We're thinking about doing a 1031 exchange if we find the ability to do that, since J has a property or two in more developed areas where we don't want to build ourselves. I'm not sure how all that works, but we do want to have an idea of where we want to end up for this next step. Not sure HOW we're going to take the steps, but doing the research by having a day of driving and dreaming sure did refuel our enthusiasm.

We needed it. We've been chugging along so much lately in our separate realms that we needed to remember who we are together, and ...have FUN. We just drove, talked, laughed some, stopped at restrooms (well, that's a reality if you're a woman, lol), nibbled on this and that, and drove down backroads looking for properties for sale. That's the best date we've had in a long time!

When we got back home, there were still the ordinary things waiting here, bills, scholarship application glitches, calls to be answered, appmts rescheduled, dishes washed...and we found out the 2nd vehicle has sprung an oil leak that will require quick fixing. Ah well, no problem! Though tired, we're still smiling from our time together today.

Emergency car repairs so that 3 drivers can still use 2 cars? A 5:30 drop-off at the school before J's work tomorrow and I spend the day wooing mechanics and reading Off Road magazines in the generic waiting rooms?

Small potatoes!


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