Monday, October 31, 2011

Dwelling With Purpose

In 2006 after a half a dozen years of wandering and exploring I decided it was time to make a change.  I had been moving every 8 months and felt as though I was burning up more than my fair share of fossil fuel.  My life at the time was relatively simple.  I lived nomadicaly carrying with me only what I could pack in my vehicle, I ran rivers, and I lived in the wilderness working with "at risk" teens from all over the country.  It was a good life and looking back it is always easy to become nostalgic.  Never the less, I can distinctly recall feeling as though something was missing.  While I had very clearly developed a sense of purpose, missing from my life was a sense of place.  I had successfully moved about all over the United States and developed many lasting relationships of importance.  However, the frequent moving left me void of a place that really felt like home....and so a new type of journey began.  The journey of staying put!

It is amazing to me the mysteriousness through which changes in life can occur.  Just days before moving to North Carolina I was in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State poised and ready with an airline ticket in hand to go to Nepal.  I would be working Himalayan rivers as a guide for a prominent outfitter.  It was a dream that was not to be fulfilled at that time, however.  Violent Maoist uprisings had scared off foreign visitors and my services as a river guide would not be needed that season.  Strangely I didn't pout over the news and chose instead to take immediate action.  I went inside of the Saranac Lake community library, got onto the Internet classifieds and found it.  The online add read, "Kayaker's Dream.  One bedroom apartment on the Watauga River."  I wrote down the phone number, went outside to call, spoke directly with the gentleman offering the space, and two weeks later I lived beside one of the most beautiful whitewater rivers in this country.

So why do I tell this story?  These moments serve as significant examples of the inexplicable ways that life shifts and creates opportunities beyond our own design.  Also, for me it marked the beginning of a greater effort to integrate various components of my life in a more sustainable manner.  I wanted to decrease my time spent using my car, develop a greater sense of place, serve as a contributing member of a community, remain living close to the earth, all the while developing greater economic stability.

So I moved to the river, which at the time was most intuitive to me, began serving my community as an EMT, and began looking for a home of my own.  With the help of family and friends, who's assistance proved invaluable, I was blessed to transition to home ownership.  In a effort to live within my means and follow a path of economic sustainability I purchased and lived in a renovated 1987 Toyota RV while I looked for a more permanent abode.

The concept behind the choice was that I could achieve ownership, save money by evading rent, and have property that I could quickly resell to recover investment.  Again, with much help along the way, this process proved successful, and in January of 2009 I purchased a property that would later be dubbed "Bryan's Farm".

"Bryan's Farm" served as a humble effort to occupy a space that incorporated ideas of  intentional living and sustainable design.  As a former environmental studies student I hold strongly the belief that the space we inhabit should be resemblant of our values and inspire us to remain connected as stewards of our environment.  This property proved to achieve this in that the scale of the dwelling was appropriate for a single occupant and proved sustainable in form and function.

The modest 750 sq foot home sitting on just 1/2 acre was within my economic means.  Its small size made it efficient to heat and power, and the 1920's original structure had served several prior functions before becoming my home.  Its original purpose was as part of an old railroad depot and was later used as the office for the county fish hatchery.  The unique history and architectural style of the building contributed to a distinct sense of place. This historical narrative further dictated a multi-use philosophy that evolved over time as needs transitioned from industry to agriculture to residential.  Simply put, the use of the structure over the years exemplifies the value that structures should be built to last and meet the changing needs of the users rather than cheaply established then torn down and thrown away as needs change.

Inside the house multiple examples of sustainability and efficiency are worth noting.  The original framing and support structures were all built with local materials of the time.  This means that walls and roofs were crafted with sturdy hardwood which undoubtedly contributed to maintaining structural integrity as the building was moved literally across the county.  Retrofitting and renovation of the structure furthered the re-use philosophy.  The wood floors were replaced and the material used to make beautiful custom cabinets.

New building material in the form of efficient fiber-cement siding was appropriately applied to create a tight building envelope reducing heating and cooling costs as seasons changed.  Heating was achieved though a combination of natural gas and renewable wood heat.

It didn't take much of either.  Finally, at a relatively low cost we replaced the aging electric water heater with an on demand propane water heater.  This easy to install device dramatically cut down energy use by only heating water as it was needed as opposed to maintaining a hot water reservoir as with the old system.

Most importantly, many memorable moments were created as people gathered to enjoy meals out of the garden, reading by the wood stove and exuberant nights out at the fire pit.  For me this is what living with purpose is all about; using resources wisely, living inspired and healthy lives, and developing a sense of community and support.  The challenge continues!

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