by Laura Crum
My apologies to those who regularly read this blog--I've been overwhelmed lately and have no time for the computer. I hope to get back to posting soon. And for today, here is the next installment in the story of my own little horse property.
So much went into choosing this land. To begin with, I had hoped to build my home on a much loved family property in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But I have a strong sense of place, and also a hard-headed practical streak, and the cabin in the mountains failed these tests. Somehow those mountains did not feel like home, and I wanted a place that felt like home to me. I also wanted to live somewhere that seemed isolated, but was a convenient drive from town. Not to mention that I had learned my lesson about what could happen with family-owned properties when the family ranch was sold off—against all my wishes.
So I began to search for a property that met my needs. I began this search in a very pragmatic way. There were only a couple of areas in the county where I really felt at home. The villages of Soquel and Aptos, and the country around them, were somehow “right.” The slant of the light, the feel of the air, the gentle, comfortable look of the land…this was where I wanted to live.
When I thought about it, it made sense. The Ranch had been halfway between Soquel and Capitola, and Capitola was completely developed by this time-- no place for horses there. And Aptos, well, I had lived by Aptos Creek until I was three years old. It was my parents first home as a married couple. Both Aptos and Soquel were side by side in the hills a little south of Santa Cruz, and north of Watsonville. Aptos Creek and Soquel Creek both drained right into Monterey Bay. And I knew it was in one of these two drainages that I wanted to live.
It was and is odd, but I dislike the cold lonely light of Santa Cruz proper, particularly the harsh ocean glare light of the west side. I found the San Lorenzo River Valley stifling and claustrophobic. I didn’t care for the industrial/agricultural atmosphere that predominated in the south county, and I thought the mountain areas were too inconveniently remote, as well as inclined to not-useful steepness and unfriendly-to horse-trailer twisty roads. Those gentle smiling creeks in their pleasant hills rolling down to the protected shelter of the bay—Soquel and Aptos-- that still carried their Native American names—my home would be there.
I refined my thinking further by considering, of all things, freeway exits. Yes, you have that right. Freeway exits. Highway 1 is the main route through Santa Cruz County and each exit/onramp has its own dynamic. Some are very crowded and congested, others more rural. Eventually I settled on the Freedom Blvd exit, what used to be called Rob Roy junction. In the old days, it was where Freedom Blvd connected to Soquel Drive (pre-Highway1). Few people still remember that old name, but it seemed auspicious to me. It is a fairly rural, wide open place to get on the freeway. Very horse trailer friendly—something that was on my mind. And so I began my search for a small horse property in the vicinity of Rob Roy junction.
I rather rapidly realized I would not be buying a “horse property.” I would not even, it seemed, be buying a house. Because I could not afford a house, let alone a horse property. I was going to be very lucky if I could find a piece of land that could possibly become a horse property. Real estate in Santa Cruz County is very expensive. But I persisted in my search.
I quickly grew exasperated with real estate agents. They seemed not to hear what I said, and kept showing me properties that cost more than I had told them I could spend, and were nothing like what I had described. After awhile I just drove around, looking. One day I decided to think about exactly where I would like to live if I could pick. And as I drove through that area, I spotted a real estate for sale sign—lying flat on the ground.
The sign was at the turnoff for an unnamed road. I followed the road up the hill, between a couple of rather standard looking suburban houses, and came to another for sale sign at the very end of the road, leaning crookedly into a shaggy bush. Next to this was a gate, closing off a dirt road that led further up the hill. The gate was not locked. Nor was it attached to a fence. Nor was there a “No Trespassing” sign. The gate appeared to simply block vehicular traffic up that dirt road/driveway. It seemed to me that the “For Sale” sign was referencing the property beyond the gate.
I walked around the gate and up the sketchy dirt road. The ground was sandy, and the road/drive, such as it was, wound up the gently sloping hill, through a grove of young live oaks. I could see by the light that there was open space ahead and above me. So far I could see no house. I kept walking.
The road rounded a bend and abruptly died. I was facing a little hollow in the hills, like a cupped hand. This hollow was maybe an acre or so in diameter and floored in gently waving grass. In my memory it is May, and the grass has that silvery sheen that it gets when the seed heads are ripe. In another moment I became aware that in the center of the bowl was a small group of deer bedded down in the grass—including a very majestic buck with a large rack. The deer lifted their heads at the sight of me; a couple of them stood up.
I froze. Everybody held still. Slowly I turned my head, surveying the bowl-shaped hollow, surrounded by brushy hills on three sides. There was no house in sight. Merely this little deer park hidden in the hills. The deer watched me cautiously.
The place had an intensely private feeling. Despite the fact that I knew the suburban houses were not very far away, I could not see them—screened from my view as they were by the oak trees on the lower slope. The brushy hills that surrounded the hollow blocked out whatever houses were beyond them. From where I stood there were no people or houses to be seen. The place felt remote and wild—though I realized that this was an illusion, created by the unique topography of the land.
After a minute more I turned and began to walk back down the hill. The herd of deer remained where they were. When I reached the gate I wrote down the phone number of the real estate office listed on the crooked sign. I was pretty sure I had found the right place.