My wife and I are three summers into the ecstasy of building a
lovely house on a lovely lot in the Colorado Rockies, and Iím
embarrassed as all get out about it.
We set out eight years ago with a modest goal: to find the
prettiest building site and the best climate since Eve ate the apple.
After five vacations of looking, we found The Place: 2.36 acres
backing up the side of a mountain and fronting on a crystalline steam
complete with cavorting trout. Thereís a grassy meadow full of
wildflowers and hummingbirds; there are deer and douglas fir and
ponderosa pine and blue spruce up high, raccoon and alder and aspen and
mountain maple down on the streambank.
The house pokes its front out of a grove of evergreens just above
the base of the mountain. It faces mostly east, slightly south, and it
lets in the morning through the windows that make up three-fourths of
its front wall. Thereís one deck on the east for morning sun and coffee
and looking at the meadow, and another on the north for noontime shade
and lunch and watching the trout stream.
And I salivate thinking about it. I grow orgasmic. Itís the kind
of place Iíve fantasized about since I reached puberty.
But thatís not why Iím embarrassed. Iím embarrassed because owning
a place like that plays hell with the image I have of myself.
I like to see myself as Thoreau, going off to the woods to build a
cabin with borrowed tools and second-hand lumber and used nails. Thatís
pretty much the way we had to remodel our house in Lincoln 20 years ago,
and it was easy to make a virtue of the necessity.
But we hired an architect-contractor to do the place in Colorado. I
do flunky work, but I donít make decisions. I dig holes and carry
bundles of shingles and schlep sheets of drywall and help my wife stain
stacks of siding. Itís pleasantly tiring work, but not what Thoreau had
in mind when he talked about going it alone and building foundations
under our castles in the sky. I can feel his scowl all the way from
Massachusetts, all the way from 1845.
And like Thoreau, Iíve cultivated a proletarian image all my adult
life. Not just by taking his advice to avoid enterprises that require
new clothes, but by being pleased to see myself as one of the have-nots
and by enjoying being snotty and cynical about the haves.
In my tidy little vision, we have-nots are generous and exploited
and pacifistic and kind to lost kittens; haves, of course, are greedy
and exploitive and militaristic and full of self-congratulation and bad
The Truth, Mainly
And now I find myself with a vacation homesurely the mark of the
beastand I worry that Iím about to be exposed as a backslider from the
True Way. I still have my old principles, but I have a new house.
Itís the same dissonance George Bush must be feeling when he tells
usless than two years after he got elected by having us read his
no-tax lipsthat, golly, maybe we do need some new taxes after all.
Like him, I have met the enemy and he is me.
So if you want to see photographs of our place in Colorado, donít
ask for a public showing. Iíll meet you in a dark alley and let you see
pictures of our new house. Iíll be in the doorway next to the one where
George Bush will let you see plans for his new taxes.
If I donít skulk around like that, if I start being openly proud of
our Paradise Regained, I may kid myself into believing that I deserve
to own it, that somehow my virtuemy hard work, my financial
shrewdness, my moral fiber, God love usis responsible.
And the next thing you know Iíll be telling stories about welfare
cheaters instead of about Con Agra, and Iíll be wanting to drive a
Cadillac instead of my VW, and Iíll start reading Gentlemenís
Quarterly instead of Mother Jones. My cholesterol will go up. Danny
Quayle will mistake me for an old fraternity brother.
I might even kid myself into thinking that George Bushís new
tax scheme will save me money. And worse, if Iím no longer a have-not,
maybe it really will.
I canít stand it.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.