A World Away

By Sally Gosen Case

I have friends with second homes, empty-nested couples with children long since grown and gone. I know my share of snowbirds, fleeing coastal winter storms to relax in the desert, and then turning tail on the summer heat to cool off on the beach.

Not for me, a single gal with a kid in college and a nine-to-five, scribbling away my evenings. I’ve been lucky to keep one roof over my head, let alone two. For me, an occasional weekend camping trip has always had to suffice.

But camping in, say, January is a dismal pursuit: a few hours of watery daylight bookended by the yawning blackness of a winter night. I persevered, wrapped in two sleeping bags beside a small mountain of books, but it seemed that there ought to be a better way to escape.

I began to eye the crumbling old shed hunched in a corner of my property. The roof had gone shortly before my husband’s protracted illness; now the inside was a moldy mess. Spiders festooned the soggy beams with their webs. Large, unmentionable, many-legged bugs skittered across the stained concrete floor whenever I dragged open the sagging door. Perhaps this could be torn down, I thought. Just hauling it away in a giant dumpster would increase the value of my property. It would improve the view. Maybe those bugs would flee to the neighbors’ sheds. Perhaps something could be rebuilt on that stained concrete slab. But the budget…oh, the budget would be thin. And the builder…I didn’t know any builders, but the ones my friends knew never seemed to finish anything. Even in my most optimistic moments, I could not envision my son and myself raising the walls of a new building, and never could we build something as wide and sturdy as that old shed, however moldy it may be.

It had been constructed by a previous owner, a jewelry artist, to house his stonecutting machines. The bare wooden walls were casually draped with thick electrical wires that radiated out from a terrifying black box. Dozens of nails rusted in the beams, pounded in halfway for some unfathomable purpose. But people do clever things. I see them smiling out from magazine pages and websites. Perhaps I could do a clever thing, too?

There are a few folks who have bravely stood beside me in my stupid adventures. My brother is one of those people. I called him. He arrived with a serious collection of power tools and a long list of bad news. When all was said and done, though, the old shed had a new roof and sturdily repaired, termite-free walls. The sagging old door was gone, replaced with a sliding glass one left over from a friend’s project. There was no sign of bugs. There was hope.

We had to power-wash not only the outside, but the interior, as well. My son and I scraped and sanded, pulling out piles of nails. We filled the walls with mismatched insulation remnants; after all, who would know?

We put up ceiling panels marked with dents from being blown off the top of my vehicle onto the highway at rush hour. A new electrical box inspired me with enough confidence to install real wiring (it’s amazing what you can learn on the internet). Wall panels came from the scratch-and-dent bin at our local hardware store. Paint and paint and more paint, thrift-store curtains and a Craigslist futon sofa. Deck paint and a rug on the stained floor. A modest outdoor kitchen in the porch area. Eventually we had our garden house, a home away from home.

It has no Wi-Fi, because we never take our computers out there. There is no cell service, because we leave our phones in the house. There are table games, puzzles and a fire pit. There are trees and birds, the sound of the ocean, and a view of our gardens. We spend lazy summer afternoons under the kitchen porch’s party lights, cooking on our shiny black Craigslist barbecue. Long, cold winter evenings are spent in the embrace of our cozy little cabin, laying out card games and dominoes. We wake to patterns of morning light filtering through the trees and savor a simple breakfast with the birds.

When I was growing up, my father told me that lifestyle has nothing to do with income. There are people who live large on very little, and people who are poor despite their money. Sitting in my “second home,” I concur. Whenever work gets stressful and life is smothering, I can grab my ever-present books and spiral notebooks, pad out through the wet grass, and go on a vacation in the woods. I fall asleep to the murmur of the ocean and wake to the robin’s song. It may be just my back yard, but it’s a world away.

About this writer

  • Sally Gosen Case

    Sally Gosen Case

    Sally Gosen Case lives and writes on the beautiful Oregon coast. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Horticulture, Rocky Mountain Rider, and Time of Singing. Sally and her son coauthor a popular Oregon travel blog, casingoregon.com.

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One Response to “A World Away”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Sally, your get away may not be far away, but it sounds so appealing. I enjoyed your essay.

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