Meeting Donovan—and Planning Our Return to The Farm 


We are going to build a Tiny House.

This became much more real to me the day we visited The Farm and scouted out a potential location for building. Off to the side of the pothole-ridden dirt road and past the dusty horse yard, there it was—a field of tall grass surrounded by thickets of privet and honeysuckle, lending the spot that secluded feeling we covet, especially amidst the densely grouped housing in this semi-intentional community.  As I listened to the highway traffic that seemed louder than I remembered from my time there years ago, I reflected on what we were leaving: a comfortable rental surrounded by lush gardens I’d filled to bursting, a pervading silence that allows for long, uninterrupted nights of slumber; a sense of stability based on our relationship with the landlords; and a spaciousness and quality of life neither of us had previously known in a house of our own.

Donovan and I met on The Farm, so it’s no wonder that he and I bond over small spaces and building community. The mother of one of the current landowners had the idea to develop this wild haven to build low-rent homes for students attending the nearby university. It’s still very wild for a “development,” especially when compared with the sparse suburban neighborhood on the other side of the tall fence surrounding part of the property. The small units that scatter the land, several of which have shared compost toilets and showers, are in varying states of repair. Many are surrounded by gardens that go through cycles of abandonment and rejuvenation, depending on the current tenants and what is happening in their lives. The fields have been used as cow pastures, organic farmland, chicken forage, and orchards. Families and singles of all ages occupy the homes, and, unlike many neighborhoods today, most people know the people that live around them. Parents feel safe to let their (often naked, or nearly so) children play with their friends mostly unattended. Dogs, cats, and chickens have free rein of the place. The luxuriant growth of trees, shrubs, vines, and solid stands of bamboo harbor many birds, snakes of mythical proportions, and other welcome wildlife.

Donovan–the quirky, quiet, handsome maintenance man who was trailed by dogs, cats, and children (who referred to him as “unkie,” though only one of them was his nephew) while he went about his work on the farm–lived two houses away from me. When a mutual acquaintance of ours first mentioned his name before I ever moved to The Farm, a little shiver ran through me (a sign!). After I accepted his invitation to join him in checking his beehives and discovered our many mutual interests, I thought to myself (though I had a different boyfriend at the time): this is the kind of man I want to be with! Months later, the day after my then-ex-boyfriend retrieved the last of his things from my house, Donovan asked me to join him to hear (chimpanzee expert and peace and environmental activist) Jane Goodall speak at the nearby university. I pretended not to care that he drove erratically on the way. He pretended to enjoy my home-fermented blackberry wine when we returned home. Our relationship moved rapidly forward in spite of our withholdings.

A year after living on The Farm in separate (tiny) houses, we took a trip to his home state of Michigan, living for three weeks in a van with a popup trailer attached. Afterward we deemed ourselves fit to cohabitate. We took over our friends’ lease of a lovely little house outside of town, moved the beehives, planted garlic in the garden, and started a new life together. On our first night in our new home, two thoughts occurred to me: it’s a long walk to the bathroom! And then, what have I done? I’m going to have to clean this entire big house myself! Having seen the lackadaisical manner of Donovan’s housekeeping, I knew this to be true. But that’s another post. The 1,200 square foot home (a mansion compared with the 400 or so feet of each of our previous cabins) has been our haven and retreat for three years. And now we plan to move back to tighter quarters to lower our expenses and move toward our dreams, which starts with building our tiny house on wheels.

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