Last week, we closed on an antique Victorian house in Farmington, Maine.
We’ll arrive there at the end of July, bringing with us those few items we had stored in Colorado Springs while we’ve been traveling the country.
And then we’ll make our lifetime Haven in our new hometown in central Maine.
The Place We Will Be From
We’ve never seen the house in person, but we were within blocks of it two years ago, on our Second Summer scouting trip, when we visited the Mayberry-like town of Farmington. At the time we wrote how we had a crush on it.
That crush never faded. For its unpretentious charm and confluence of cultural factors, Farmington has remained one of our paragon destinations. Other candidate locales – Strafford, VT; Camden, ME; high-country Colorado; Ashland, OR; more – have always had to measure up at least to Farmington to stay in contention for Haven. Our list of possible destinations grew, but Farmington never fell off it.
But this central Maine town was thousands of miles behind us when our travels led west.
Vacations Are Exhausting
For a year we’ve lived in our rolling tiny house, trundling across mountains and deserts, beaches and rainforests. On vacation, yes, but with an eye towards settling down without settling for any place less than where we’d choose to live the remainder of our lives.
And we discovered something about being on vacation.
It’s exhausting being a tourist. Even when you plan “off” days, it takes a lot of work to do justice to what each new place offers. Every location has its can’t-miss attractions and must-see vantages, especially if your mindset is (and has to be, for a country this big) that this is probably the last time you’ll visit. Which means that most days involve putting feet on the ground to see what’s nearby and iconic, or planning to, or organizing photos of it, or writing about it, or uprooting your entire house to move to the next one-of-a-kind place and setting up to do it all again.
It wears a body out.
It wears two bodies out.
It makes them have the simultaneous realization that we’ve all had at some point. That moment in an extended vacation when, even though you’re having a great time, you just want to go home.
And then this happened.
We Weren’t Shopping, We Swear
Early on our trip, we learned we shouldn’t browse real estate. The practice consumed our imaginations and instilled an inevitable sense of FOMO. We discovered we became so preoccupied with our possible futures that we were distracted from being present on this amazing journey.
We acknowledged our problem, swearing off the Zillow habit and diving headlong into the goal of being full-time tourists.
Over a year ago, before we embarked on this zany expedition across the country, we thought we’d found Haven. It was in the rural hamlet of Strafford in the steep, wooded hills of Vermont. It was not too far from Dartmouth College, so we could experience civilization if we wanted – or so we told ourselves. Alas, it was not meant to be, according to the engineer who inspected the property for us.
Kate, the listing agent and would-be new neighbor, shared our disappointment. We left the matter with a cordial “keep us in mind if a new property becomes available,” expecting nothing to come of it. Given the competitive real estate market – especially in New England, where droves spilled out of Boston and New York City during the pandemic – we figured all that was well behind us.
Until a message arrived.
Kate hadn’t forgotten us, and she knew about a nearby piece of raw land that was about to be listed. With the benefit of that advance notice, we were able to put in an offer the day it hit the market. We were under contract the next day.
For reasons that arose a week into our due diligence of that property, we walked away from the deal … but not before we had again become distracted by our imagined future lives at Haven. We gave ourselves the day to wallow in our disappointment as we mourned the idealized rural lives we had constructed in our minds.
As consolation, we permitted ourselves to temporarily suspend our prohibition. We opened Zillow. Just for the day. Just this once. We only wanted to prove to ourselves that all the good stuff wasn’t already taken. To our relief, we saw there were still homes in areas we liked and within our budget.
Yet secretly, and for reasons even she cannot explain, Rachel took the foolhardy step of setting a notification alert for new listings as they became available in our old crush of Farmington, Maine.
It was a whim.
She expected nothing to come of it.
Early the very next morning, this grand old heap of hardwood and history landed in her inbox. Her first words of the day were, “We’re in trouble.”
Love Is Blind
To romantics, the seductive power of an old house is irresistible. Just as with any blossoming starry-eyed relationships, glaring flaws are recast as quirky assets.
Those creaking floors? Why, just look at the rich, patinaed glow of the wood.
That dubious plumbing? Imagine the vintage fixtures you can install to honor the home’s storied history.
What about all those drafty double-hung windows? Gasp! Without them the entire historic sense of the home would be lost.
Geez, does square inch in the house needs to be renovated or updated? Oh yes. Yes it does.
With so much potential shining through, it’s all too easy to gloss over and rationalize the very real challenges we’ve signed up for.
Nonetheless, we do think it will be worthwhile in the end.
In addition to being unique for its multi-acre site in town, the home’s many preserved architectural elements, its charming greenhouse and gardens along with the enchanting back woods make it a one-of-a-kind treasure. Yes, it needs some burnishing, but what a deeply rewarding project that will be.
A Collection of Greatest Hits
Our three acres abuts Farmington’s “Historic Village,” an inviting collection of storied homes and locally owned shops, complete with quaint, hand-painted signs whose character and history earned them collective designation in the National Registry of Historic Places.
For city-mouse Glenn, this walkable neighborhood reads like a personal selection of favorite places: wing joint, game store, taphouse, public library, martial arts dojos, movie theatre (with a drive-in), ice cream shoppe, local grocery, barber with a real barber pole, candy store, coffee shop, pizza parlor. And next to all of those, the red-bricked buildings of the University of Maine, with everything a thriving campus promises.
Rachel’s list of greatest hits establishments adds to the list: used book store, farmer’s market, fabric shop, vegan-friendly restaurant, local artisan gift shop, natural foods store, yoga ashram, antique and curiosity stores, plant nursery, and the bursting-at-the-seams hardware store as old as the town itself.
If you can feel homesick for a place where you’ve never lived, we do.
Across from our front door, the Bonney Woods harbors serene walking paths. A few steps up our street, miles of curated and wooded trails beckon. As much as the village lies a five-minute walk south and downhill, five-minutes north and uphill behind us the forest stretches for miles. Our house is the transition between the two, and we hope to enjoy both in equal measure.
Getting from Here to There
The process starts with getting there from here, where there is the northeast corner of the continental U.S., and here is its farthest northwest complement, over 3,000 miles away, an eighth of the way around the planet.
We had plans that took us from here in Olympic National Park, southeast all the way across America to Key West, where we had a shoreline week of sun and sand reserved for next February.
We’ve cancelled that, along with reservations in Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Albuquerque Balloon Fest, Everglades, and dozens more. We’ve deferred our plans for the Grand Canyon and Big Bend, for seeing relatives and friends in Texas and Florida, for camping in the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time and for exploring the Gulf Coast’s national seashore.
In its stead, after our stay in Mount Rainier National Park and a Seattle visit, we’re beelining to Colorado in less than two weeks, where we’ll stay until the middle of July, catching up and packing up. We’ll even be prepping beloved Libbie for sale, since our future vacation ideas don’t call for so many amenities and the overhead that comes with keeping them up. And then, giant rental truck packed, we’ll caravan our way northeast for a week-long drive to our new forever home.
Our Front Door
While we know we are only deferring these experiences, these cancelled plans make us sad for lost chances.
Yet, this unique place in Farmington posed a now-or-never decision. The biggest lost chance would be to miss Haven when it shows up on our front door.
Or when we show up on its front door.
We still have a lot of ground to cover, so we will continue to share our experiences on the road. After that, for those who want to track our adventures in remodeling, stay tuned!
To be clear, our road travels aren’t finished for good, but our full-time adventure on Haven’s Path is winding to a close. We’ve learned a lot about the world and ourselves over the past year that will inform our future travels. In an upcoming post we explore whatever nuggets of wisdom we’ve gleaned along the way.