We live in a fast world full of real estate booms and crashes, flipping houses and quick profits. My hometown of Phoenix, AZ was a place where the housing market crash was deeply present and painful. I left Phoenix when this was at its worst and partly because of it. The people around me were living in minor mansions without a dime to spend. They were panicked and broke with payments to make. This fear and poverty rippled through and made its way into every industry I could have found work in. It was a struggle to get paid and there were no other jobs to be found. So I left and vowed never to put myself into the deep debt that these people had found themselves in.
As my travels slowed down, I found myself on Salt Spring Island, BC where I met Nick. He had worked hard and saved his money to devote his time to learning Natural Building. He believed that there were better ways to build in the North and he wanted the sanity and stability of knowing how to build his own home. When we moved up to Alaska to learn how to live simply with the bounty around us, we knew that our first home would come slowly since we had no interest in buying a house that was already built.
For those of you who have spoken with us over the last year, you know that Nick and I are on a serious hunt for land in this great state of Alaska. We’ve looked at small and large plots alike and all seem to have their own benefits and challenges. As I look at all these different spaces, I thought I’d share some of the most important things that we have been considering for those of you who may be searching as well.
‘Leave No Trace’ isn’t exclusive to the trails. We are very wary of placing our home amongst pristine, virgin land. We would much rather rehabilitate a piece of land that has already had some human impact. Even if there is already a house or other structures on the land, we would prefer this to sprawling into untouched space and having to cut down a lot of trees.
Where is the sun? If you plan on having a epic garden to grow your family’s food, this is number one. Also, if you live in a cold place in the winter, this is critical for mental sanity. Are you going to have to clear a lot of land to see the sun? Are you going to go broke baking pies for the neighbors so they’ll cut down all their trees? Make sure you have great access to the sun. This usually means you have a good southern exposure.
Bring a shovel along. We’ve gotten some funny looks but we like to do a little dig to see what’s down there. If we hit a bunch of bedrock right away, we know we’re in for a challenge. Yes, you can sheet mulch and build your own soil but the better the dirt is to start, the faster you’ll be growing your own food. Also, is it all silt and clay? That’s going to be a toughy.
Steep slopes are slippery. Not just for trying to set a foundation but also for trying to haul up your supplies and cut garden beds. Tiered gardens are beautiful but a lot of work. The steeper the slope, the harder the work. Don’t forget developing flat land for potential greenhouses, hoop houses, sheds, livestock, etc. A gentle slope is great, however, for drainage and can be wonderful for sun exposure if it is sloping the right direction.
Diversity in the landscape makes a home your own. Don’t discount the plot with the funky rock outcroppings or the muskeg down the way. Permaculture teaches us to use all the elements of land and the more diversity, the more opportunity. Consider the earthworks you can do to cater the land to your needs such as putting in swales to capture water or digging a pond. Flat open land is terribly boring, don’t discount the quirks of land with personality.
The above photo is from our friend’s, the Zeigers, homestead in Haines, AK. Learn more about their beautiful life on the bay at http://www.akzeigers.com.