Wednesday, January 06, 2010

20 years since we bought the farm

This month marks twenty years since our family became the owners of our place here in Wisconsin. Our youngest wasn't even born then. We were joking with her just this morning how she is the only one in our family to have spent her whole life here. She wasn’t born here of course. She was born in 1991. We didn’t actually move here until 1998. But, we spent many long weekends here and she had been here lots of times even while in the womb. We joked with her that this place is in her blood. She is more a part of it than any of us. A true native so to speak.

I dreamed of a place like this for many years before we came here. I’ve been reliving a lot of our past while working with our neighbor Mike. He’s lived in this community since he was about 9. He’s been curious as to what brought us here and all that. His family owns the land directly across the highway from us. Mike’s been telling me a lot about the area when he was young, back in the early 70’s. For instance the woods that he and his family owns weren’t woods then. It was a potato field. That’s hard to believe. It is all woods now. Lots of aspen, maple and oak. Things can sure change in a few decades. But, from talking with Mike through out the days and with him asking questions and piecing together our history a lot is fresh in my mind from 20 years ago.

After we got this place we always said it must have been meant to be. We kept hearing about other people in the area who had wanted to buy it. And over the years I have bumped into many people who said they almost bought the place or wanted to. I’ve lost count of how many have told me and as time goes by I keep running into them. In fact our neighbor Mike can be included. He wanted it too.

If I would have known land prices were going to go so high I would have tried to buy more property. But, we got in it at just the right time. There is no way we could even touch this much land at today's prices. I remember well when we first started coming up here, seeing 40 acre “hunting” parcels being advertised at $5000. That was for a whole 40 acres. Probably swamp land with no building sites. But, it’s not too far under that per acre now, even for “worthless” swamp land. Of course even if we had gotten more land back then property taxes are so high now that I doubt we could even afford it at present time. There is a program that you can put your land in that many people around here join. They put it in what they call ‘forest crop’ and don’t have to pay property taxes. However there are a host of restrictions that you have to adhere to and if you ever want to do anything on your land like build a structure you have to pay the back taxes anyhow. To me it seems like a big land grab where the land owners forfeit their rights over there own property. The state tells you what you can and can’t do. And in some cases the public even gets to hunt on your land. Something I for one would not want anything to do with even if it exempts you from property taxes. Comes at too great a price. The state becomes sovereign over your land instead of you.

So if you are looking for land to farm or homestead considering what the taxes might be later on is something to look into. If it is vacant land now and later you build a house and out buildings what will the taxes be then? For vacant land it’s not usually that much but, putting up buildings can be a whole different story. We are even taxed on our trucks and trailers for our garbage business. Something we never even knew about until we put up a sign out front. A sign advertising what we do. The tax assessor saw the sign and sent us a nice tax bill for ‘personal property’ because of the business. I couldn’t believe it. As if we don’t already pay enough in the form of license plates and DNR fees and insurance we have to cough up even more for “personal property” tax. Not to mention all the taxes we already paid for the stuff at the time of purchase. When I look at the personal property tax form my blood boils. You’re suppose to list everything you own for your business. I mean everything. Everything from tools to machinery, to office equipment like computers, programs, printers fax machines hard drives, you name it. I’m opposed to the NAIS for reasons such as this, of being bogged down in a bureaucratic nightmare. Why do they need all that information? We operate as a sole proprietorship. Basically everything we use for doing business are our sole possessions. Most of the tools I use I already owned. In my opinion it’s no ones business what possessions we own, even if it is used to earn a living.

We moved a mobile home onto our place a number of years ago. It’s kind of a long story how we came by it but, it has never been set up, it just sits like it did the day we parked it here and we even get taxed on that. And it’s still on wheels. If I could pick up our place and move to a location where we didn’t have to be such tax slaves I would do it. Look into the tax laws very carefully before you move anywhere. I don’t really know if the tax burden we endure is more a local thing or a state wide thing. Wisconsin is a socialist leaning state so I suppose it is state wide in order to pay for all their programs.

There are good points and bad points to any place. Can’t imagine there is any perfect place to live. One thing about this place I like is we don’t have poisonous snakes. I like to tromp all over the place and having to think about snakes would be an big inconvenience to me. One time when I was in TN me and a cousin of mine were collecting some slate at the bottom of a dry creek bed. We were about to pick up a big piece together and he said, “careful, there might be a copper head under there”. Sure enough, we tipped it up carefully and right under it was a big ole rattle snake all curled up. I swear we reached the top of the bank before that big piece of slate even fell back over.

Before we found this place we spent years and drove thousands of miles looking for property. When we first laid eyes on this place we knew this was the place for us. And we looked at a ton of properties. Nothing ever jumped out at us like this place did. Plus it had to be within our budget. That was always something to factor in no matter what we considered. This place was the most bang for our buck by far.

Recently Kelli was asking me why I don’t like to go places anymore. I think it is because in the past I was always looking for somewhere else. Somewhere else other than where I grew up in Illinois with all it’s congestion and crime. I loved all the driving I did in my youth when I raced motorcycles. Most of the time the race tracks were located next to farms. You’d be flying over a jump and just on the other side of the fence there’d be cattle grazing in a field. But, going to and from the races, I’d be looking. Looking and dreaming for another place to live. A place where I could do all the things I liked and to be close to the land. I’ve always loved being in the country.

But really, I don’t mind going places, as long as it not to a city. I have to admit, I just can’t stand cities. Especially big cities. The closest big cities to us here in WI is the Minneapolis, St. Paul areas. We’ve been there on a couple occasions and all I can think of when we are there is, “when am I going to leave?” That’s what I think in any metropolitan place, especially in the Chicago land area where I grew up. There are some places I do want to go to, however. For one I want to go out to ND to attend Prairie Days. But, my sister in-law is still having health issues and a trip might not happen again this year. You might recall that from last year, I blogged about it. My sister in-laws name is Doreen and she has gone down hill since then. She is now being considered for a heart transplant. Actually right now she is in too bad of health for that. Next week she will be getting a heart pump installed. As of this writing her heart is barely functioning. They say it is pumping at 6 %. Which is down from 15 % when they first started testing her about 6 weeks ago.

But to continue. Other places I would like to go would be to visit some of my relatives in the south. I have relatives in Kentucky,Tennessee and other southern states. When we first moved here I had an aunt and uncle in Alabama but in the past few years they both passed away. The only thing that has kept me from traveling to the south has been finances and all the responsibilities we now have here. So, there are some places I’d like to go, but for the most part I’d rather just stay right here. Actually, for the first few years, it felt like a perpetual vacation. It seemed like we went on vacation and never went back.

Before we found this place we looked at all kinds of properties. In 1989 we decided we’d look in the Eagle River area where Kelli thought she remembered vacationing as a kid. We spent a couple weeks going out driving around looking for land. We looked at many places but, nothing seemed to jump out at us. One thing or another would dissuade us. The layout of the land or it’s location or something. One place we saw which seemed like a good prospect both in location and price we rejected because when we drove down the dirt road to get there we passed up signs full of bullet holes and an old burned out car. And the area around the car seemed like a hang out for young people with lots of litter and beer cans laying around. Not a place a person would want to bring their wife and young children. The land seemed nice but, the “neighbors” didn’t seem so great. There are many considerations to make when looking for a new place. Especially when you plan on staying there awhile.

Much has changed for us in the past 20 years. Time has a way of doing that for everybody. Even a decade is a big chunk of a persons life. I mentioned this fact to a local lady recently and she said “yeah, you only get 7 or 8 of them, maybe”. The old folks in our lives are all gone now and now our parents generation are the “old folks”. A changing of the guard took place over the past 20 years. And even their generation are starting to pass away. In the past few years we lost both an aunt and an uncle, my dads sister and her husband. It always reminds me how temporary this life here is anyway. We are like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next. We are just passing through this place we call home. Our real home is someplace else. It’s funny how a person can know this in their mind yet at the same time live in denial of this fact. Sometime it seems like this life we live now will last forever. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are in constant motion. Imagine being on a sail boat in the middle of the ocean which is being manned by an experienced sailor and crew. To the passengers it might seem like they are going no where with nothing but water to look at. But, they are moving along constantly, always moving toward their destination. The sailor is well aware of it. He can read the instruments, he can read the stars. To me life often feels something like that. It sometimes feels like we are going no where. Like this is going to last forever. But, then I look at my kids all grown up. I look in the mirror and see more gray hair. I see less hair where I used to have it and more where I never had it. Those lines on my face a little deeper a little wider. I’m jolted back awake. Life is not static. It’s moving right along. Faster than I can fathom actually. Soon, very soon we all will stand face to face with our destiny. And then it will all take on new meaning. What we were created for will come to light. But, sometimes it takes 20 years to really get a hold of how quickly things really change.

Until Next Time


Blogger chili369 said...

Love reading the blog. Great job! We have been looking to buy acres here in KY for cash. We have been all over the state and just haven't found the one that jumps out at us. Most of the time they want to much money for property on a hillside. We found a beatifull cabin on 20 Acres, but they wanted the moon, we will let it sit and see if the price comes down. Something will come up.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for the last 3 or more years and think it is pretty sweet! Lot's of helpful advice. My wife and I are trying to make the transition to homestead life. It truly takes time and patience. Good Luck, Chris

2:44 PM  
Anonymous homestead for happiness said...

Congratulation on the big 20 year mark. It's nice to see people make it in this world. You give me confidence that I too can reach out and achieve my dreams. Great blog.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Lynn Bartlett said...

Hi Russ,
So much of what you wrote about was what we experienced. Took us 3 years to find the property we purchased. It wasn't until a couple years into living here we discovered the former owner had been paid by someone in government to give up any right to alter any water on the property; can't drain any sloughs as they now have to remain wetlands for wildlife. That was a bit frustating to hear that we have no control over our own land in that area. I hope you do make it to Prairie Days, they are making it bigger and better every year. We'll be praying for your sister-in-law, I'm glad you updated us on her health.

11:03 PM  

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