Date: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:01 PM
It was mid January in the depth of our winter months when we first heard of the organic-homestead struggle, with all its evidence of gross violations of fiduciary responsibility by a local bank in handling the trusts established to protect the elderly daughter of the homestead´s owner-builder. Since one of the fallacious claims on the bank´s appraisal was that the home´s view was "typical", we set out to document what ambiance was in the soul of the home´s natural landscaping.
It seemed likely the sterile mindset of corporate collaboration was attempting to conceal, if not directly attack, the awesome, rough natural beauty and its healing liberation. But would its vitality and vibrance be detectable in the somnolence of winter? What would it have shown in the lively seasons when the appraisal was claiming it added nothing special of value to the home and its occupants´ wellbeing, damning it with faint approbation... typical, don´t look there. So we did.
The moment we turned off the road with its nearly suburban version of what was rural only yesterday, we could immediately sense the world changing, another opening, one of privacy, peace and adventure.
Whoever designed this private drive, with its arching woods and rippled, passage-slowing surface, was seriously determined that vehicles would walk its hills and curves in spite of the beckoning welcome. Though the passage the designer wanted to slow was eroding water, the benefits to privacy and pedestrian safety could not go unnoticed. At a couple curves of that single lane, were only a driveway marker or two, til we reached the homestead´s guest parking area at the drive´s summit.
The home was sheltered by naturalized vegetation, especially on the front side which faced east -- a huge magnolia and evergreens, in the midst of a myriad wintry flaxen shapes competing for attention. There was some repair work in progress, evidenced by a ladder to access the roof. It was a uniquely flat roofed, rambling ranch, with wings at both ends. Done in concrete block, it had been painted winter-sky grey. The roof actually slopes, industrial fashion, to a central drain (instead of the usual misbegotten gutters) for rainwater collection in a basement cistern. The owner-builder had designed his plumbing so that they could use either the cistern or the well depending on a switching mechanism. The design concepts were impressive for a home of the 40s and 50s.
The guest parking area was flanked by the garage on one side and a former agricultural shed on the other. To the right of the short walk to the house was a lovely slender sundial, its sculptural simplicity contrasting pleasingly with nature´s unruly kaleidoscope of soft color and fine texture.
Mary-Jane, the younger daughter, was at the door to greet us, bundled warmly for our task of recording their "typical view". After a brief visit with Ann, her sister, who was quietly reading in their livingroom with its library, armchairs and breath-taking window-wall, we abandoned the idea of taking pictures through these panoramic windows though the impression was simultaneously fascinating and soothing. We opted instead for pure scenery even though those windows and their adjacent south-facing diningroom windows with their substantial roof overhang were a prescient example of passive solar design. The owner-builders, Mary-Jane and Ann´s parents, had implemented these features, including a radiant floor, 20years before the energy crises of the 70s. They had been part of the back-to-the-land movement after the war, with bees, vineyard and gardens, with connections to the local Grailville community.
Inside, the light was warm and peaceful, the air quality was dry, not in any way damp. There was however some ceiling paint that needed scraping and a new coat, which apparently freaked out the stuffed shirts from the bank who also fixated their scalped-earth glare on grass that "hadn´t been cut in a long time" -- shudder -- meanwhile ignoring the substantive strength and performance potential of the home and its landscaping, its community history and its role in township plans for greenspace enhancement (The township expects to route their innovative bike-hike trail right near the perimeter of the homestead).
Outside big, healthy deciduous trees sheltered the southwest and northwest wings in summer and permitted the welcome sunlight in winter. Below is the view from the west side, approximately at the level of the library windows, though the camera and limits of browser screens doesn´t do justice to the sense of openness of being there. Feel free to click/expand this picture to get closer to the grand scale.
The foreground is lush with winter-warming, summer-cooling vegetation. In the background in the distance to the left are the hills of KY, the peak lights of the Mt Washington water tower and to the right of center, the top of the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati, though those beacons are for binoculars enthusiasts. No infringements on our sense of wilderness and seclusion by day.
The landscape beckoned westward and we followed, past the woodsy area and into the open grassland
with its path inviting exploration down the slope to see what the rest of the three acres might hold.
Mary-Jane not only knew each of the trees but has developed an epicurean passion for sampling wildfoods, from mayapples to cattails. I envied her stories of singing frogs which brought back memories of the choruses of American toads in our once-upon-a-time backyard habitat we had nicknamed LittleYosemite. Even the sight of deer routinely exploring their land on their way to the creek below sounded idyllic, like having an escape-home in the BlueRidge Mountains of VA. Unfortunately I still had another appointment, as did Mary-Jane, so we wrapped up for the day.
But the sense of wellbeing in that site remains clouded by the
rest of the evidence I´ve been gathering that those bankers were, at best, landscape-bigots ignorant of merit and fundamentally incompetent as trustees, or at worst, conspiring to benefit themselves at the extreme expense of the intended beneficiaries of the trust given into their care. There are other actions by this bank (Want to know the name of the bank? National Bank & Trust Co. of Wilmington OH.. don´t let anyone you care about rely on them) that suggest the latter, from the
incredible history of their sale of this property as well as cashing in fully paid up insurance policies to pay their fees to bullying, insults, disregard for beneficiary´s rightful choices. Let´s pry their hands off this trust. Yes, let´s.