Dunga Brook Diary: Sight To Be Seen

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December 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 

From LAX to ALB

By Vicki Whicker 

I bought an 1820’s farmhouse and one acre for $10,000.

In the middle of nowhere.

Sight unseen.

Ok, not $10,000.

$10,000 plus closing costs plus all back taxes.

How many years of back taxes? And how much was even one year of back taxes in central New York?

I didn’t ask. When I want something, fine details are not necessary. You will encounter this attitude of mine, many times.

The FINAL total for an ancient house on an acre in “The Middle of Nowhere”?



At the time, I was living in Pacific Palisades in a 2 +1 stucco hut built in the 1940’s. And, I was paying $27,600 per year (an unheard of bargain at that time, and, I hear, a miracle these days). To even imagine buying it was impossible for my brain.

My designer’s salary (hefty as it was in retrospect) was in no way amenable to even purchase the land below it, worth close to a million dollars alone.

I just could not “The Secret” my way into the millions that I would have needed—my brain was not cut out for those gymnastics.

But, pay $13,000 for a house and an acre in the middle of “God Knows Where”? Now, that I could do.

So, I did.

We closed on April Fools Day, 2011. An interesting choice of days, no?

Next, I booked a flight from Los Angeles to Albany (with a layover in a flyover) on Mother’s Day weekend, 2011. The plan was to stay with my brand new neighbor and somewhat friend, Jim, in his 1890’s farmhouse next door to my 1820’s farmhouse.

My house was unlivable, having been torn to pieces by the squatters that had lived there for years (until the April 1 deadline that the seller had given them to decamp…or die in the house by fire…) and by the cruel weather of central New York.



Jim said it could still snow, so I packed my heaviest coat (a thigh-grazing, heavy, leather bomber jacket that I bought in Switzerland as a fashion statement, that was, in all seasons, inappropriate for LA), a pair of fingerless gloves (who has fingered gloves in LA?), a matching knit cap, my cowboy boots (bought at a Boot Barn in homage to the Americana music that I so love), two pairs of “jeggings”, some over-the-knee socks, a semi-wintery scarf, one flannel shirt, and a thin mock-turtleneck.

From LAX to ALB, I took iPhone photos of the left plane wing and the scenery beneath it—from desert to canyons to mountains to gold patch-work farmlands to green patchwork and, finally, to hills covered by forests and outlined by rivers.

We landed just as a spectacular east coast sunset lit the sky. By the time we arrived at the gate, night fell like a dark-out curtain. Boom. Just like that.

The car rental guy at ALB (a lovely, tiny airport, manageable in the way that LAX is not) offered to add GPS, for a slight fee.

“Nah, I have an iPhone and an iPad and Google maps, I’ll be ok,” I smiled.

He raised an eyebrow.

“You got it,” he said, handing me the keys.

According to google, Albany to “The Middle of Nowhere” would be exactly 1 hour and 40 minutes.

But first, I was on my way to Target to pick up a list of things that Jim had suggested for my stay:




-bottled water


I didn’t question the list—Jim was a bachelor, I thought, and we know how they are—it seemed like a fair trade for a few free nights in my soon to be homeland.

My GPS led me to a side of Albany that felt dicey, what with the Bodegas and men leaning into illegally parked cars with their hazard lights on. My GPS, feeling frisky, sent me to a blown-out building near a river. I made a U-turn and decided to try another Target, hopefully on the way to my destination.

Done and done—and, finally, on my way to the hinterlands.

All was copacetic until the outskirts of Albany—and I mean the very second that I left the city limits. I promptly lost all cell service. My iPhone refused to refresh and my iPad was on the permanent pinwheel-of-death. I was well and truly F’d. When my GPS disconnects in a foreign place, I might as well be lost at sea in the Devil’s Triangle.

Short story- the further away from Albany that I drove, the darker it was, and the further apart the dim lights of farmsteads became…and nothing, but nothing, resembled civilization any longer.

Miraculously, I fumbled my way back to the correct “highway”.

With forests and farmlands flowing by my windows, and no traffic to dim my brights for, and with a mild to middling panic rising in my chest to keep me awake, I forged ahead.

Around midnight, deep into hour three, I located Jim’s driveway…a long, weed shrouded gravel lane that led to the back of his fixer-upper—I noted the windowpanes that were missing from the second story windows and the trees that hung, leafless and ancient, all over the place. Not one light was ablaze.

I sat for a minute with my engine idling. No lights.

I slammed the car door. Nothing.

I crept to the stoop, gingerly, so as not to trip and die, found the door and knocked. Nothing.

I knocked until my knuckles hurt.

I listened to a roar in my head and to the knocks echoing down the valley.

It was so cold that my breath was a cloud. An owl hooted.



Finally, bellowing—from what sounded like a rabid Cujo—approached the door. Its heavy paws scraped the floor. Whatever it was…now hurtling itself against the door…sounded horrific.

What could go wrong?

(To be continued)



Vicki Whicker is an iphoneographer living near Cooperstown, New York. In 2011, after 25 years in LA, she quit her fashion job and decamped for the wilds of central New York. Without a job, not much forethought, and a vague plan to remodel an 1820’s farmhouse, she had no idea what was ahead. https://www.instagram. com/vicki_whicker/





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