Sharing the Wealth

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A house is just a physical manifestation of what we really build — dreams. And everyone is entitled to those.

June 30, 2001
E-mail Ron Jones at greenbuilder@juno.com.

 

Spring is a season of contrasts in most parts of the country, I suppose. It certainly is here in the high desert. While those of us who live here look forward to milder temperatures and the renewed growth of vegetation and a general increase in nature’s activities, we know that spring also means pollen and dust blown about constantly by seasonal winds.

I like to say that spring for us is that lone beautiful morning between the cold, dry brown of winter and the shimmering, intense heat of summer - that lone morning when the wind doesn’t blow, that is. That morning occurred, for this year, a few days ago. But as luck would have it, I wasn’t really able to capture it or enjoy it for long, even though it was great while it lasted.

On that morning I began staking out a new project on a lot in the foothills. Few things in this business are more rewarding and satisfying to me than laying out the footprint of a new home - somebody’s dream home - on a customer’s chosen piece of ground. Some folks like a formal groundbreaking to commemorate the occasion, and we’ve participated in our share of those, but I prefer the quiet hour or two that I spend alone at that place, knowing it soon will be transformed.

The early grasses had already set seed heads and bent under their own weight in the golden morning light. The complex mixture of native vegetation displayed an array of color, texture and aromas befitting the moment. I consciously thought about how lucky I am to be a builder and to have the opportunity to enjoy working outdoors and all that comes with that. I’ve always marveled at the fact that I get to spend my working hours in places where people make huge investments to live.

The project is on a corner lot in a subdivision just at the edge of the city alongside municipal open space and national forest lands in the shadow of the mountains. The almost endless views include the expanse of the city as well as mountain ranges in several directions. The lot sits at a little more than 6,200 feet in elevation and, in itself, changes close to 20 feet in what I nevertheless consider to be gentle topography.

There are hydrology issues, and retaining walls are needed, but in general the site is not all that difficult compared with many on which we build. The main concern I have is to build a house that complements the existing neighborhood, which is largely built out, and to leave behind an appropriate structure that meets the customer’s needs while disturbing and disrupting as little of the natural environment as possible.

The grasses on the site reminded me of a public television show I had seen a few evenings before about native grasslands along the Oklahoma-Kansas border. I kept remembering a quote from a lady rancher in the program who said, "People think we raise cattle here, but that is not quite right. What we raise is grass, and then we harvest that grass with cattle because that is how it is turned into a form that people can make use of."

I was moving slowly along one edge of the proposed building site near the roadway when a woman on a bicycle suddenly appeared a few yards from me on her way down the hill. She was a middle-aged woman, somewhat nondescript in her general appearance, yet somehow out of character in her Spandex biking suit and dorky-shaped bicycle helmet.

She didn’t look directly at me. She was looking at the series of flagged stakes I had been driving into the ground to mark various points related to the project. Suddenly she spoke, not to me or anyone in particular, but rather as if audibly thinking the words. There was an obvious note of disappointment in her voice as she said, "Oh, another house is going up."

She was past me in a matter of seconds, but the remark was left burning my ears. Immediately, I felt like I had to defend what I was doing out there. I wanted to respond to her out of anger. I was offended at what I presumed to be her hypocrisy. She no doubt lived up the hill in one of the existing houses in the subdivision and was out taking advantage of the space and natural beauty of the area on that incredible spring morning.

I wanted to remind her that her house’s lot was once undisturbed, too, and to challenge the idea that she had any right to begrudge these new homeowners-to-be the same pleasures she enjoys.

I’ve seen and heard the same reaction so many times before, that selfish reaction that people display when they realize that someone new will share a part of what they already have.

It’s as if they expect anyone who comes after them to simply pay taxes on property and maintain it as open space. They have this mental drawbridge that they begin raising as soon as they have secured their piece of paradise. The woman was long gone down the hill, and was probably thinking about something else altogether, but I was still brooding over her attitude.

As I finished my task and returned to my truck with my site plan and hand sledge, I noticed a man and woman strolling toward me along the road on the other side of the lot where I had parked. I glanced at them a couple of times as they neared. They appeared to be of retirement age and were obviously just out for a leisurely morning walk, as if it was part of their daily routine.

They gazed at the stakes for several seconds but said nothing. I turned to face them squarely, but neither of them looked at me. When they were directly next to me I said, "Good morning." Neither of them spoke, but the man responded with a sort of grunt, and they simply continued on their way.

I couldn’t help wondering how they would feel if this was their home being staked out, or one for their children and grandchildren. Surely they had more enthusiasm when they were anticipating their own home. How does the idea of someone else realizing a dream diminish one that already exists?

We’ll just do what we always do. We will eventually win the neighbors’ respect through our professionalism. We will maintain an immaculate site, control trash and noise, take special care to keep everyone involved in the project off neighboring properties and build a house that is an asset to the community.

Along the way we’ll also demonstrate our knowledge and commitment to the natural surroundings along with our building expertise. When it’s all said and done, our customers will be welcomed into the neighborhood, and their home will become an accepted part of the built community.

Some people would maintain that the only "green" home is one that never gets built. But for a builder, that is unacceptable. Where do you draw a line that marks the place where homeownership is no longer a part of the dream? I am again reminded of the lady rancher.

Some people would mistake what we do as building houses, but they would miss the point. What we are building is wealth, in the form of homes where people can make use of the rewards of their labor and secure their future.

It won’t be back around for a while, but I’m looking forward to that single beautiful day of spring next year. There will probably be another house to lay out somewhere, and another whole new set of neighbors.

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