This summer marks my 30th anniversary as a home-exchanger. It was 30 years ago that Steve and I first traded our house in San Diego, that time for a spacious ground-floor apartment in a cool stone building in the most chic neighborhood in Paris. It had a private garden that opened onto a larger shared green space. After that we were hooked. Since then we’ve done almost 20 exchanges all over the planet.
When our sons no longer wanted to accompany us, we started traveling in places where home-exchanging didn’t work as well (e.g. much of South America and Africa). But I got interested again for part of our travels last fall in New Zealand. For this current road trip, I also looked for promising trading partners.
Over the years, I’ve developed a sense of when it’s worth gambling on a house trade. When I saw the listing for the place where we’re staying now, my sensors tingled. The photos on homeexchange.com suggested the house would be impressive, and it was located on what was described as a 75-acre ranch near Cottonwood, in the far northern section of the Sacramento River Valley. I corresponded with the owners, and we reached an agreement: They would stay in our house for a week, while we occupied their ranch house for five days.
Some house-trading partners are like me, compiling bulging guides to their homes and neighborhoods and cities. The ranch owners fell at the opposite end of that scale. I finally pressed the wife for a few crumbs of information, like, would they be wanting us to take care of any animals? She replied that if we would feed their two resident horses, she and her husband would appreciate that.
When I told friends about our upcoming trade, one or two warned that the temperatures in mid-July in this part of the state were certain to be blistering, and as we left Reno, I quailed a bit at the forecast: highs of more than 100 degrees every day.
The forecasts have proven accurate. When we reached the ranch gate around 5:30 Saturday afternoon and opened our van doors to key in the code, the heat smacked me with a brutal force.
Stepping outside every afternoon and early evening since then has felt like walking into a boiler room. Happily, thanks to two key strategies, this hasn’t dampened the intense pleasure we’ve experienced in being here.
The first has been to escape to some of the higher realms nearby. At Lassen Volcanic National Park (where we spent Saturday afternoon), it was warm but pleasant. We passed all of Monday near frosty Mt. Shasta and in the cool mists of the McCloud River and Burney waterfalls.
The second strategy has been to engage in most of our outdoor activities during the cool, pleasant mornings. Every day, Steve and Dilly and I have fed hay and a scoop full of pellets to Madonna and Bingo, the two horses.
Although she feeds herself on the property’s grass, she comes around for a scoop of pellets.
After doling out this breakfast, with the temperatures still in the 70s, we’ve hiked along the Jeep trails that lace through the property.It’s a magical place filled with oak trees…manzanita……and other native flora. Near the house, we can there’s a pond ringed with emerald grass.On the afternoons when we decided not to venture out, we’ve hung out in the sprawling, baronial manor house. A swamp cooler protects the interior from the heat. (To my surprise, this system works as well as any air-conditioning unit and apparently costs a fraction of the price to run.)
We’ve caught up on email; taken naps. I’ve written two blog posts.
I’ve reflected on the fact that never before in my life have I felt so removed from other people. Other ranches adjoin this property, but the house is situated far from any section of the perimeter. You have to walk for several minutes to reach the closest part. A gate and electrified fences guard the entire boundary of the property; I could take off all my clothes and hike the hillsides naked, feeling secure that I’d enjoy as much privacy as I do in my bedroom back at home. This thought shocks me.
We’re packing up now. In an hour or two we will drive off to the redwoods on California’s chilly northernmost coast. I couldn’t find a trading partner there, and if I had, it probably would not have been amazing. But over the years, several, like that first Paris apartment, have been. We’ve lived in a 300-year-old apartment in Venice just a short stroll from the Rialto Bridge. We’ve lived in a suburban American-style house in Tokyo just blocks from the insane electric crowds in Shibuya plaza. We’ve occupied a country house surrounded by its own stream and forest smack in the middle of Ireland. Our time on this sweltering ranch is totally different from any of them, but it will rank on that most delicious list.