Dunga Brook Diary: A Year of Seeing Differently

In March, 2011, Tim, an east coast “friend”, posts a picture on Facebook – a little white house – with a question: “Who wants to be my neighbor?”

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I type…“How much?”

He responds, “$34,000 for an 1820′s farmhouse.”

I don’t hesitate, “I do. I want to be your neighbor.”

Dunga Brook was a 2,000 acre dairy farm in her day, but by 2011 she has no electricity, no water, a leaking roof and a failing septic system.

I offer $10,000.

It’s accepted, immediately.

In Gelson’s, I bump into an old boyfriend and tell him the news.

“You’re moving to a house you bought sight unseen off of Facebook? In the middle of nowhere? A place you know nothing about? To live next to a guy you barely know?”

“Yes!” I say.

“Man, Vicki…you have big swinging balls!”

All my friends think I’m crazy.

Strangers ask, “How can you be so brave?”

I say, I’ve been ready to leave LA ever since I got here and now that my son, Connor, is off to college, my GET OUT OF HELL-A ticket has finally been punched.

They don’t know that I hide from sunshine, that I hate Santa Ana’s, that the Pacific turns me cold, that my heart has been broken a million times in a million ways by LA, that I have finally been flattened by grief…my mom, my dad and my grandmother all having recently passed.

I fail to mention that I never thought Connor would graduate from high school, much less get himself into college. I fail to mention that by moving cross country, I am, in effect kidnapping him- no more sharing.

If I can just have him for one more summer, THE last summer, I might be okay.

I’m not brave at all-  but I am crafty.

Connor’s dad says nothing when I tell him the news.

He knows I’m crazy.

Years ago, when I left him, he stood in the driveway of our Pacific Palisades home pointing at the Cape Cod we lived in and the BMWs we drove, yelling, “Look What I Give YOU!”

What I wanted was to heed the voice in my head that whispered, “go for love, not the money”.

From then on, Connor travels between us. We co parent, we co exist, we co operate.

But there are cracks in my veneer.

I design shoes that I hate for companies that I can’t stand. I try every anti-depressant as advertised in Vogue magazine. I seem to have a thing for booze and for 27 year olds. I make really great friends that I never ever see.

Months before I buy the farm, I buy a car, but not a car, I buy a truck. I buy a giant silver truck with all-weather tires, gps and 4 wheel drive.

May 2011, I see Dunga Brook for the first time…Central New York…forests, streams, lakes, ancient farms, red barns in all stages of collapse and skies that are actually…blue.

I stay with my Facebook “friend”. His 1890′s farmhouse has no running water, no heat. The closest Starbucks is 120 miles away.

On Mother’s Day, a baby goat is born. Because Tim is masquerading as farmer, he has to drive to the nearest neighbor for help. The toothless local pronounces the baby sound and we share a glass of fresh goats milk in celebration.

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My summer plan is to hire Connor to renovate the house. He’ll be too busy to miss LA, he’ll make money and he can keep his eye on the gypsy crew that I’ve hired.

This plan sucks. It is impossible to get him out of bed, driving to the job site he is despondent.

“You’re building your future,” I tell him.

Two weeks into it, the chief gypsy texts me a picture.

“This is what he does all day,” is the caption.

It’s Connor. He wears a sleeveless t-shirt, his work boots are tucked into his jeans, there is a baseball cap over his eyes, the work gloves I bought him are still on his hands, not a speck of dirt.

Connor is  in the shade of the pine tree that I was advised to chop down but still can’t, its too perfect, it knows things.

Dunga Brook’s siding is ripped off, her windows are torn out, the gypsies are a blur of activity inside of her.

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Connor is sound asleep.

At first, I’m pissed. “I’m paying you!”

Then I’m sad.

My great idea is his worst nightmare.

He belongs back in LA with his life-long friends.

Why did I whisk him 4000 miles away?

I fire him.

Then we take off in my truck, we discover dirt roads, we eat at every diner we can find, we four-wheel drive, we laugh and bicker.

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He is my pilot, I hang out of the truck with my iPhone, snapping away, there is just so much beauty.

That fall, when I drop him off at college, we hug goodbye and he says, “best summer ever, mom.”

The renovations drag on, we work without plans, permits or budget, I worry endlessly that we are tearing her down and won’t be able to put her back together.

To keep sane, I spend money. Each design decision is a battle between eh- and all out — all out wins, hands down, every time.

And, I roam the country roads solo, taking photos, nothing is ordinary.

Each night, I update Facebook:

An iPhone photo of an Amish buggy parked by a shed:

Perfect fall day, an Amish man mows a lawn. You know that smell? A poem in every breeze.

An iPhone photo of silver cornstalks:

It’s so beautiful, I could fall in love with just about anyone.

By the time we finish, 8 months have passed, all my money is gone and the gypsies have decamped.

When a February storm hits, my house keeps me warm. I have built the perfect little snow globe.

Spring 2012, a gallery asks me to have an iPhoneogaraphy show.  While writing my artists bio, I realize that my childhood dream of being an “artist” has finally come true.

It took a lot of “crazy” to make this happen.

Connor calls to tell me, he’s not coming back for the summer, he’s going to rent his own farmhouse and he has a real job to pay for it.

I’m in a panic, if he doesn’t return now, he will spin off into the world on an ever expanding arc away from me.

I stand in the driveway yelling, “You have to come back, look what I built for you!”

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But, that voice speaks up, it says- “Isn’t he your son? Isn’t your job done? Let him go…he is free to roam.”

In June, I shoot Connor a selfie- I’m next to that pine tree, Dunga Brook’s red roof gleams, she’s wears a fresh coat of paint …And you know what?

She looks pretty damn sexy…for an ole farm girl…out in the middle of nowhere.

About Vicki Whicker@DungaBrookDiary

LA woman, small town girl at heart...escaped LA for an 1820's farmhouse that I found on Facebook in the spring of 2011...thanks, Tim! Thanks, LA for 25 exciting years- everything from designing shoes and traveling the world to raising an amazing son to studying writing and poetry with Jack Grapes and Rachel Resnick to falling in love Americana Music (xo Ryan Bingham) to this...the middle of nowhere...and starting over. Really starting over. Renovating a house, meeting new people, finding work...and all the while taking pictures with my iPhone. While Facebooking, always.

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