I’ve bought three houses in as many years, and sold two of them.  Having been excluded from participating in the housing bubble by extreme poverty, I suppose I’ve been making up for lost time.  In 2008, when my mom died, I inherited what was—by my modest standards—a considerable sum, and there was no doubt about what I was going to do with it: For decades I’d been dreaming of the day I would be able to buy a house of my own, and—finally!—that day had come.

I’ve written in this space before about my search for hearth and home.  How the decadent city became intolerable for one of my age and disposition, and why I wound up in a small hamlet of vacation homes on the Russian River, known as Rio Nido, where the counterculture meets the redwoods.  You’ll recall my clash with an Evil Developer, who used his political connections to build Section 8 housing smack dab in the middle of a towering redwood grove down the street.  That sent me across the river to a seemingly idyllic park-like neighborhood known as Vacation Beach.  Alas, this sweet spot soon soured as the proximity of noisy neighbors, and the general down-at-the-heels aura of the town of Guerneville, prodded my restless spirit to action.

What I had seen happening in Rio Nido—rapid pauperization—was also happening down the road in Guerneville, a town of 1,500 or so, double that in summer, half hippies and half old-timers.  Guerne­ville had once been a thriving tourist haven, the summer destination of San Francisco’s firemen and policemen and their families, whose vacation cottages dotted the banks of the Russian River.  An influx of well-heeled semipermanent residents drove up property values in the 1980’s, but the AIDS epidemic turned Guerne­ville into a ghost town, and the popping of the real-estate bubble was the fatal blow.  Vintage bungalows, once lovingly restored, molder in disrepair; the blackberries have barricaded their gardens behind a wall of thorns, and for-sale signs are springing up like weeds in a vacant lot.

Into this vacuum is rushing a new wave of immigrants—the detritus of Sonoma County’s welfare underclass, the toothless drug addicts, the mentally ill, the single mothers with three kids by three fathers, and all the flotsam and jetsam of a disintegrating society I used to see littering the streets of San Francisco.  Until the chamber of commerce complained, the longtime policy of the social-welfare agencies in the nearby city of Santa Rosa was to give the “clients” of their homeless shelters (and jails) one-way tickets to Guerne­ville upon release.  Now they’re setting up homeless shelters and “affordable housing” throughout the area.  The Evil Developer was defeated in his plan to turn an old hotel near my former home into a giant welfare hostel, but now he’s back with a new plan to get government money—by turning the place into housing reserved for the mentally ill!  I can see it now: the Rio Nido Home for Wayward Serial Killers.  And in Guerneville, they’re building a gigantic “affordable” housing project that looks like a jail on stilts.  Gargantuan metal pillars, like the columnar legs of the giant Martian machines in War of the Worlds, lift the towering five-story structure above the floodplain and far above Guerneville’s humble two-story skyline.  As soon as I realized that the Evil Developer owned a big lot down the street from me, I put my house on the market.

Surprisingly, it sold rather quickly, and suddenly the question arose: Where next?  After 40 years of urbanity, I am too old to put up with the vagaries of life as a sardine, and after three years of liberation from all that I’m not ready to admit defeat.  The neighboring town of Sebastopol was the obvious choice—it just had never before been in my price range.

Sebastopol was a favorite haunt of Luther Burbank, who set up one of his experimental farms there and is said to have remarked that no better location for a garden exists.  Long rows of grapevines run over gently sloping hills, orchards stretch in every direction, and the air smells like apples.  The town has its rather pretentious and noisy center, with New Age shops retailing pagan nostrums and tie-dyed heirlooms, a McDonald’s, and overpainted Victorians staring out over the main drag like whores in Amsterdam’s red-light district.  As one goes south down the Gravenstein Highway, however, the landscape opens up, and Luther Burbank’s Sebastopol comes into full view: farmland dotted with mature trees, exotic evergreens and fruits of every variety.  Horses gambol in the fields.  Cattle graze nearby.  We turn right down a country lane, largely empty of traffic, past some small houses.  Down the road are much bigger lots.  These are working farms, for the most part, interspersed with smaller houses, and here’s the address of the real-estate listing: a small house behind a very big fence.  A horse whinnies somewhere in the distance.

I am home.