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Hello and thanks for visiting my Little House in the City. It might not look like much at the moment, but try to imagine the possibilities. There’s space for gardens and a chicken coop and a yard to kick the soccer ball around in. That shed will be perfect for storing tools. I’ll haul all the junk away and rebuild the patio cover. Build some gates and adopt a dog. I’m designing an outdoor pizza oven, a gazebo, a hot tub, and I want to install rain catchment and solar power to see how far off the grid I can get without even leaving the city.

I knew this was the house the moment I drove up. Rocky Butte’s tree-line beckoned from a half block away, an oasis in the asphalt desert. Downtown was hidden by a contour in the landscape – this was a pocket of Portland I never knew existed! Then a hawk shrieked overhead and circled around the treetops. My realtor’s son walked out the front door carrying a maraca with two palm trees painted on it.

“Sold,” I said.

Fortune granted me a childhood on the lower slopes of Maui, Hawaii. When I was six my family moved into a shack on an undeveloped piece of land in the country. My dad spent a couple of weeks renovating it: stapling screens over the window openings, patching the corrugated tin roof, and digging a new outhouse. He fabricated a water heater from some copper pipes running through a defunct chimney; we had to build a fire to take a warm shower. For electricity he ran a 12 volt line in from the truck. It often wouldn’t start the next morning and we’d have to walk the half-mile to the school bus stop.

There was no way I could have known how good I had it – I had little with which to compare my childhood. My friends came from families of a similar mindset, as my parents had moved to the boondocks of a small island for a reason. The extent of my cultural inheritance came from brief trips to visit grandparents in Los Angeles and what I gleaned from the Catholic school kids during recess.

I learned that most people in America grew up differently than I did. They had microwaves and dishwashers and MTV. They had real toilets. They lived in big cities with so many neighbors they couldn’t know all of them.

By the time I finished high school I wanted nothing more than to get off the island. To go to the mainland and live like a normal American. It was 1994.

Now I’m twice as old and hopefully a little wiser. I’ve travelled the states and tried my hand at a variety of jobs. I’m married and a father and I swing a hammer to support my family. I’m deep enough into the experience to consider myself American, but I have no desire to be normal.

I find myself longing for my idyllic childhood and wish I could provide such a pure and healthy upbringing for my daughter. Then I remember how much I hated scraping the inside of the outhouse bowl with a stick, on account of spiders, before sitting down to do my business. I yearn for the quiet starry nights of the countryside… but don’t miss the mosquitoes. I crave the simple pleasures of a bygone time, yet I may have forgotten how much work is involved.

The frontier has changed since the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The country is smaller, and not as wild. There are less resources and more people competing for them. The people have changed too. They’ve traded the freedom of the country for the convenience of the city.

And I’ve changed as well. I don’t know how to leave the city. I don’t know how to survive and support my family without the safety net of society, without running water and electricity and gas heat and grocery stores. Somewhere in the years between childhood and parenthood my energy focused itself elsewhere than upon the direct tasks of daily survival, and those skills were forgotten.

So I’m grateful for the safety net, and am excited to become an urban pioneer. I welcome you to laugh along at my attempts to balance the rustic and the modern. Feel free to dig in and unbury the past with me, and don’t be afraid to watch from the fireside. I hope you find something to take home from my Little House in the City. There’s a treasure here, I just know it.

-Bo Mandoe

One Comment
  1. Bo, do you have an address for Mogollon Wordworks? Niels did my wife and I a great favor last week and we would like to send him something. Scott

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