restore or reclaim?

“I’m not going near that spa… it looks haunted!”

My son said the thing we were all thinking. On a makeshift deck beside a burnt tree with a low-hanging plywood roof sat the sketchiest-looking hot tub whose heyday had certainly passed decades ago. The infested spa was a welcome mat for the rest of the two-room house overlooking the corral.

Restore or tear down?
Rebuild or destroy?

The dwelling was lukewarm. Poorly built on the cheap in 1984 with a disregard for craftsmanship, it may have served the land well if your goal was hunting, dipping, and partying.

“Maybe if you gutted it?”
“You can’t polish a turd!”
“What if you just covered the walls in old barn wood?”

The debate with friends around weekend campfires ping-ponged back and forth for six months. On one hand, the cabin was lacking inspiration, unable to spark a clear vision for making something great of it. On the other hand, it was not so immediately horrible that it had to go. Doing the research, I discovered it is far more expensive than you would think to demolish a house. I heard the same was true for massive remodeling. The question remained: restore or tear down? I was thinking it would be fun to have a guys’ camp-out with hammers, hacksaws, and a bonfire to see how fiberglass from the ‘80s would burn. Not the most sober of ideas. I started marking the deck beams, fixtures, and wooden countertops that could be reclaimed and repurposed in other spaces on Green Acres if we demolished the space.

I remain a fan of the word “restore” and the idea of working hard to rebuild something that is broken—especially as it applies to relationships, vintage cameras, and Neutra homes. But I would like to add to the conversation that there is also a season where it is better to tear down and reclaim—to recover what is useful to build something anew and let go of the rest.

We hired a contractor to tear down the house, saving and repurposing all the useable wood we could to build a kitchen area under the LBJ barn. (They say the barn used to be LBJ’s. I may someday research it, but I’m not motivated to let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

I arrived on-site with my buddy Haydn, who agreed to help me break down and rebuild the trampoline that my father and I had successfully assembled incorrectly by deciding the printed directions were for the uneducated. By the time we got there, the house was almost completely broken down and loaded into trucks. There is something that stirs in you watching a house torn down—an even deeper emotion when it is a house that you actually own. The surprising smell led us to some workers explaining they had in fact ran over the septic tank with the backhoe and busted the concrete lid, which, they reluctantly shared, was now in pieces at the bottom of the exposed tank. (I’ll leave this and other fun labor stories for another time in an entry called “What I’ve Learned about Patience and Forgiveness from Contractors.”)

We watched as they tried for thirty minutes to crush and break the spa so it could fit in the pile. She didn’t want to go. In the end they had to strap her in one piece to the top of the dump truck. She drove away victorious like a kid atop a fire truck waving to admirers in a small-town parade.

An empty dirty dirt space remained. And it was good. This house was telling someone else's story and we needed to level it and reclaim it to build our own.

As I stood there, I noticed Donkey and Yoti near me. They had somehow escaped to join me in the moment. It took almost an hour to get them back in the field before I headed to Tractor Supply to figure out how one repairs a fence. It started with a bag of T-Post Clips, and a Fi-Shock In-Line Strainer Handle…

next story: the great escape