Wye Island shore

Wye Island shore (Photo credit: WorldIslandInfo.com)

“We now no longer camp for the night, but have settled down on the earth and forgotten heaven.”

                                      – Henry David Thoreau 

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, along the shore of the Wye River.  There are approximately 2800 acres of land on Wye Island and as of September 12, I now owned two tracts totaling 24 acres along the Wye Narrows north of Wye Hall Farm and adjacent to the Shawn Woods.

The island had undergone several changes since Lord Baltimore first proposed the settlement of Maryland.  It had been cleared and used for farming tobacco as well as for raising livestock, but now it consisted of a historic farmhouse and a hunting club on the southern end along with a few moderately developed lots used as summer homes and a few sparsely located residents.

I bought the land to test a theory: Could a more honest and primitive life coexist with the modern world?  I had been looking over the works of Thoreau and Knowles and an assortment of wilderness survival books by people who wanted to return to a more natural state of living, previous attempts had been made, but they all seemed to center around isolation.  I wasn’t interested in disappearing from the world, I just wanted to live on my own terms.

I wanted to reduce my dependency of the outside world and take life back to the basics to see what it was truly made of.  My original idea was to spend my vacations on the land and every two weeks out of the year I would go out into the wild and live, but this was not possible, since the cultivation of food would take more than two weeks, I would have to bring everything with me and basically go on an extended camping trip.

For the first few years of owning the land, this is essentially what I did.  I would go fishing and schedule my visits during the milder months of the year, so as not to have too hard a time of things, this was my vacation after all, the trips were fun and on several occasions, I even brought friends with me to enjoy the wilderness.

These trips were important for one main reason though and that was the fact that I was scouting out the area and becoming familiar with the landscape. The only permanent fixture on my property was a hand pump for water. I spoke with locals in town on the shore about fishing and picked up several tips on the types of fish to look for at certain times of the year.  I also began visualizing the landscape and where I could transform it to suit my needs.  I needed a place to put the gardens, as well as a place to build the house.

I had a sketchbook filled with various scenarios depicting the land and how I would lay it out and what I would need to do it.  I didn’t think I could just chop down trees and build a house of green timber like Thoreau, this was still the modern world and there would be city and state inspectors and regulations as well as all sorts of legal restrictions and codes I would have to meet.

I also found out that once I began developing the property, I would have to keep it up to a certain standard or the state would take it from me.  As an unkempt wilderness, it was free to be whatever it wanted to be, but no one was going to let me set up a shanty on the island, even if I did own the land.  They said it would affect the property values of the surrounding areas.

It seemed for several years that the property was destined to be just a vacation play land for me and a possible future investment if the area was ever to be developed.  It seemed that the government had learned from its past and was going to make damn sure that people like Thoreau were never again going to be an threat to the social engineering which was the engine of the modern world.  I began looking around the fringes of the country for a place off in the wilderness to convert to my new dream, but they all seemed to require isolation from the world at large.

I found a break when I was discussing the idea with a friend of mine who knew a land developer.  It turned out that there was a loophole in the law which stated that I could set up residence as long as the structure I built was not a permanent or settled structure.

In other words, I could not build a house, but I could put a trailer on the property and live in that without having to worry about maintaining the land as a subdivision.  I would not use the convenience items in the trailer such as air conditioning and gas stoves if I did’nt want to.  The only legal thing I needed was to have them, not actually use them.  It was not the ideal of the log cabin in the woods, but it would be a compromise I would have to make if I wanted to stay on the island.

I sketched out the new idea and it looked a little like a back woods redneck lived there, but aesthetics was not the point of this experiment.  At the age of thirty seven now I was beginning to think this would never happen.  So with little fanfare, and a few farewells to the modern world, I bought a camper trailer and set out for the island of Wye, my new home for at least the next two years.