The Little Van and the Big Mansion

Something really strange and magical happened the morning I rolled into Brookings, Oregon for the first time. I had woken alone at a rest stop just north of town, and taken my time to fully wake and get ready for my “day.” Thing is, I didn’t have anything I had to do. Not really. I mean, I was officially an itinerant bum.

Something was telling me I was doing it wrong, though. Because in the middle of the night I was surrounded by other vans, parked and sleeping, and when I finally woke up they were all gone. I was the only one lazing about. Time to seize the day!

My plan was to go into the town cafe and post an index card on their bulletin board seeking some sort of housework and a safe place to park my van a few weeks. I didn’t really know if my plan would work, but it didn’t matter: something entirely else happened.

When I walked into the cafe the barista asked me how I was and I said “cold.” It was true. I’d been camping outside the past three nights, all of which it dipped into freezing temperatures. I wasn’t sure the last time I’d seen my toes pink except when I took that shower at the homeless shelter in Grants Pass. A woman in the corner of the cafĂ© took interest in me, came over and asked if she could sit with me, and that’s how the little van came to be parked at the big mansion.


Deanne lives just over the California border from Brookings, Oregon, in a large 6 bedroom, 5 bath home. She and her ex-husband built this Tudor-style manse in the 80s from redwood timbers recycled from an old saw mill building. The estate sits on a hill vaulting approximately 400 feet up from coast highway 101, right on the Pacific Ocean. Sea mists envelop the forested land which she has specifically not clear cut, in contrast to both her neighbors. A herd of 30 or so elk occasionally roam through. At the door you are greeted by Hunter, an indiscriminately loving cat with a thick coat, who keeps gophers at bay and wants nothing more than to cuddle in your lap forever. The roomy spaces inside are delightfully cluttered with treats for the eyes: antiques, seashells, and many handmade treasures.

Deanne and I knew right away that our paths crossing is auspicious. She has this amazing home in the woods, someplace safe for me to park, and is yet massively overwhelmed with the amount of work her home requires. Coincidentally, I love this type of cleaning and organizing work. Since it’s a gorgeous home with an unbelievably cool kitchen and garden, the work becomes a therapeutic treat for me, if you can believe that.

The coincidence is as great as the contrast: here I am with a van packed with little more than I absolutely need to live day-by-day and get places, and here is Deanne with an estate that has been collecting (mostly other people’s) junk for twenty years. I have already gotten rid of all my things and absolutely cannot take on new belongings. Deanne has all the belongings a person could possibly want, and is so overwhelmed she doesn’t even know how to start getting rid of them. Sometimes the predicament is too much for me to fathom, and so I must walk down the hill to rest in my van, or across the highway to the ocean.

Thankfully, the ocean just roars and makes all these concerns meaningless.

So far, I have replaced a fire alarm battery, cleaned her refrigerator, and trouble-shooted her failing Maytag washer (she needs a new washer). I’ve convinced her to let me organize her kitchen and pantry storage, which I feel is a huge leap and a big show of faith on Deanne’s part. She is hoping to clean the place up and have more guests, possibly even run a bed and breakfast, and I wholly encourage that. The “Sea Mist Ranch,” as she would like to call it, is an entirely magical place that I think could rival most retreats on the coast.

I am so blessed to have found this spot so effortlessly.