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A house of possibilities

Feral Home

In 2009, I got offered a dream gig for one of my favourite companies in a city that I had always dreamed about visiting – Philadelphia. Despite not knowing anything really about the city, I had somehow known that I was meant to live there.

I remember my first day in Philadelphia, my first drive to Chestnut Hill, the first time I saw my house that was everything I’d wanted in a dream home (historic, stone, fireplace, big windows, garden). I’d arrived at the end of summer and then fall hit – the colours of the trees, the crispness of the air, girls in tights. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I began to think out all of the things I could do and who I’d be. It was heaven.

On my first fall weekend I began what would become a regular occurrence – a drive out into the country side. I’d spend all day getting lost on country roads and visiting historic landmarks. One day I’d been out since sunrise and when the sun began to set I knew it was time to get home. And on my way back to the city is when I first saw the feral home above and fell instantly in love.

I’d parked on the road and walked up the drive over over-grown bushes and trees. The house was so simple, so old, and so broken but I loved it. It seemed like it once had this amazing life full of stories and could be that once again. It seemed like we needed each other and I began the investigation into its history and availability.

I turned up nothing.

My first winter in Philadelphia was harsh, so much so that my home out in Chestnut Hill had become too much with my commute and weather and, like people in olden times, I took a rental house in the city to make my commute a little easier. But now I was in a city, with harsh weather, constantly snowed in and Christmas was coming up. I was feeling lonely and bare and so I made a trek out to see the house – I felt she’d be feeling the same. And she was.


That winter was one of the most brutal on records so the relief of spring couldn’t come sooner. My trips to the country had become less frequent for the 70-hour work weeks and demands of the job were keeping me busy and Sunday’s all I could do was collapse or grab a coffee from downtown. But then I remembered that those drives were both a comfort and an inspiration and it was time to pay a visit to the house.


The sun was out, the temperatures were up and the leaves were on the tree. When I saw the house, she looked hopeful. Green suited us both and I thought earnestly again about taking her on. Spring just seemed to be full of possibilities.

But Summer came and things for me had transitioned. Things were hard; I was missing California, I was missing my friends, I was missing coffee as a verb. So I made a very conflicted decision to leave a city that I’d grown to love so much and decided to return back to the West Coast. Before I could leave, I had to say good-bye to the house. She was in full-bloom, living large and surrounded by gorgeousness. I wanted the same thing, and so I said good-bye.


In the back of my mind, I kept thinking maybe I would return to Philadelphia when I knew I could be more settled. When I swayed more Amish than tech and when the bright light of the LA sun would be far less flattering then the soft light of the east. And I thought maybe I’d come back for that house and together we’d rebuild ourselves.

This past weekend, I was in Philly. Part visiting, part work, part still thinking about returning. I hadn’t been able to comfortably settle in California knowing what else was out there and feeling like it might actually be better. The back and forth wondering if I should stay and what if’s always seemed to sort of keep me stuck. After all, indecisiveness is never anyone’s friend.

However, after a few days and a couple of conversations in the city, I realised that while I do want to move back at some point, right now I need to stay in Santa Monica, California. That right now, my family, my friends, my work are there and being there isn’t a bad thing from which to escape. It’s actually a really, really good thing that makes so much sense and is something worth returning home to to settle in.

My last morning in Philadelphia, I went for one of my drives out in the country. It was almost 4 years to the day in which I’d first taken the drive and had first seen the house. I was wondering how I’d feel about seeing her again now that I had made my decision not to come back for her.

When I drove up to see her, she was gone.


She was no longer waiting, either. There had been a decision to move on. I totally understood.

It was a lovely four years thinking about that house and all its possibilities. Actually, it’s was lovely just thinking about mine. But even better was coming to a coming to a decision and moving forward on that instead of being stuck in the past, in a dream, and missing out on the real possibilities right in front of me.

(Update April 17th, 2015. I stumbled upon this site in which a man films and takes photos of abandoned places. And it looks like he had the same thoughts as I did about this home! The inside looked completely different than I’d imagine and it was sad to see that it was vandals that burned it down.)



  1. October 31, 2013 / 7:57 PM

    No! How can that be the end of the story!? Beautifully written, but you just broke my heart.

  2. October 31, 2013 / 8:12 PM

    This made me a little sad – what a beautiful house and grounds – and the parallels you drew to your own life, which made me think about difficult but right decisions I have made. Thank you.

  3. November 1, 2013 / 6:39 AM

    I <3 this so much. You tell a great story, but I'm heartbroken by the ending. The house lives on in memory and imagination.

  4. PayalNo Gravatar
    November 1, 2013 / 1:20 PM

    Loved this post and completely relatable to what I’m going through at the moment – transitions, making decisions, moving forward, etc.

  5. CathyNo Gravatar
    November 4, 2013 / 4:00 PM

    I love, love, love this post. I too used to live in that part of Pennsylvania. I lived in a house that was built in 1725 not far from Chadds Ford. I would love, love, love to move back (I too am now in California.) With all of the other historical houses in the area, I am surprised that it was torn down. So sad. Thank you for sharing.

  6. November 16, 2013 / 1:08 AM

    I love this story and how you chose the house to be the totem round which you measured your journey – both real and metaphorical. I suspect that the house isn’t completely gone. Not to sound too sentimental – you carry a bit of it with you along with memories of the other special environments you have created. Thank you for sharing.

  7. March 9, 2015 / 12:15 PM

    Oh my, we have so much in common. I too, moved to PA in 2009 (and am so very happy here). I live in the Brandywine Valley and take the back roads whenever possible…the countryside fills me with joy and hope. Your home in Chestnut Hill was so dreamy – that last photo made me gasp…it saddens me that someone else didn’t want to breathe new life into it, as you did.

  8. February 11, 2018 / 9:10 AM

    I love how you shared this story — and the house became a friend to you. What a heartbreak to find it gone!

    I grew up in Toronto (not a pretty city) but I have some local landmarks I treasure and check in with on each visit. To find one of them missing would be difficult as they’e really the visual milestones of our life as it passes.