It is pretty easy to get lost when you first venture into our little neighborhood. With only two ways in and out, Oak Haven Heights is a gentle maze of right and left turns nestled in among oak trees, dry creek beds, and a huge herd of white-tailed deer.
Dating from the 1960s, most of the houses in this neighborhood are custom-built and just old enough to be quaint, but not so old as to be historic. Our house was built in 1969 and backs up to one of the dry creeks that run through our quiet corner of the city. As a result, the back of our house is nearly as high as a second story with a great view of the trees. This setting is what we love most about Oak Haven Heights and why we have settled in for nearly 20 years.
Just a stone’s throw inside Loop 1604, our neighborhood feels almost out of place. We can be at H-E-B in two minutes, yet a walk on our streets feels like you are out in the country with deer roaming, hawks calling, and trees rustling overhead. There are no curbs or sidewalks here, just a crumbling of asphalt where the street meets a yard.
These infrastructure realities and the abundance of deer create the natural charm of our neighborhood but also present a challenge when it comes to rainwater runoff, erosion, and the ability to grow plants that will not be eaten by these voracious herbivores. These challenges lead to a true variety of houses on each street – some neighbors water lawns of grass with beautifully landscaped flora, while others, like ours, allow natural ground cover and rocks to compose their own kind of curb appeal.
When we first moved in, our house had been a rental, so it needed some loving care. The garage had been converted into a living room and a small laundry room was haphazardly attached to the back of the house with a large wooden deck built into the trees. We painted and made the house comfortable as our kids grew up and watched as they discovered nature awaiting them outside.
Our large, unmanicured backyard and the dry creek beyond the fence became a place to explore and gather with friends. During summer showers the kids discovered waterfalls, and after thunderstorms they splashed their way through the rocks and stumps, building forts and finding treasures.
The kids are not the only ones to have found kindred spirits here, though. A growing group of moms in our neighborhood meets monthly, rotating from house to house to share community and support as we navigate parenthood. Many of us are educators, so it is easy to share stories and laugh together about our home lives and our work.
Although these weeks of social distancing have halted the larger gatherings, the mini village (as we call it) of houses surrounding our creek continues to take care of its members. During COVID-19, we moved chairs outside the fences and identified safe distances to allow the kids to continue to be in the creek together, but apart. The width of the creek is a natural measure of safe distance, allowing the kids to take walks together up and down the creek, maintaining social distance. Though I have always loved the creek and the changes it goes through from wet to dry months, I have a new appreciation for space these days and the creek is a space we are certainly blessed to have.
Several years ago, we found that the loving care our house needed was more than the cosmetic touches that we had provided thus far, and we had a decision ahead of us. The house needed major work, including new wiring, HVAC, roof, flooring, and my own wish to finally get a laundry room indoors. We either needed to move into a house with fewer needs, or do the major renovations that the house’s age required. A new house would be easy to find, one that had all we wanted in the structure itself. But the yard, the trees, the creek, and the village were pieces of the puzzle not easy to duplicate.
Ultimately, location won and we made some big changes. We moved out for six months in order to do all that needed to be done. Now, in addition to the unseen upgrades of safe, up-to-date wiring and new duct work, we also have a garage, a laundry room and quite a bit more living space.
But the best thing we did in the renovation was to cover our large back deck, allowing us to enjoy that space even more. Every morning, we sit on the back porch and drink our coffee, watching deer and birds in the creek from our view in the trees. It is tranquility itself, and I am keenly aware of just how lucky we are to live in this space: our tiny corner of San Antonio, seemingly out in the country, but not really.