My First Home: Wild, wild life

My First Home Milton
John W. Tomac for The Boston Globe

Growing up, I was a skateboarding street kid in Fall River, a quintessential New England city dominated by old, vacant textile mills and three-tenement apartment houses. The scene was similar when I moved to Rhode Island and to Worcester, the second-biggest city in New England, and then to Boston in my mid-20s.

But eight years later, I figured I had had enough of city life and began with my wife, a city dweller herself, to explore the suburbs of Boston. We settled in the tony town of Milton.

In a Mansion.

I don’t exaggerate here, this was a mansion worthy of a capital M, built by a historic family and nestled in some of the most coveted lands of Greater Boston: overlooking the Neponset River and its watershed, bordering the woodlands of Blue Hills Reservation.

We were looking to buy our future home in this area, but we weren’t quite ready financially. The owner, a kind woman who had the place all to herself, a descendant of that historic family, was offering to rent the top floor, so we capitalized on the opportunity to inhabit a new world.

And we could say we lived in a Mansion.

What an adventure it was. Picture high ceilings that you can’t reach without a ladder and a broomstick and a living room fireplace large enough to roast a pig (we never did that). We appreciated the home’s Colonial-era architecture and its spacious grounds, inhaling the fresh air from the meadow that abutted it.

Country living was fitting for me, but the first days were also an awakening. I had a new set of neighbors I wasn’t quite expecting.

First came the soundtrack of springtime squirrel chatter — it alternated between the sounds of chirping and the grinding of teeth — from right outside those large open windows in our bedroom.

Then came the 5 a.m. screeches of the turkeys, renegades that would taunt me from the roof racks of my new Subaru.

The deer were abundant. Among the creepiest of my new woodland friends were the coyotes who howled right outside our windows in the dark of night while doing something to some other poor animal.

The most unnerving of them all, though, were the toughest to see, those little parasites that like to attach themselves to unsuspecting city dwellers. In our second week at the Mansion, I brought my dog for a hike in the woods. In a matter of minutes, I had pulled three ticks off me and at least five off the dog. I sprinted out of those woods. In a week, I was at the doctor’s office, convinced I had Lyme disease. (I didn’t, but I’m still paranoid every time I get a headache.)

Don’t get me wrong. I loved that walk through the woods as much as I loved that fresh breeze through the large windows, the crackle of a New England winter fire, and the solitude. And I learned a lot about home and yard care, like how to stack firewood and the zen of gardening. But I found I needed to take it in small steps, because you can take the boy out of the city, but not the city out of the boy. My life until then had been watching pigeons in the park, not hawks zooming by the meadow. I had a lot to learn about living with wildlife.

Last year, my wife and I finally bought our first home, in Canton, a modest house on a busy road. We built a small garden box, where I am still honing my green thumb. We have chipmunks and the occasional rabbit. But the only sounds I wake up to now are the horns of flustered morning drivers and the commuter rail train.

Sounds like home.

Milton J. Valencia, a reporter for the Globe, can be reached at Send a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at Look for our Fall House Hunt coverage starting Sept. 11.