There’s no place like home. I’m getting there, but it’s not really mine.
A huge ladder is balanced against the western wall of my house. Inside. Its splayed top is on either side of an oddly-shaped window. After much negotiating and maneuvering, it is finally lined with a reflective window film which also filters out the sun’s rays and most importantly, its heat.
When the guys stepped into my office to put film on those windows, I scurried up that tall ladder one-handed (my left arm is in a sling still), balanced, and wielded a bright blue puffball on a long, telescoping handle to remove the many spiderwebs. One of those items that I hadn’t considered when I bought a home with a high cathedral ceiling.
The house is a mess right now. However I’m enjoying being banned from the office while the window film sets, and the workmen put more film on the bedroom windows. Christmas decorations got moved aside, the fireplace is burning with great enthusiasm, and we are in for a solid week of cold, wet weather.
I love Pacific Northwest winters. Adore them. That’s why I moved here. YES the arthritis in my hands is not having a holiday but it’s a small price to pay to be surrounded by tall firs, and the endless pleasure of a yard that blooms all year long even in the cold. I had that growing up in Florida, too, but we rarely had the cold as relief for very long.
The work on the house and the wet weather are both holiday gifts, far as I’m concerned. I just made coffee for the window guys. I like having people in the house, the sound of conversation. It’s been a lonely move, which is one reason I’m glad to be finishing up the major projects. That means it’s just about time to have guests, as since August of 2020 my guests have all arrived carrying tools of the trade.
I have been delighted to watch how their work, from installing oak floors to repairing the deck to planting trees to, well, everything handyman has turned this house in the woods into my home in the woods.
At least for as long as I inhabit it. Which kinda underscores the point. It’s not really mine.
It wasn’t just buying the house in a place I’ve long wanted to live. It’s making the house reflect my personality, which has taken a long time, money I didn’t have to spare and an awful lot of labor. Labors of love, if you will. Last year Christmas came and went without much acknowledgement of the season. Life was still under construction around here. Of course that’s always true, but it’s also nice to know that at least for a while, the sawdust and paint droplets and small chunks of spilled concrete are almost finished. For a while.
A few minutes ago I sent an email to my dear beloved friend Soni, who has asked me for good days to visit. ANY day, I wrote her. Years and years ago, Sonja opened up her small apartment in Denver to my visits from Southern Colorado. Finally, I have a guest bedroom, finally, all the storage has been cleared out of said guest bedroom, finally I can return the favor.
I can’t wait to have her smooth, quiet presence in the house, her endless humor. Her wickedly funny-sad-but-wise way of framing a world which hates her Black skin into the bad joke that such a world is. We were roommates for two years, a gift of unbelievable value.
She fell in love, moved out, married. I am glad for her, and bereft of her company. Would it be that all marriages/friendships/roommates work as well as that did. I miss her.
Winter is planting season in this part of the world. I learned that the hard way, as I had to pull a number of beautiful bushes up by the roots after they had expired in the heat. Two tall, spindly maples were just planted out front, as much to give me much-desired privacy as it is to put brilliant red exclamation points on my small plot for next fall.
The spreading branches will protect the St. John’s Wort, which suffered terribly in summer’s heat wave. Three more big trees are coming. I am promised heavy shade where the sun now blasts my hillside, and more privacy which was lost when some elder firs aged out to the west. Those trees used to protect the house from the Western sun.
Last winter, two red-branched, skinny Japanese maples were planted on my western hillside.Those trees thrive up here. I was rewarded with bright, bushy foliage for my trouble, and this past fall was given precisely what I most desired:
Soon, a crew will be here to sand down the cherry cabinets where the previous owners allowed food, dishwater and steam to damage the custom cabinets. It is beyond me how people fail to mind the beauty around them, but that’s not for me to say. The work isn’t major, but it’s among the very last of the big gestures to restore this home to the glory it enjoyed when it was first built. I love being surrounded by old wood, stone and wood floors.
I also love being surrounded by mist slipping among the trees like layers of soft chiffon, waking up each day to the dewy ground. Downy woodpeckers and Stellar’s Jays crowd the feeders, which swing with the weight of the chickadees and the wrens.
I know what it’s like to be homeless. Broke. Bankrupt. To be in a house like this even for a while is remarkable to me. I know intimately what it’s like to have no home, no prospects and damned little hope. As much as I enjoy this place, I also know that it’s ephemeral.
It is not mine. Nothing is ours, not really. Not in that sense.
“Ownership” is a construct, a contract with my name on it which is meaningless in life’s largest sense. Truly, we own nothing. What we have are our experiences, our feelings. Everything else in life we rent. We enjoy it, don’t enjoy it, appreciate, complain about it, but none of it is ours. Not forever.
The closer I get to my final years the more I hope to appreciate what is in front of me, as my stone fireplace is right this moment.
My last house was a compromise in many ways, a perfect place for that time in my life. This one wasn’t a compromise. I don’t have that kind of time. What time I do have, well. I really, really want to appreciate what’s in front of me. Life, love, these walls, those trees, the warmth of the fire.
The projects have been never-ending. But the small property, the new plants, new trees, the blackberries and invasive weed clearing and all the repairs and upgrades have been worth it. My friend Melissa says it will never be done, and she’s right. There will always and forever be something. However, I’m at the tipping point, moving from major overhauls to maintenance. Instead of being an anchor, my home can finally be my base, a warm, inviting spot to return to after long trips abroad. Or so I hope.
I say “my” and “mine.”
But I’m just renting here. My body, my house, my my my. None of it is mine. Not really. Just passing through.
The older I get, the more I feel the papery-thin, parchment impermanence of all things, most particularly my life.
My beloved friend Dallas, who lived past 100, died in her house in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She had lived there since the forties, the contours of the house never changing, the art on the walls having never moved. The same ancient appliances, the aging floors, the back yard full of magnificent trees.
I can’t even imagine such consistency. I don’t have the time to build a back yard like that. But I can start one for someone else to enjoy.
Which is, perhaps, why I am enjoying the process of the projects, planting trees I may never see spread their broad leaves over the rich green slopes of this yard, watch the shade protect flowers and mossy plants that make this small plot so lovely to my eyes.
This year the holidays feel like home. For the first time in two-and-a-half decades I have a Christmas tree. The decorations which have been under wraps for equal time are sparkling all over the house. I’m starting to leave various divots here and there of my own, marking the house the way life has marked this aging body. Giving it stories. My stories.
Adding them to the stories of previous owners, the same way a parent pencils in their child’s height against the inside of a closet door, as we did as I was growing up. My last house in Colorado had those marks in the soft blonde wood of the kitchen door frame. Proof of life, proof of stories.
But the house wasn’t theirs. It wasn’t mine. Nor does it belong to the lovely family of women who took that house off my hands. They are now weaving their stories into the walls and floors. The same way man has painted pictures on his cave walls from the beginning of time.
All we can do is mark our passage.
Ownership is a fairy tale. It’s just a story. My presence here and the gift of this house are wraiths in the wind, as fleeting as the brilliant red Japanese maple leaves which are now being absorbed into the soil to feed future trees.
But while I am here, I will fill this house with light, warmth, love, and stories. Paint my stories on my cave walls, as it were. May they be happy ones.
Home for the holidays, and what ever days I am given.