The little blue house looked lonely when we rolled in on the long gravel driveway. It had been sitting empty for nearly a month, and had that lost look vacant houses quickly get when they are people-less for very long. In front of the tattered carport, an athletic-looking robin did his running trot back and forth on stilt legs, stopping to snag a worm on the gravel. Worms always surface when it rains, and it rains here in the Northwest all the time, so I imagine it is a smorgasboard for robins.
Carter turned the key in the lock at the back door, and a musty smell wafted out to welcome us to our new temporary home. I hurried inside and began opening every window in the house to air it out, and was happy to find big windows in every room looking out onto an acre or more of green pasture. Yellow wildflowers winked through the grasses and a handful of ancient, mossy-trunked fruit trees held their branches high in salute. Home. For now.
Mentally, I began placing furniture in the rooms, hoping it would all fit. We moved from a 1,900 square-foot house into this place—a little, compact rectangle of a sparse 900 feet. We had sold or given away a lot on our belongings for the move, anticipating smaller environs, but maybe not quite this small. Still, I was very excited: I’ve longed for smaller space for a long time. Our last house was beautiful but seemed big for just two people. Carter’s favorite place to sit was at the far end of the house and upstairs from where I most often puttered in the kitchen and on the back deck. Sometimes it felt to me like he was on some far distant planet. Many afternoons, I would ask him to come downstairs to read while I fixed dinner, just to have the company. If I didn’t, we could easily pass entire days without seeing each other but in passing.
But in 900 feet there would be no avoiding each other, and that felt good to me.
While the afternoon breezes freshened up the inside of the house, I went back outside to walk the property. There is something about circumnavigating a place that feels restful and almost ceremonial to me. Mazel trotted along beside me, tennis ball gripped in his mouth. While I walked, I flung his ball far into the tall grasses and in that way, he did his own part in the ritual of claiming a new place, his footprints sinking into the wet soil to create a crazy mandala through the grass. “We are here,” his paw prints said. “I am here,” my footprints replied.
The wide open circle of our grounds is ringed by blackberry bushes and shrubs I don’t know the names of. Dotting the pasture are the old fruit trees I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t name. They have fruit on them of some kind, hard green balls like marbles on some, and elongated green knobs that look like miniature footballs. Just out the back door of the house is a stand of beautiful old firs whose thick green boughs nearly brush the ground.
A tree just a few feet to the left of the firs literally stopped me in my tracks. She is massive and moss-covered with branches thick, gnarled, and bare all the way up to the tree’s crown, where there is some sparse greenery. This tree has enormous presence. Much life has been lived in her branches and along the green moss highways of her ancient trunk. I believe her to be the guardian tree of this place, and felt almost compelled to speak to her.
I touched her bright moss dressing and told her who I was, and that she was beautiful beyond words. I told her we would be the caretakers here for awhile, and that I would try to give the old farm grounds the honor they deserved. Evidence of careful pruning still remains in the old fruit trees and the circle of firs was obviously placed with intent and care. Someone loved this place a long time ago. Perhaps many someones. It is my turn to love it for awhile…