Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Enchantment in the Woods

    Stretching across the mountainside of my property is a mining ditch dug by Chinese laborers more than a century ago. I built my new house in the woods just below that ditch and my old one on a widened spot of the flat ground that makes a trail along the ditch. When I lived there, I used to walk that trail a mile or so to the creek and then up the creek to a waterfall.
    Last week I took some friends along that ditch from my house to the edge of the property. A small tag on a tree marks my boundary with BLM, but the woods don’t recognize a property line, and there was nothing to stop our walk if we wanted to keep going. Downed trees and a tangle of branches obstructed the trail ahead, and none of us was dressed for a rugged hike – I in a silk skirt; Chelsea in fancy dress boots and carrying a 24-ounce cup of coffee, and Travis in a fine black coat and shoes that were not exactly hiking boots – but some enchantment was drawing us on. We kept walking.
    If this were a fairy tale, it would have been an evil troll who put obstacles in our path: the logs we had to crawl over and under, the brambles that reached out to tear my silk skirt, the sticks and branches strewn on the ground, slick with recent rain. But time and again we foiled the troll. No obstacle turned us back. When we came to a mud-slippery bank too steep to climb, tall, muscular Travis scrambled up it first, then turned to give Chelsea and me a hand. When the path seemed impassable with an avalanche of branches, Travis crawled over it to prove it could be crossed; then I followed, stepping on branches without touching the ground. When Chelsea followed me, the troll grabbed a foot and pulled her down. Hands reached out to help her up, and she emerged laughing, the coffee unspilled.
    As in a fairy tale, we were drawn deep into the woods, the mountain rising steeply on our left,  sweeping downhill on our right. All the woods glistened from a recent rain – the massive dark trunks of firs and cedars, the arboreal verdure, the snaky red limbs of madrones. Golden-leaved maples lifted their arms in bright glory. A dim sun cast a misty light through the trees. Mosses greened the trunks, softened our tread, grew thickly luxuriant on a rocky hillside. There was no music, but it was as if there were. There was no Titania peeking around the trees or Puck beating on a mushroom as on a drum, but it was as if there were. There was no tangible evidence of a magic spell, but we could feel it, anyway.
    Finally we came to a spot where I could see another obstacle of logs and branches ahead. I could sense the day dwindling. If we were to get home before dark, I said, we should turn back now. Chelsea and Travis agreed. But still we stood there, gazing at the woods. Below us the creek sparkled through the branches of trees. The late afternoon sun slanting through the maples turned the light golden. A tinkling murmur of water intensified the silence. We stood there, unspeaking, washed in the softness, the colors, the richness of the woods, enraptured by the quiet beauty, the unassuming beingness of this spot in the woods, bewitched and beguiled by the spell of the sensuous.
    In the gathering dusk we retraced our steps to my house, which appeared through the woods like a gingerbread cottage of enchanted beings, where spells are woven and tales are told.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ferry Wedding

    Two weeks ago I went to Vashon Island, a short ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Tacoma, to be with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter for Halloween. For my costume I decided to be the Rose Lady, in dark rose stockings under a short rose-print skirt, all pinks and reds, with a rose-pink sweater and a large, loose, rose-patterned scarf. A wreathe of artificial white roses would encircle my head. It was almost November, so in a fit of pique at having roses in bloom when by all rights we should have had freezing weather to stop flowers in their tracks, I picked all the roses in my garden and filled a basket with their petals. When I told my son I was going to be the Rose Lady for Halloween and throw rose petals on everyone I met, he said I was the Rose Petaler.
    I put all the costume except the basket of rose petals in my suitcase and drove to Eugene to take Amtrak to Tacoma. I carried the basket by hand. 
    In the waiting room for the ferry at Point Defiance in Tacoma were three other passengers: a woman of early middle age in an elegant black and white dress, a man of the same age in a nice suit, and a younger woman dressed in black. The first woman was carrying a small bouquet of flowers; the man’s jacket sported a boutonniere, and the woman in black was writing in a large notebook. “Oh,” I said, delighted, “have I stumbled upon a wedding?”
    They nodded. They were eloping, the younger woman, the officiant, told me. They had been living together for seven years, the bride added, but they didn’t want all the fuss of a wedding, so they were going to get married without anyone knowing. They were both water people, she said, so the ferry to Vashon seemed the perfect place for the wedding. They needed two witnesses. Would I be one?
    Of course! I was the perfect witness. I, too, was a “water person,” and I had rose petals to enhance the ritual!
    Once on the ferry we hurried to the bow for the ceremony, outdoors, on the water. On the way I dropped my suitcase at an indoor table and the officiant grabbed another passenger to act as witness. The second witness’s friend would be the third audience member.
    The ride to Vashon takes thirteen minutes, so we were hurrying to get everyone in place and the ceremony underway when an announcement over the public address system notified us that there were unattended bags on the ferry and that the owner should retrieve them immediately. There was a slight delay as I ran back for my bags and wheeled them onto the front deck with me. Then we started the ceremony.
    The bride and groom stood at the bow with the gray-green water of the Puget Sound stretching wide towards the islands behind them. The wind whipped the hair of the bride all around her face, but we could hear the officiant’s words and the vows of the wedding couple without trouble. The bride and groom, who had been laughing and smiling at the coup of their elopement, suddenly turned serious as they listened to the words of the marriage ceremony, beautiful words that brought tears to the eyes of the bride. Tears came to my eyes, and I didn’t even know these people, but it was all so beautiful – the water, the landscape, the wind, the vows to love and care for each other, the slipping of rings onto fingers, and finally the kiss between husband and wife, with my rose petals scattering in the wind over them like a sudden rush of doves.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tearing Down the Old House – Memories

Tearing down the old house – Part 2

    Shortly after I cleaned my old house of its trash (see previous post), I answered an ad from two young men and their friends looking for used building materials. When they saw my little handmade house in the woods, they immediately loved it. They could see its past glory in its ghostly present. Wasn’t it a shame to tear it down? they asked. 
    Of course it was, but I had already struggled with that decision. It was time to let it go, and having Charlie and Travis recycle its materials into their own similar house was the best possible solution. When they began the demolition, I picked up my hammer and crowbar to help.
    Charlie and Travis respected all the love – and blood (yes), sweat (lots), and tears (of frustration) – that had gone into the building of the house. They never hesitated when I said, “Oh, wait. Don’t take that. I want to keep” – the “Live well; laugh often; love much” sign my mother painted on an old board; the stained glass window my daughter-in-law made;
the weaving on the missing window of the door to the pantry, where, when my son was little and before I did the weaving, we used to do puppet shows; the table top I made from tiles my brother gave me; the pole ladder I built to my sleeping loft, its rungs well oiled with my hands and feet climbing up and down every day for thirty-five years, one upright pole marked with my son’s yearly growth, like rings on a tree. 
I even salvaged the broken-plate mosaics I made when, after many years, I put a concrete foundation on the original one-room cabin and replaced the dirt floor with an oak floor.

    As though it had functioned as a mnemonic trap, each board I pried off released a flock of memories. “I bent a dozen nails trying to get this board in,” I remembered as I forced my crowbar under the oak flooring of my bedroom loft, wood that had come from a demolished 100-year-old house forty years ago.
    As I knocked out the framing of a window in the larger room, I told Travis I had added that room six years after building the original ten-by-twelve-foot house. “My son, Ela, was eight years old by then,” I said. “He was beginning to look like Alice in Wonderland with her arm sticking up the chimney and her neck bent against the roof.”
    As I pulled down paneling (rough-cut red pine a friend gave me and white Port Orford cedar I bought for a song), I remembered that for years those walls were burlap. Then one summer Ela, who had graduated from college and moved to Seattle, came home to help me replace burlap with this beautiful wood.
    As I pulled up the tongue-in-groove laminate flooring, I remembered putting it in – sawing the boards to fit, pushing the tongues into the grooves, forcing the last piece against the wall. Underneath was the plywood with its stenciled design my mother had painted when she came to visit. She didn’t much like the house (“It’s like camping,” she said, a derisive comment I took as a compliment), but she gave it her art.
    Upstairs, in what had been Ela’s room, I tore apart the bed I built him. The construction wasn’t the usual style, but the bed was strong and well braced. On the underside was a piece of rope running through a u-nail, part of a hammocks loom the bed became after Ela went to college.
    The manzanita railing Ela built on the deck was now broken, the deck itself unsafe under my feet. There were rotten boards on the back deck, too, just at the stairs I walked down every day to take a shower, outdoors, in view of Humpy Mountain, rain or shine, ice, fog, or snow. In winter I left the water running overnight so it wouldn’t freeze. One winter I had to step over a foot-high wall of ice made by the splashing water.
    The memories wouldn’t stop, but it seemed so right to be recycling one beloved house into another like it, to be giving my house, in a different form, to people who understood and loved it, that I couldn’t feel bad about its destruction. When Charlie and Travis left with the last trailer load of building materials, I gave them a copy of Living with All My Senses, my book about living in that little house. Holding it fondly, they said they would keep it on a table in their house as a reminder of the recycling of memories.