Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bones and Boards.

A sneaker-print in the adhesive, with a hand-print nearby. Evidence. That he was kneeling, putting down the brick laminate floor. For himself? Or on hire? Just who was this man, exactly? All I’ve been given is a sneaker print. Yet, from what I’ve observed here in the canyon, he was the owner. And I know it’s a “he” from the shoe size and shape, unless Amazon women roamed these parts in the ‘70s.

One of the things I’ve noticed about canyon people -- along with a good heart, solitary nature, and gun ownership -- is that they do the work themselves. Very rarely do you see professional roofers, or painters, or handyman trucks. But you do see your neighbor down at the lumberyard. That’s just how it is up here. If you hire someone for home improvements, you’re obviously a newbie -- someone who very likely won’t make it through the next winter. Which is why I haven’t hired jobs out -- aside from not having the money to do so, I’ve wanted to fit in, to blend into a community of old timers who told me I wouldn’t make it.

Like archeologists, we read the truth from what is left, which is sometimes not enough. Houses, toys, writings, cooking pots -- artifacts -- tell us about a person. Their stamp that they were here...in this very place...centuries before you. When I was a kid, I buried things -- yes, as the funeral director for birds, cats, cattle and goats. But I also buried bits of myself there in the dark Iowa soil, dug deep; kept safe in a mason jar. A small pewter horse, a favorite paperback book, a plastic cowboy and indian. And a heart shaped rock I’d found in the creek. They’re there, somewhere still -- in our old south pasture, along with a note about my name, age, date. In some way, I wanted my personality to be remembered -- my soul, my character, to live on. I wanted people to know me outside my physical bones.

Yet, there is a lot that could be determined from my bones -- my left knee has a knot from beginning to run too much too fast; my jaw is compacted from a horse riding injury in high school (it always hitches when it opens); my left hand fingers are bent from practicing the guitar five hours a day at conservatory; and, my bones would show periods of malnourishment from celiac disease and a struggle with anorexia. Times of plenty, times of drought; like age rings on a tree, my bones can be read.      

And when you strip a home down to its bare boards, it can be read too. If, that is, you care to take the time -- to tear up, scrape down, lay flat, clamp straight, and hand nail -- one by one. Inch by inch.  

And when you do, the floors talk -- when you’ve stopped trodding over them for a precious few days, and bust up their hiding places to let their stories out instead -- it’s kind of like you’re reading a mystery novel back to front. And you take your time with it. The front door used to be the back, the driveway used to be on the west side of the pine row where my sister ran over the gutter the day I moved in, and the spare bedroom’s floor was cut into and patched because of water damage from the bathroom tub. There are dates written on the plywood of the basement steps and on the bottom of closet doors.

There’s something very meaningful about old homes or “fixer-upers” as the colloquialism goes, and about the first big home project -- as if we’re animals peeing out our territory. This is ours, here, within these boundaries. We did this.  And this, is our mark. Over top the last alpha’s.   


And this past week at the end of a fifth fourteen-hour day, sitting on the couch, sipping wine that will no longer stain the carpets (thank god), two of us become silent -- staring into the wood stove that’s burning the carpet stripping we’ve torn off. These walls have heard a lot, we think at the same time. They have heard the arguments and screams, divorces and bankruptcies; and all the tears afterwards. Yet they’ve heard the laughter, too -- and the lovemaking. They have been full....and empty...on and off again for years, like a bad relationship.

Love and hate, and so it goes.

People have seemingly wanted this cabin, but have been unable to handle it for one reason or another -- or a few. And to be honest, when I bought it a few years ago, I wasn’t sure I could handle it either -- I had more than a few things going against me. But I had to try because I was in love with it, and with the idea of home, stead, and sanctuary (which, as Lemony Snicket defines, is “a small, safe place in a troubling world.”). And so I made my mind up to romance this small place...and figure out what I am made of in the process...my best chance. I would dance all alone on the kitchen floor partner in life or no -- which worked out well because I had always learned the man’s part anyways. So I’d dance both parts, until somebody else had the guts to give a tap on my shoulder and cut in.

And eventually, somebody did.

This cabin was safe, I knew, but not entirely -- which is what made it good. It couldn’t hurt me as another human could -- but still, it could break my heart. I was aware of that. And I was ready for it, but I was ready for somewhere I could live and breathe and sprawl out and let myself out safely, even more. I was willing to take the gamble of loving this place, and seeing if it perchance would love me back.

And it has -- it has loved me back...through elbow grease and sweat, and paint and nails, and a dug out well of tears -- it has come to form a sanctuary for me, a man, and a dog.

Which is what I’ve always wanted.

And someday when we are many years gone, when someone decides to pull up the boards covering our nailed down secrets, they’ll find that we loved this life and that we wanted to stay...scribbled on plywood subfloor.   
 

46 comments:

  1. I have always believed in the magic memories of a cabin. Growing up, we had a cabin that my Grandpa built. And now I wonder if the present owners appreciate the love and sacrifice that went into each nail, board, and drop of varnish that created it. So glad that you are living your dream!

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    1. RD - What a cool story about your Grandpa. And even when we lose those places, they're still with us. Magic memories of cabins. Yep. There's something to that!

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  2. That was beautiful. What's more to say? Well, I think such a sanctuary is the foremost desire to be fulfilled, just after basic survival needs are met. From the limited view of this outsider, you have certainly earned your stead in the canyon. I'm not sure how many winters endured it takes to prove it, but you clearly belong right where you are. I am happy for you.

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    1. Daniel - Many thanks! I don't know that I'll ever feel I deserve what I have right now...but working for it is a damn fine feeling. Neighbor Tom told me the day I moved in that most people only last one winter, if that. I've just finished my 2nd. So I think I'm in good standing! Thanks for reading and commenting as well! Always much appreciated!

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  3. Beautiful, my friend. (Ps. I didn't know about the jars!)

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    1. Val - I think my parents probably didn't know about the jars. ;-) I can't wait to see you....feel like I should start counting down the days!

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  4. The farm was close but I don't believe I have found the home yet that is my kindred spirit. However, there is great satisfaction in the big projects, making it your own, placing your mark on the edifice. Reminds me of peeing around the outbuildings to keep the varmints away. IPOY
    pa

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    1. Pa - Perhaps your kindred spirit is in the canyon too. Don't worry...I will shovel your driveway, I promise! Remember when I bought this place, you told me that there in nothing in the world that holds the satisfaction I would get from doing projects on my own home? You were right. Thank you for everything you helped me do. I never would have jumped in without knowing you were behind me....or to the east of me, I guess. (And you peed around the outbuildings! Just like Roo the stinky buck! pow!)

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  5. Beautiful, Erin. Maybe it's a midwest thing (but probably not: we all want pieces of ourselves to be found); I buried things in the ground, too. The strangest one was a UPS box that my brother and I found intact in the cornfield... that still had a John Deere tractor cap inside of it. Weird, yes. But I remember what it felt like to lay that soil over the top, to have those kinds of secrets between my brother and me and the earth.

    I'm so glad that you have this sweet sanctuary place. From the bits I know about you, it's clear that you deserve every square inch.

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    1. Emily - I have often wondered if it is a midwest thing. Or, my childhood obsession with Little House and Laura Ingalls. Land of my own I've wanted more than a room. Thanks for sharing that UPS memory. What a cool story! Thanks for reading and taking time to leave your mark in thought.

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  6. I buried pieces of myself in the house I grew up in. I wonder what people will think 100 or more years from now when they find my treasures? Beautifully written Erin.

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    1. Howard - Kind of makes you think, doesn't it. Thanks for reading as always!

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  7. How good is this? Pretty darn good. Thanks.

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    1. Alex - Thanks for taking the time to read. =)

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  8. I hope that you have printed this off and buried it under your floor for some future resident to find ; )

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    1. Dave - Things are written, be sure. ;)

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  9. As we appreciate those who have gone before us so do we want to be appreciated by those who will come after us. Bits and pieces of our lives hopefully to be discovered by someone who values continuity.

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    1. penbayman - Very well put. Matched my sentiments precisely. Thanks for leaving your thoughts...they're always much appreciated!

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  10. But now I think you need to post one of those audio bits with some guitar in it. Those of us without musical talent demand it.

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    1. Pete - Ha! That would take a heck of a lot of practicing now, to make it anywhere near what it once was. Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  11. “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

    Erin ~ So happy your heart has found a home, that loves you back, a great foundation for a fruitful life

    Jim

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  12. For some reason this moved me to tears. Small, good ones.

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    1. Hart - I think I know the reason...and I smile.

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  13. If the walls of my house could talk they'd speak of the previous owners propensity for shortcuts. I did find an old wadded up newspaper inside a wall recently, but no evidence of it's time. Neat stuff....that's why I was always a sucker for this old house. They're time capsules, full of experiences never to be spoken again.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - A newspaper, eh? Really? Wow. That's a hoot, and frustratingly baffling at the same time. Good luck with your time capsule. =)

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  14. Good to get back to your blog again, Erin. Lovely pieces. Thanks for creating a homeplace here for us.

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    1. Jim - Thanks for reading along...and congrats again on the new family addition. =)

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  15. When we had our first house (an ancient farmhouse), I mostly cursed the previous owner's handyman work -- mostly wiring that'd scare the bejesus outta you -- though I did wonder which manner of idiot he was from time to time.

    We have footprints on the ceiling of our porch though they're now covered by some insulation and tongue in groove sheathing. Those prints tell a tale of wood stacked somewhere in the way, easier to step on than over, and how that stack materialized into a place where a black lab likes to find a spot in the sun. It all becomes home.

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    1. Steve - There was a wire we pulled out of the wall. It just kept coming, so we pulled. Probably not the best of ideas in hindsight. But all still works. I love your connection of the footprints to the sun spot. Good stuff, my friend.

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  16. Wonderful writing. Great way to start my saturday.

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    1. River Mud - Ahhh good morning! Sipping coffee, doing a little reading myself. Thanks so much for the kind words, and for taking the time to stop by! Have a good one...

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  17. Hi- Since making your acquaintance, I have admired your tenacity and resolve. Allowing us into your home,gives insight to more quality traits.I think it's really all many of us want, a little peaceful home on earth. Almost a spiritual,satisfied happiness resonates from your continued clear,vivid writing. I knew you wouldn't hire out the work. Artifacts left in Iowa soil, a new legacy in a Colorado canyon. Nice work on all fronts.

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    1. Scott - It would have been somewhat odd, wouldn't it have been...to make one's own bamboo rod, and then have someone else nail down pine floors. ;-) Thank you so much as always for your insight and kind and encouraging words.

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    2. Erin- For some the creation of a bamboo rod could be seen as kind of an artistic expression, which in it's own way is very cool. What I appreciated was you taking on an improvement to your home.
      Best of luck in all your pursuits.

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  18. In the Eastern Oregon high plains desert there's an old sheepherder's cabin, south of the highway between Bend and Burns. 40 years or so ago I found it while trying to make a shortcut to Silver Late. One room, it was papered inside with circa 1920 comics from the papers. Still readable, I spent a long time reading Lil' Abner and Skeezix. I wondered about the life of the solitary man (probably)who spent a winter here, and tried imagine his life. Archaeology on a micro scale, and comparing it to my own, then beginning, adult life.
    Sometimes it's good to look back and see who's shoulders we're standing on, eh? Nicely written.
    Cheers, Erin.
    Mike

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    1. Mike - What a find! And wallpapered comics....gets the imagination going! You're so very right -- It is good to look back...

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  19. This was a great read, Erin. Fixing old houses do give that feeling of being surrounded by history. I want to get an old Victorian and fix it up one day.

    re: Mike's comment above. I was helping my friend do some renovation on his house built in 1885 and we found a bunch of old newspapers in his walls as well. One in particular, was from New Years Day 1900. He is framing that one as a memento of the project and as a token of the home's history.

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    1. Master of Kung Fu - The newspaper thing is so cool! I like imagining that they were hidden there for the exact purpose of my Iowa farm country mason jars. Noting a place and time. And I really like that your friend is framing his! Awesome. Thanks much for stopping by. Hope that practicing is continuing on well! =)

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  20. So thoughtful and so well written Erin. I'm happy for you, the man, the dog, and the home.

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    1. Mr P. - Many thanks for the good thoughts and words.

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  21. Yet another award for you....from me The Versatile Blogger Award...do as you see fit in the selection process...a bit cumbersome.

    http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/vba-rules/

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    1. swittersb - Thank you much, sir! For reading, the comment, and the award.

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