Boxes

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Life lately feels like a continuum of boxes.

Mentally, we are checking off the many boxes that will enable us to move to another town, another house: find a new job, find renters, find financing, find a new house, find a way to move between houses.

Our conversations have more frequently consisted of verbally checking off boxes:  “I did a, b, and c today.”  “Were you able to do x, y, z?”  We make a list of tasks and split them between us, and proudly report on our progress at the end of the day.  It’s very romantic.

Most noticeably, we are surrounded by physical boxes, of the cardboard type.  I spent two and a half weeks sorting through and packing up the items which we had stored on the unrented side of our duplex, in preparation for persons yet unknown to fill it with their own possessions. Those few weeks have made me into something of a cardboard box connoisseur.  I am collecting them, in various sizes and shapes, from a variety of sources–book boxes from my work at the library, paper boxes from the office of a family member, Easter candy boxes from the local convenience store.  I am becoming quite adept at eyeballing a heap of variously-shaped items, carefully selecting a box of just the right volume and shape, and packing everything so the contents fit together like pieces of a puzzle.  Sturdy boxes with pre-cut handles are gold, the Holy Grail of packing supplies.  My enthusiasm for them may border on the effusive.

I have also started packing up on our side of the house, choosing the least-used items to pack first.  We have no idea when we will be able to move (this depends on the person(s)-yet-unknown who will hopefully want to rent out our apartment), so I try to keep in mind that I might not have access to the items for months or, possibly, for more than a year. This sort of rigorous selection process has resulted in another round of de-cluttering–“if I really won’t need it for a year, will I ever need it again, and in that case, do I want to spend the time and energy to move it?”  Sometimes, unfortunately, I can’t recall if a certain item has been packed up out of sight in a box, or has been gotten rid-of altogether.  I’ve also started “losing” items, in general chaos that is my house lately, and I’m never quite sure that some necessity hasn’t been accidentally slipped into a box and sealed up.  I regularly check on the cats for this reason.

There are stacks of empty cardboard boxes scattered around my house, waiting to be either broken-down or filled up.  I’m starting to feel like a hoarder.  I try to remind myself that this is temporary, but then I remember that I don’t know how temporary.  I also know that when the time to move actually arrives, it will be much, much worse.  A sea of boxes.  A forest of boxes.  I’ll be wading through them, in every room.  I myself may wind up swathed in newspaper and sealed inside one with packing tape.  If you help us move, be sure to carefully check my labels scrawled in Sharpie, and be mindful of This End Up.

 

 

 

The Fairy House

“It was a blustery sort of day,” and the motley gray clouds were indecisive about rain.  Dampness and uneven light played weirdly with color, unnaturally brightening some hues while sinking others into murky shadow.  The trees swayed this way and that in the gusts of wind, whispering fiercely.  It was beautiful, and very eerie.

 

 

The trail was aptly named “Wonderland,” and although it felt that morning like an otherworldly setting for a ghost story or a dark fantasy novel, it was actually wending its way through Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine–a place less fantastic, perhaps, but to my mind, certainly not less romantic.  It was not well populated, except for Shaun and myself, and a few other determined hikers, likely due to the fitful weather.  So it was easy to feel the wind pull viciously at my hair, and see the strange play of light and shadow through the moaning trees, and believe that around any bend in the trail, one might suddenly glimpse a sullen ghost, or a fleeing dryad.  The goosebumps on my arms were not all due to the chilly mist.

We talked quietly as we walked, and eventually entered an archway of trees that formed a  lush green tunnel.  The floor of the wood was a genial tangle of rocks, undergrowth, moss and fallen leaves.  The wind dissipated among the trees.  It was an altogether friendlier place.

Rounding a bend in the trail, we saw a small, bare-headed, rain-coat-clad figure kneeling at the side of the trial ahead, just before the path disappeared around another turn.   The boy looked up at us as we approached, and we saw that he was around eight or nine years of age, golden-haired, with a small face and large eyes.  As we came closer, he stood up and looked at us expectantly.

“Would you like to see my fairy house?”

We assured him that we would.  He knelt down again and showed us his creation, which was built atop a bed of needles and twigs to the side of the trail.  It would have been easy to miss, had its architect not pointed it out to us.  The roof was a thick slab of moss.  The walls were all of stone, chosen carefully from the the trail, and an opening had been left for the convenience of diminutive house-hunters.

The boy looked at us with some concern.  “Do you think the fairies will like it?”

We assured him that we believed they would.  “If I were a fairy, I think that would like it very much,” I told him.  He seemed satisfied.

Another adult appeared around the next bend in the trail.  “There you are!” she said to the boy.  “Time to move on.”

“I was showing them my fairy-house,” the boy said proudly, indicating the two of us.  The woman held out her hand, and without a backward glance, our young acquaintance skipped away out of sight.

We admired the fairy-house for a moment more, and I snapped a photo.  When we continued on our way, the trail ahead was empty.  We never saw the fairy-house builder again.

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What Will be Left Behind

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anotole France

***

Anne realized that the end of their life in this dear place drew nigh, and that she must face the fact bravely.  But how her heart ached!

“It will be like tearing something out of my life,” she sobbed.  “And oh, if I could hope that come nice folk would come here in our place–or even that it would be left vacant.  That itself would be better than having it over-run with some horde who know nothing of the geography of dreamland, and nothing of the history that has given this place its soul and its identity.  And if such a tribe come here the place will go to rack and ruin in no time–an old place goes down so quickly if it is not carefully attended to.  They’ll tear up my garden–and let the Lombardies get ragged–and the paling will come to look like a mouth with half the teeth missing–and the roof will leak–and the plaster fall–and they’ll stuff pillows and rags in broken window panes–and everything will be all out-at-elbows.”  ~Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

***

Shaun is out of the Army now, and has the beard and hair to prove it.  The other day, in public, I saw him out of the corner of my eye and didn’t recognize him.  He came up and lightly tapped me on the shoulder, and I whirled around, wondering indignantly why this total stranger hadn’t just said “excuse me” to get my attention.

Because it was my husband, that’s why.

Being that Shaun is now out of the military, we have decided that it is in our best interest to move to another town.  I am the type of person who becomes content where she is, and the idea of picking up and starting over in a new place is both exciting and overwhelmingly scary.  Part of me keeps asking, “can’t I just stay here?”  We have carved out a little life for ourselves here, with great determination–not the least part of which is the house we bought four years ago.  Like Anne, I’ve sewn my affections into this place, gotten to know it, searched out its history, improved it where I could, made do where I couldn’t, and above all, made it my own.  The idea of ripping out all those little stitches makes my heart ache.  The idea of selling it to someone else–of a stranger sleeping in my room, making dinner in my kitchen–makes me slightly queasy.

Of course, I know people buy and sell houses every day, and very few live in one house for their entire adulthood.  There’s a good possibility that I am overly sentimental.  But I have an idea–maybe a silly one–that places have their own character, formed not just by appearance or by vintage, but by the people who live in them.  Our house was built and maintained for many years by good, respectable people, only to fall into careless hands in the last few decades.  It’s a nice house, a friendly sort of house, but a little sad from neglect.  We’ve done our best in the last few years to improve it, make it look and function well again.  We’re not finished–not even close.  I hate the thought of someone coming along and undoing all of our work, of not appreciating this place for its value, which goes beyond that of a mere roof and four walls.

I’m going to miss so many things about this place.  I’m going to miss the smaller, cozy rooms.  I’m going to miss the large windows, the stained (not painted!) wood trim and hardwood floors–even the places where time has buckled them into fascinating waves.  I’m going to miss the creaky stairs.  In the winter, I will really miss the old metal radiators, which both I and the cats are fond of cuddling up to on a cold day.  I will miss our wall of bookshelves.  I’ll miss watching the sunset out my kitchen window as I make dinner, and the way the plants potted on the sill press their leaves against the glass, eager to catch the warm afternoon rays.

I’m going to miss the row of maples that line the creek in our backyard.  I’m going to miss the pleasure of my neighbor’s beautiful flower-garden.  I’ll miss the gardens we’ve worked to resurrect.  I will miss the little fairy-ring of crocuses in our side yard, the first heralds of spring.  I will miss the two apple trees next to the barn, which provide us with fluffy white blossoms in spring, and the most delicious apples in autumn.  I will miss the lilac bush, and opening the dining room windows wide to bring the fragrance indoors in May.  I will miss our two birch trees, which are gold and white in autumn, and provide a natural bird-feeder in winter.  I will miss sitting at my dining room table with Shaun, watching the birds dine year-round out the window.

I’m going to miss the town and neighborhood itself–the kind neighbors, the way kids feel free to come and go as they please, the ability to walk into the village and go shopping, go out to eat, to the farmer’s market, or, for me, to go to work.  I’ll miss being able to walk to the river, which is the reason this place exists.  I’ll miss seeing all the other beautiful houses that surround mine.

I will miss seeing our grand plans for this house take shape over the years.  I will miss the part of myself that has stitched itself into the fabric of this place, that will remain here when I am long gone.

***

There is an interesting spot next to our carriage house which I ungraciously call “the Junk Heap.”  It is exactly what I call it–the place where past inhabitants of our house used to toss their refuse.  Thanks to our dog, who first alerted me to its presence by digging it up, and to natural erosion, layer upon layer of fascinating material is being unearthed–Mother Nature conducting an archeological dig in my own backyard.  I’ve picked up shards of old glass in all colors, broken bottlenecks, pieces of ceramic, lumps of coal, and bits of metal hardware rusting away into dust.  I hold the pieces in my hands and wonder what they belonged to, who handled them, why they were finally tossed out.  There is one piece, a yellow bit of ceramic with a blue stripe running across it, which looks (to my untrained eye) like it might have once belonged to a mixing bowl.  It puts me in mind of a story related to me by a former resident of my neighborhood; how, when they were children in the ’40s, he and a friend would often come to this house and rub their noses against the front screen door.  The lady of the house, a very kind woman, would always give each of them a cookie.  But his mother always knew where he had been, and would scold him, because the tip of his nose would be blackened from pressing it against the screen.

Before we leave this house I will add my own items to the Junk Heap, some pieces of cracked ceramic dinnerware and some of my less-well-turned-out ceramic projects from college.  In the tradition of ceramicists–and of our house’s former residents–I will smash my pieces and leave them to return to the earth…or be picked up and pondered over by the next person who calls this place home.

You Look So Young: Incredulous

The cashier at the grocery store had to ask for my I.D. during check-out today.  Knowing that I will probably be carded until I am age 90, I had it ready.

The cashier looked at my birth date, then at the photo, and then up at me, clearly disbelieving.  He looked down at the photo again, back at me, back at the birthdate again, and back up at me.

I was about to ask if there was a problem when he shrugged and entered my birth date into the computer.  He sighed as my purchase cleared.

“Well,” he said, “You just barely made it.”

Even official documents do not spare me.

(Also…how does a margin of six years constitute “barely making it”?)

Aftermath

With a week-and-a-half of vacation behind us, we drove from southern Maine back to our home in New York State.  It was an eight or nine hour trip that stretched to eleven, thanks to a lack of distinct road signs.

Relieved to be home, we hobbled stiffly out of the car and onto the back porch, fumbling for the house key.

I glanced in the back door window to our kitchen, and then looked again.

“Oh, no.”

The trash can was overturned.  Strewn around it was an array of cat food tins, lids, and the remains of the trash bag, now ripped to shreds.  Some unidentifiable sort of internal cat waste (it turned out to be a hair ball) was visible among the wreckage.  As if on cue, Juniper sauntered up and sat down with great dignity next to the mess, staring at us placidly as we gawked and struggled to open the back door.

Once inside, we stepped gingerly over the trash as Juniper minced out on to the back porch, hardly giving us a second glance.  I headed for the bathroom, which is just off the kitchen, and was again brought up short.

The cat food bin was overturned and the lid was off.  There was cat kibble all across the bathroom floor.  I bent to right the bin and noticed pieces of dry egg noodle mixed in with the cat food.  I followed the trail of egg noodles to the pantry shelf where I keep dry and canned goods.  About a half-dozen cans and boxes had been knocked off the shelf.  The bag of egg noodles was ripped open neatly from top to bottom, spilling its contents over the shelf and onto the floor.

I called to Shaun and showed him the mess.  “I’m afraid to venture any further into the house!”

He assured me that the only other damage was that the cats had pulled down a curtain hanging on a tension rod and slept on it.  “It could have been a lot worse.”

“Oh, I know!” I said, and got to work cleaning up trash and cat kibble and egg noodles and hair ball while Shaun unloaded the car.

Juniper pointedly ignored me for the rest of the evening, making a show of preferring Shaun instead.  Only after I fed her that night did she come twine happily about my ankles.  I took this to mean that I was finally forgiven.

–Just as long as I never go on vacation ever again.

Conversations with Cats: Tantrum

Yes, I talk to my cats…

Bagheera: *sits down in front of back door*. “Mwoooooow?”
Me: “No, you are not going outside after dinner. The feral kitties will beat you up.”
Bagheera: *stares at me plaintively*. “MwwwoooOOOWWWowwww!”
Me: *ignores him*
Bagheera: “OWWW WOW WOW WOW!” *flops down on door mat and writhes*. “MmmWOooooooWWWW!!!”
Me: *ignores him*
Bagheera: *looks up from floor to see if theatrics are working*. “EeeeeeWOOOWWWWW!” *writhes a little more for good effect*
Me: “Kitty, you are not going to die over this. But nice try.”
Bagheera: *sits up hopefully*. “Owwwwwww???”

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Four Years

“…Mrs. Harmon Andrews told me when I came home that I wouldn’t likely find married life as much better as teaching than I expected.  Evidently Mrs. Harmon is of Hamlet’s opinion that it may be better to bear the ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”

…”You needn’t let what Mrs. Harmon says worry you,” said Diana, with the calm assurance of the four-years matron.  “Married life has its ups and downs, of course.  You mustn’t expect that everything will always go smoothly.  But I can assure you, Anne, that it’s a happy life, when you’re married to the right man.”

Anne smothered a smile.  Diana’s airs of vast experience always amused her a little.

“I daresay I’ll be putting them on, too, when I’ve been married four years,” she thought.  “Surely my sense of humor will preserve me from it, though.”

~Anne and Diana, Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

***
Happy fourth anniversary to my “right man.”  It is indeed a happy life.

~November 5, 2011~

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

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Just as sure as seasons are made for change, our lifetimes are made for these years
So I…I will be here.

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But of all God’s miracles large and small, the most miraculous one of all
Is the one I thought could never be; God has given you to me!

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Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.

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Now you’re my whole life, now you’re my whole world
I just can’t believe the way I feel about your girl
We’ll look back someday, at this moment that we’re in, and I’ll look at you and say
“And I thought I loved you then.”

Photos by Jamie Lynn Photography