Sunday, August 12, 2012

Spirit of Place

by Zinta Aistars

As I putz around the old farmhouse at Z Acres preparing for afternoon guests, I think I feel the arms of the place opening up for an embrace. It's not just me that enjoys greeting friends and Z Word clients to this place ... Z Acres does, too.

We like our quiet time, the door closing softly behind us, the gate clicking shut, the very limbs of the trees drawing around and encircling protectively, but there is a time for all things. Other voices, other faces, other steps enter in and stay for a while, and each one adds something special, not just for the moment, but in perpetuity. 

As I walk the grounds this early Sunday morning, I whisper thanks and praise. My fingers brush against the leaves of plants as I pass. I raise my face to the open blue sky, the same sky that last night was streaked with the Perseid meteor showers. Every morning I do this walk; every evening I repeat it.

When I come to the barn, I sense I am being watched. Wildlife? Plenty here, and we often meet eye to eye: deer, sand cranes, hawks, foxes, coyotes, wild turkeys, woodchucks, bullfrogs. I'm sure they watch me now, too, but it's the barn that seems to be breathing in rhythm with me.

I place a palm against the grayed and weathered wood. The knots in the wood look like eyes, like faces. Some of them look like gnomes, or dwarves and elves, magical beings that live inside the wood and emerge at night, when I'm not looking. Some look a little monstrous, buried in the wood. One eye blinks, the other gazes, another smirks and grins.

I'm sure of it: this place is filled with its own spirit. Or even, spirits. The century-old farmhouse, yes, but also the land, the wooded hillside and the fields that stretch out to the treeline in the west. I can't help but wonder about the owners that came before.

I never did get the opportunity to meet the previous owner, the woman in Chicago who sold Z Acres to me. We did all our business with the assistance of technology, faxes and emails and scanning machines, with real estate agents as go-betweens.

Even so, I think I know a few things about her. I know that she loved to garden, and that she respected this land, and listened to it as I do. The greenhouse is filled with packets of organic seeds, garden charts and schedules. The toolhouse has rakes and hoes hanging in neat rows from the walls, stacks of ceramic pots, trowels and garden shears, watering hoses curled into baskets. When I dig up my garden patch in the same place where she had hers, I find soil that is rich and loamy, crumbling through my fingers, well mulched and composted. Perennials burst into bloom across the property throughout the seasons, even throughout the woods, planted there by caring hands. I send her thanks across the miles.

History imbues place with the spirits of those who have lived there. Each of us leave something of ourselves behind. When I slide open the barn door and walk inside, I can see the curls of wood shavings mixed into the sandy floor. Before the Chicago owner came a couple, I'm told, who lived here for a few years, and he built wooden boats in the barn. Thus the two barn doors. One opens as a garage, the other opens for the boats that were created here, emerging to set sail when finished, from shady barn to open water. I see faded and framed photographs of boats sailing over foamy waves in the workshop corner of the barn.

And before them? I hear tales of a man who lived here, seemingly alone, for three decades. Perhaps legend has mixed with truth, but I may not need to know the particulars. He, I understand, built this barn. He built the toolshed, and the cottage on the wooded hill. I found paperwork that listed all the trees that he planted, noted in careful lists. Fruit trees, walnuts, pine groves, oaks and maples and willows. Did he plant each one by hand? Tamping down the dirt around the tiny trunks, someday to turn into great trees, throwing shade across the farmhouse and keeping it cool.

I wonder most about him, and there are moments when I think I sense him walking the woods, leaning against the barn door, standing at the edge of the field and gazing out at the far treeline, one hand shading his eyes. Who was he?

A hint of his sense of humor appears in the cottage on the hill. Windows are built into the walls up and down and this way and that, each one different from the others. There is a playfulness in its floorplan. Perhaps he had children, or grandchildren, that came here to play. Or maybe he just wanted to go up the hill and get lost in the trees from time to time. When I walk the path up the hill, winding through the trees, I sometimes sit on one of the old chairs in the cottage, left behind by the previous owner, maybe the owners before, or even before that, padded seats faded and torn, pink roses gone nearly white, but the wooden backs hand carved with care and still beautiful. I sit and consider. I sit and listen for the voice of the cottage, of the builder, and wait to find out what I should do with this place.

Little by little, I am adding my own life sense to Z Acres. I am adding my touch to all those hands that came before. I am not erasing, but adding to, shaping and reshaping, making this place mine as it was once theirs. Before the man who planted all these trees and built these wonderful structures came many others, and on the large sheet of paper that I inherited with my title are lists of more names, dates, titles and deeds changing hands, all the way back to 1893.

Maybe those are the faces I see in the walls of the barn? The faces of their dreams, good and bad, their personal gremlins, their hidden goblins. With time, mine will appear here too, mischievous winks and eye twinkles, little demons that I've beaten and those that still nag. All in the wood. All in the place. A house that has stood for a century, and may it stand for a century more. In the land, alongside the seeds of heirloom tomatoes and pepper plants and leafy basil. In the blackberry brambles, and out in the pine grove, shadowed and cool.

A place changes with its residents. We change with the homes that we choose and where we let down our roots. Soon it will be five months since I have lived here, yet I already feel changed. To the core. To the heart. And from that change have come new dreams, and old dreams realized, all because I came to live here.

And not just me. My dog and his bark are absorbed into these walls and land, my cat's quiet wanders. All my guests, dear friends and beloved family, my clients who come here to be interviewed and discuss their projects. All leave their imprint. All leave something of themselves. Knotted in the wood, flowing into the whirls of its grain, bleaching out circles and ripples and ridges. We are all here. Winking from the door jamb. Glowing in smiles from the nighttime windows.

1 comment:

  1. Places come to know us, and we come to know them, strengthening the continuity of lives.