That’s my house in the photo, with its witch’s garden bound in pickets, its steep roofs and tall, spare form. It sits in a lush green dip, what we call the “bottom” around here, for it is the place where the high and thickly wooded ridges crash into the boggy floor of the valley. The road trundles past in a straight, single-minded line above it on the other side, at the top of a long incline of gravel lane bordered left and right by hay and corn. Across the road, the dense, clutching woods resume with vigor, and run for miles. Often, on frosty mornings or days of chilly rain, fogs rise from the woods like the silver exhalations of thousands of trees or the manifestations of water spirits from hidden springs and streams. Then the woods draw close their shroud of mystery, close their eyes, and dream. They are never unaware, though, these woods. Sentient, patient, mischievous, they empower the land and shape the people who live here.
My house was built at the end of the 19th century, when the railroad still roared through the valley. Digging in the back yard to plant trees, I can still find “clinkers” from the steam engines’ belching furnaces. The old rail bed, its tracks long removed, runs down the middle of the hedgerow behind my house, overgrown with sumac and wild rose and honeysuckle. The trees there are tightly thronged and slender – walnut, locust, maple, dogwood, wild cherry. The hedgerow is riotous with life. Birds, chipmunks, and squirrels make it a permanent residence. Foxes and bobcats visit it to hunt. Owls, those criers of the small hours, come nightly to crouch at the edge of the fields in preparation for their silent stalkings. The ghostly deer drift across the lawn by moonlight and melt into the dry cornstalks. With all this activity, one would hardly call my home lonely, and yet…
The house, being old and having a reserved nature, is deeply quiet inside. An almost church-like hush fills it up, a silence with its own air pressure and powers of repose. Clocks tick, floorboards groan softly, the house may flex and stretch bit in the wind. It meditates on its stone foundations, taking itself seriously. It is like a stern and conscientious matron, disapproving of loud noises and too much frolic, focused on industry and respectable family life. It does not encourage me to throw raucous parties or play loud music within its confines, and so for those purposes I retreat to the loft above the garage (which being a new building hasn’t any reservations concerning such festivity). The house, in its lonely vigil in the woods, in its crucial work of sheltering and protecting its family, clings to its turn-of-the-century manners and rural suspicion of strangers. It is too old to change, and it was ever a sober structure, but in its stiff and watchful way it extends the promise of restful welcome, the peace and quiet pleasure of a proper country home.
This is the first of series of posts on lonely spots in the countryside and the strange natures they seem to assume. Fellow writer Andra Watkins inspired me to attempt a series with her wonderfully written blog, The Accidental Cootchie Mama. For some good reading, check it out by clicking on the link in my Blogroll, there on the right.