Look there, just ahead of us. Can you see it through the trees? It is the forest’s own house, inhabited by birds and small animals, grown into the briars and maple roots like a living thing, yet still the empty haunt of the wind that drops down from the dense canopy and cries through the abandoned rooms. Let’s go closer. Watch your step; the path is treacherous with ground-hugging vines and the ruts worn by the decorous deer, who go in well-mannered single file along it. There is water beneath the soft ground, see the stream down there, over the long slope that was surely once a front garden. The forest has taken it back, grown fat on the ghost of long-ago cultivation.
Here we are at the yawning doorway to the cellar, its walls of heavy fieldstone and heavier mortar resisting the ivy and Virginia creeper. Inside, it is dim and cool. The smell of the earthen floor is the smell of the forest in shadow, a mushroom and newt miasma cold to the nostrils and weighted with damp. Above us the stout timbers are perforated with beetle life, but their hearts are iron. They are old and gnawed, but will last a long time yet. Perhaps this was once a kitchen and keeping room, opening onto the garden and orchard. There are still a few apple trees standing in the forest, bent and wild as feral children.
Let’s go around to the side where we can look in through the blank gape of the west window. Here, give me your hand. The bank is steep, but the trees have made a stair of their roots if you can avoid the clutch of the blackberry. It will be trickier going back down, placing our feet carefully on the slip and slither of fallen leaves. You can lean your weight upon the splintered sill; the walls are still sturdy. See the two small rooms that comprise the first floor? There, in the back doorway, lie the collapsed remains of a small wood stove. There, by the wall, is a blackened hole in the floor where it must have once stood, radiating warmth and a sense of home. The leaves have blown over the floor, and the squirrels have left their winter provender in the corners. A bird has built its nest on the lintel of the door to the second room. Through a gap in the wall, you can just see the rust-bitten treadle of a wrecked sewing machine. The loneliness of the house is like a shiver along the ragged skin of its plaster. Only spiders stitch here now.
There is the stair to the second floor, narrow and steep. Wait. We can’t go up, through the dust-shrouded sunbeams and the haze of the house’s memories. The boards are suspect, and there is no one near to hear our cries if we should crash through. The house would keep us, would sheet us like summer furniture in cobwebs and stray feathers, and our spirits would wander here forever (or until the rough metal roof fell to rust and let in the rain, the snow; let the elements pull down the house). Even now, it yearns for our touch, for the tread of our feet and the elixir of our voices. It has been alone so long, and the forest is a careless tenant. The day is fading. We should go back, before the night creatures wake. Before we feel too much pity and decide to stay.
Visit the friends in my Blogroll for great reads: For a kitchen far from abandoned, but humming and steaming with good things, read Earlybird’s delicious blog, mangetout and other stories. For frisking walks in the woods that often lead to historical wonderment and other tantalizing diversions, read Kate Shrewsday’s fabulous blog. The Good Luck Duck’s sharp wit will bring you laughter and the joy of travel in a lively home on wheels.