The View from Mary's Farm for February 2008
January 1, 1970Late again! Or still. I do want to tell all of you, my special subscribers, that very soon, I will be re-issuing my first book, The Place He Made, which was published in 1995. This was a memoir about my husband's death from cancer. It was published first in hardcover by Random House and later in paperback by Bantam and it sold relatively well at the time but, because of the way publishing is now structured, it went out of print in 1998. I continue to receive letters about this book from folks who have found it in second-hand stores or in libraries, and many people order the book from me. I've had a hard time filling these orders so I will be issuing a new edition, with a introduction and a new cover. The price will be $18.95. If you would like me to save you a copy, please let me know.
OK, on to this month's essay!
My Bohemian Paradise
In the early part of last winter, I stacked wood in my shirtsleeves, mowed the lawn and fretted that no ice had yet come to the lakes. Even the birds were confused. For quite some time during January and February, I enjoyed watching a pair of bluebirds cavort in the brambles across the road and dart back to my porch, where they pecked away at a Christmas display of greens and red winterberries. This was the third of our disappointing winters. Boots, hats and scarves stayed in the closet all the way till February. Many here rejoiced in how easy it was, no snow to shovel, no slippery roads, no bone-chilling winds. But I, perhaps too much a contrarian, craved a good snowstorm and the creaking, squeezing noises inside this old house, provoked by a night below zero.
Perhaps I long for those sounds because it’s been otherwise so quiet here. In the past year, no walls were moved, no foundations poured, no floors sanded or walls painted. The only change was the replacement of several windows in the el, which has made a big difference. Curtains no longer puff out during northeasters. I didn’t realize that living with those old, thin windows, I could hear almost everything: the occasional car that passed by, the long approach of the snowplow, the crack of a hunting rifle. It was a bit like living in a tent. Now, with the new windows, the silence, always notable, is almost complete. I may not miss the cold winds that blew through the room but I do miss that closeness to the outdoors, summer and winter. Now, I actually have to go outdoors to be outdoors. In the ten years I’ve been here, the house has transformed from an ancient, drafty, seven-bedroom farmhouse to a snug one-bedroom home, flooded with sunlight.
I have one last bastion of unfinished territory, a roomy attic space under the eaves, with new light brought in by a big, south-facing dormer and a skylight. Fresh out of funds but not out of need, I determined to make this a place for family and friends to stay when they came to visit. I moved beds up there and put thick rugs on the floor. Bedsheets, pulled tight and stapled to the rafters and kneewalls, give the appearance of painted walls. A bookcase holds a raft of worn paperbacks, including A Prayer for Owen Meany, Crossing to Safety, and everything Farley Mowett ever wrote. I tacked the many Bread and Puppet posters I’ve accumulated over the years to the roof boards between the giant timbers of the old frame. Heat drifts up from a register over the cookstove so the warmest place is right next to the bed, an old cannonball four-poster my father rescued from a junk shop back in the 1940s, in anticipation of marrying my mother.
I call this my “bohemian paradise,” a place where you can still smell the old wood and see the open history of the house, including the charred beams from a house fire that was quenched before it took the house and the huge opening for the original center chimney, long since removed and boarded over.
I will have to finish this room someday, add insulation and sheetrock, make it really nice, but, no hurry. It’s a bit like the weather and my contrary nature: don’t make things too comfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.