It’s been a year since we turned the key on the new house in the Pacific Northwest, and as I looked outside to observe how the newest plants are adapting, I thought it might be a good idea to review the photos taken in the last 12 months.
When we arrived, the area was experiencing a record heat wave that had lasted beyond 30 days. The junipers were stressed, the grass was crispy and the fires in eastern Washington were sending so much smoke our way that our blue skies looked more like the ones in Los Angeles tinged with brown. We were barely in the house when we began encountering a number of surprises one isn’t prepared for. That’s why they call them surprises.
I recall our adjustment to slower Internet (though we’ve never quite adjusted to that), lost mail, back-ordered stock, which delayed the new floors and the actual settling in for over a month, and learning about an unusual religious sect in the area, which is home to their largest congregations in the nation. We’ve lived through power outages, downed trees, chopping our own wood, the wettest winter in two decades, Gary’s commute and waging a small war with Bambi and Thumper who, cute as they are, have had me rethinking my stance on hasenpfeffer and venison. I’ve begun to find the photograph of rabbit stew in Nigel Slater’s book Ripe rather enticing.
As the anniversary is upon us, I’m reminded of the sale in California, how we survived that final week in the house with an ice chest, air mattresses and two iPads along with the clothes we’d need for our journey. I recall the final morning in the house before we turned into vagabonds for three weeks.
After stopping in Santa Rosa to see Gary’s aunt and uncle, we received a message on the road, in the middle of nowhere, that the title company needed more documentation in order to close the sale. It’s never fun scrambling through an accordion folder, desperately searching for something that cannot be found until you stop to relax and think about it. Fortunately, I located what we needed, photographed the documents and sent them with a shaky Internet signal. The office was closed by the time I hit send, so I wouldn’t know until the next day if the transmission had been complete and if they were able to proceed.
To cope with the stress, I took the wheel and drove us into Oregon and wound us around darkened roads and invisible bridges until we could find lodging at 2:00 in the morning. We’d started looking around midnight, but there were no vacancies until that last stop, which had only drawn budget travelers and those whose vaccinations were current.
In the bleak early light, I awoke fully dressed on top of the sheets with the comforter tossed in the corner because even in the dark I’d sensed that it wasn’t a good idea to climb into that bed under those covers. The smell of chlorine was so strong that I dreamt I’d gone swimming with my clothes on. At least the sheets were clean. The late-night desk clerk had boasted about their continental breakfast. I still don’t know what continent she had in mind, but we skipped it and got back on the road a few short hours after arriving. Still no word that the closing had gone through and if we would, in fact, get the keys that afternoon—or ever.
Somewhere south of Portland, I received a text from our Realtor, and after a few stops and maneuvering what I would learn is Portland traffic, we walked into the house about 4:30 that evening. There again was the hideous blue carpeting and walls that would start to be painted within 24 hours. Completely empty with our possessions still miles away, we were home, and it felt wonderful. I can still remember the feeling; an awareness of the work to be done, knowing that we’d moved away from our friends, finding a home in the woods that no one we knew had ever seen, and being excited and apprehensive at the same time.
When I look back on it, the adjustments were minor in comparison to the joys we’ve experienced. Setbacks and disappointments simply required our rethinking in order to find workable solutions. We quickly made friends with Frank and Dave who live nearby, and in the course of a year, we’ve celebrated holidays, birthdays and changes of season. We’ve had visitors and/or dinner guests every month since last September.
One thing I tend to hear from guests is “You’ve done so much!” I suppose we have if you’re seeing the place for the first time and comparing the current view to photographs of how things were in the beginning. The goal is to tame a forest, meaning that we have to clear some growth that’s gotten out of hand. My personal first-year goal was to reclaim about two acres by thinning trees to allow better growth of the stronger ones, to eradicate the thorny invasive blackberry, to figure out the best spot for a vegetable garden and find a way to entice bees to Elderberry End.
I started on this “project” the second week we were here because the floors remained in limbo and I had gone as far as I could inside. I didn’t even have our better tools at that point, since much of what we had was still in boxes stacked in the garage. I had a new pruning saw and some loppers along with some quickly dulling garden shears. I started cutting back and taking care of neglected lilacs, Japanese magnolia, cypress and a number of other species I couldn’t identify. A few days into the work, I realized this is no small undertaking with quick fixes.
We’ve had help from Dave, Frank, Brad and Ronald, and other visitors have gifted us with plants and money for plants like my parents, my sister and my cousin Gwen. Our friend Ginger brought us frames for the window boxes and Paula has brought us some culinary necessities. Gary’s sister provided gift cards that were turned into necessary tools, and all of these combined have helped us come a long way. However, there is still so much to be done, but I love every minute of the work, which will prevent boredom for decades. I haven’t quite finished my two-acre goal, but I’m pleased with the amount of work we’ve gotten done.
Elderberry End is certainly the most organic place I’ve ever lived, and we intend to honor the ecosystem that’s been in place for the longest time. Everything has a role to play from the tiniest spider to the coyotes that sing in the night. There’s probably a cougar to mention, but since we haven’t heard one or seen any tracks, I’ll simply acknowledge the coyotes and leave it at that.
Last week, I managed to get the last of the yellow garden planted, at least how it will be for the rest of this growing season. A couple of weeks ago I noticed the honeybees were darting here and there, and thanks again to my cousin, we have two mason bee houses to improve pollination. I’ll close this segment to take a walk outside. It’s been a great year.
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
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