The Home I will Likely Never Build: the Garden

I’ve had a house in my head for thirty, maybe forty years now. It has evolved over that time, but my recent proximity to mortality has turned my thoughts to the dwelling with a more sharply-honed focus. The heavy walls I dream of are as old as the idea of the home itself. Likewise the secret passage. The sun has always been a friend, combining new tech with old architecture. The analemma in the secret room is new, as are the elevator’s virtual floors.

It’s a house a kid might design, full of fun and surprises, and it’s a house a hippie might design, a place that embraces nature and has a communal focus. Although I can’t let go of wood-burning fireplaces. It’s a house an engineer might design, optimized for efficiency and self-reliance. It is a house that celebrates artisans and craftspeople, honoring humanity and the hands well-applied to make something enduring. You can feel, in this place, the people who made it.

If you will indulge me, I would like to give you a tour of my imaginary home. I have tried to draw pictures, but for now at least I can offer only words. It would fill my life with light is someone reading this were to draw pictures of the words I write.

It starts at the gate. Unassuming pale stucco walls curve away from you on either side, but it is the gate that holds you attention. You notice right away that there are very few straight lines; all is curved and flowing. The opening in the wall is convex on one side, on the other it is a wave. It feels sculpted, rather than engineered. Perhaps you realize that this will be a foundational principle for all that follows. Perhaps you will just smile.

The gate itself is cast iron, decorated with motifs of nature — sun and soil and life, things that you will soon find in the garden. It curves and flows elegantly, and at the bottom is the mark of the artist who created it. Someone local, hopefully, who understands the land and what it means.

The gate is not locked; you lift the latch and step through into the garden.

Perhaps your eye is drawn to the house on the far side, but for once words beat pictures and I will instead bring your focus to the garden that surrounds you.

The path you are on curves and flows over the terrain, and crunches under your feet in a satisfying way. With every step you take, it whispers to you, telling you that you are in a quiet place, a place of contemplation. At least today it does, on this tour it is a sunny afternoon and there is no gathering at the house. Today there is the sun, and a gentle breeze making the trees sigh, and birds and whatnot, and you.

There is nohting exotic about the garden; the plants that grow here are the same as the ones that have grown on this land for millennia. But we aren’t above cheating a little; careful application of water and nutrients increases the density of the plant life, and the animals that depend on it. This is not simply a garden, it is an ecosystem*.

I said it was daytime, and in so doing robbed you of the scents of the night-blooming flowers, the weight of the colder air in your nose, the chime of the nighttime insects. I will have to replace that with the songs of the birds who find haven here, and the hum of the bees visiting the sex-parts of the flowers and taking their payday home. (new feature: beehive)

You have only taken a few steps, but you stop for a moment, to listen, and to breathe, and to shed the world on the other side of the gate. You are in a safe place now, a quiet place, unless you decide to raise a ruckus. No judgement here.

The path rises in front of you, then descends under your relaxed tread. From the top you can take in the whole garden. It is round, and vibrant, dotted with trees that remember when there were no people around here. Sorry about that, guys, but maybe a little extra water will help.

At the center of the round garden is a round patio, a place to sit and eat a sandwich or to read when the sun is not too bright. There is a sculpture here, interesting and whimsical, and functional in a way that will be revealed later.

Pausing here, you feel like you are at the center of the universe. You are surrounded by life, even if much of it is sleeping because I made you come here during daytime. Just wait for tonight. You will be glad you did.


18 thoughts on “The Home I will Likely Never Build: the Garden

  1. * footnote: The garden is an ecosystem, but lacks a predator (neighborhood cats do not count; they kill the wrong things). For reasons that become more apparent later, a coyote doggy door into the garden is impractical. Probably rabbit stew is a regular feature on the menu, but…

    What would it take to get an eagle to live there?

    • Jeff and Barbara Seeger and I have viewed nesting bald eagles near their home. They are located at almost the very top of very high pine trees, overlooking the Nashua River. People cannot get close to them, even while kayaking on the river.
      On the other hand, I have seen many nesting boxes for osprey in Massachusetts, particularly on Cape Cod.
      Love, Aunt Marie

  2. Such a beautiful description, Jerry, it makes me think that you have some muses working with you on that house: warm climate, some hints of desert?, Georgia O’Keefe, and a little bit of Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps?. So interesting to read of a terrain that crunches under your feet, and to imagine the scent of night-blooming flowers.
    I don’t have any of that in my Northeast abode, though I do live in a “mid-century modern” home on a builders’s acre of partially forested land, where the terrain squishes under my feet, it being primarily peat moss and decades of rotting leaves. The trees here are covered in green and white lichen that in places reaches out with tiny, papery, light green fingers . The soil is sandy underneath the leaves and mosses. There are many rainy and cloudy days, though when the sun comes out, everything is glad: the trees are glad; the mosses and grasses are glad; the myriad birds and insects are glad. I am glad.
    I have deer that browse at the back of my lot, where little Dudley Brook streams by. And I have foxes and the occasional coy-wolf (we don’t have coyotes here but an interbred species of the eastern grey wolf and the coyote). Once in awhile a wild turkey or 5 or 6, will tear up my yard looking for grubs. Then they roost on the fallen pine trees in the back yard or in one of the lower branches of a red oak.
    Chipmunks abound and have built several underground condominiums near the foundation of the house. They don’t stray too far to get the pine cones, as there are 2 mated pairs of barred owls in the neighborhood, and they love chipmunks (Sorry Alvin, Theodore and Simon!).
    I don’t have a walled garden. No one in the neighborhood does. But everyone has at least three or four rhododendron bushes and azaleas. They are very popular in the Northeast and thrive in the sandy, acidic soil. Hydrangeas are very popular as well, especially the blues and whites. Pink and red bee-balm flowers shout for attention and attract hummingbirds in the summer, as do the day lilies. And in the spring, you can hear the night insects and the spring peepers in the vernal pools at the back of my lot. It’s hard to believe that I live just 23 miles from Boston, and in something of a dreamland. Keep dreaming, nephew! Love, Aunt Marie

    • Thank you for that lovely response. Yes, as the next episode will make clear, this is definitely a southwestern home.

      The first time I ever visited the mighty headquarters of my company, I was walking along the paths outside and really enjoying the sound the loose aggregate made beneath my feet. Turns out that was a mistake by the pavers, and they came back later to “fix” it.

      There will be other gardens, more oriented toward food, on the north side of the house. Undetermined is how to equitably apportion the bounty with the local fauna.

  3. Pingback:

    Vote -1 Vote +1
    The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Sun Side | Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas

  4. SO …. no mention of prognosis or timetables? I get it if you’re trying to ignore the elephant (I had a heart attack last week, and on some level I’m successfully pretending that my life is unaltered), so no need to pry open any emotional locks, but I’m sure we’re all really interested in and concerned about what’s happening with you.

    • A heart attack? Shit. I hope you’re OK. I have some stories to tell, and I eventually will, but for now at least, apparently I’m just a guy with cancer cruising along.

      We need to hang out sometime soon.

      • We do. Soon, or before one of us dies, whichever comes first (I’m OK, probably). You and yours are always welcome here (2.5 hours away), and I’ll ping you the next time I’m in the Bay. I’ll be in the desert/San Diego for 3 weeks in April, and Baja for my 60th (huh) in late May/early June, if you need to desiccate some. Hayduke would tell you it’s good for what ails you.

        • It’s been too long since I’ve had real desert time. I’ve recently read a couple of things by east-coasters (one From WaPo) saying “holy shit! The desert is awe-inspiring!” The non-WaPo writer, David Roth, writing in Flaming Hydra, was much more eloquent about the understanding that you could actually die out there.

          I think both went to Joshua Tree.

          I’ve done some top-down desert drive-throughs in the last few years, but I haven’t stopped to hike or breathe the desert in a long time. Hayduke lives out there; I hope to run into him someday.

          • There are other options in the 4/1 – 4/19 window, but I’ll be in Borrego Springs, solo, camping with room for another car, 4/8 – 4/12. And it’s a great time of year for a drive that way. I’d be genuinely excited if you could justify the time off, or work remotely (which I’ll be doing a bit of … there’s a surprisingly excellent library in town, with private rooms for e-meetings).

    • Holy shit, I missed this little info-drop when it first landed. I hope you are doing well, and I’d have to say…

      It’s all well and good and cool to say, “We should meet in some awesome location and catch up,” but the important thing is to simply interact and catch up. Jerry and I have been having monthly online video-chats with a good mutual friend from high school for years now. Mind-altering substances may be consumed during these chats, health conditions allowing.


  5. Pingback:

    Vote -1 Vote +1
    The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Common Room | Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas

  6. Just want to say. I’ve been making very irregular stops at this blog, but I’m so happy it’s still up because it’s one of the few places on the internet that I can just go and get… whatever it was that I got from it 25 years ago.

    Thanks for the wonderful description of the garden, and just in case, for all the entertainment over the past few years (my bookmark tells me it was made somewhere in 2018).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *