Home : Another part of the forest – Rev Dr Sparky – Medium

Last year, my spouse and I withdrew from our life in a large Southwestern city, hot and toxic and money-driven and freeway dependent, to a smallish town that is nurtured and supported by a decent-sized college campus and its proximity to a larger, more cosmopolitan city. Hoping that this place will now be our “forever home,” we took on a laughable mortgage and looked for a nice little house in which to settle. In our median price range, we had some choices: an older house, with mature landscaping but unknown maintenance liabilities; or a new house with a warranty and a grow-your-own yard. We found some of each, though many of the existing homes included what we came to call “disprovements,” and many of the new builds seemed like middle-class barracks located in bleak tracts that appeared to have been leveled and sown with salt.

But we’ve moved around a lot over the years, buying and selling and renting various kinds of houses, so by now we know a couple of important things about ourselves: 1) We have no desire to spend time redoing an older house, though we admire those who do it; 2) We are stuck in this part of the country to be near our most important people, although we don’t feel we belong here and we despise the heat; and 3) We therefore wanted a new or remodeled house on a lot with trees.

By a miracle, we found a smallish development close to town, adjacent to a publicly protected, multi-acre green space with miles of wooded trails and a reservoir. In this development, the city had required the builder to retain as many of the old native trees as possible. We happily signed away money we don’t yet have and built a house on a street still raw but graced with green. In our front yard, a small copse of six mature trees provides a buffer between our entryway and the street. And in the back yard, only about 40′ on each side, some 18 old trees are scattered at random, standing between ourselves and the blistering western sun.

The back yard in late afternoon

Our friends and relatives have all kinds of houses — many that are bigger, more luxurious, more artistic, more historical, more… paid for. But we are content with this house; it is our “forever home,” because we hope that at our stage of life we will not again uproot ourselves for spurious reasons of restlessness, ambition, or the chronic search for what James Thurber called the “Great Good Place.”

Finding that “Great Good Place”

So I have decided I want this place to have a name — yes, just exactly like the grand estates in England and Europe, and in the old-money parts of this country. My husband recalls a childhood living in Newport, Rhode Island, surrounded by the grace and beauty of the grand mansions, literally spitting distance from the modest home he lived in. Now, those estates are part of history, and their names remain expressive and singular: places like The Breakers, Marble House, and Rosecliff, along with the occasional European outlier, like Chateau-sur-Mer.

So I ask: why should only the grand mansions have names? Why can’t ordinary people determine what their house means to them and name it accordingly? We are allowed to name our boats, no matter how modest; some people name their cars; and surely no one would begrudge even the humblest of parents the right to name their offspring with the best, most powerful and magical name possible. Names connect us with things as well as with people; names lend power and agency and life to the places we inhabit. We should therefore name our houses, too, with names that are profound, or expressive, or frivolous, or aspirational, or whatever we like. I admire the individuals who have given ordinary places such extraordinary names as The Burrow, Dreamwood, or Oystercatchers.

Naming and claiming

When we moved to this town, I wanted our house to be a welcoming haven for friends and family. Since we don’t travel much, we try instead to make our home a destination for our dear ones who do travel, catching them as they travel to seminars and resorts and work obligations. We want to offer a quiet room (looking out on the front copse of trees), good meals, conversation, rest, maybe games, and the gift of spending time together just to spend time. For a while, I thought I would name the house Safe Haven, or Random Solace, or some other expression of the welcome I wanted people to experience when they came here.

Another part of the forest

But I hesitated, because I did not want to presume by suggesting a manufactured sentiment that might or might not be true, that day, for someone. Instead, I began thinking about what features most made this place special to us; what made it worth the expense and the risk; what made it our home.

Today, after finishing a few modest chores in the back yard, I sat in a light breeze and stared at the post oaks, the elms, the crape myrtle that slants toward the bedroom window and holds a birdhouse. I let myself drift; time was unimportant; all my to-do lists were somewhere else. I was glad to notice how the trees have leafed out splendidly this spring — we’ve had rain — and how the turf that struggles in their shade is rapidly becoming a leafy forest floor.

And that was the closest I have come to peace in some time. It was good to be near those trees, which I could even think of as “our” trees (apart from the 30-year mortgage on the site and the fact that you can’t really own trees). It was good to have the right to sit with them, and to let them minister to the regrets and the losses, the memories that I’ve brought with me to this last house.

And I realized how incredibly fortunate we are, to have lived long enough to land, at least for the foreseeable future, in this little town, in this little house, with its ordinary little forest.

Welcome to Little Forest

People who know us are aware that we are not wilderness campers or hikers or ecotourists. We are, without apology, “indoorsy” types. We could not survive 72 hours in a wilderness. And yet, we mourn the woodlands that people have squandered, we support efforts to conserve them, and we do not have to tramp around in the ones that remain to know that they are worth conserving. But even someone like me can cherish the childhood memory of climbing the tree in the alley, escaping everything and everyone to read undisturbed, surrounded by its shade. A tree can be a vantage point; a refuge; a tree can hold many stories.

So that’s what I am naming our place: “Little Forest.” I’m not sure yet how we will christen the place.

We might have a plaque made. We might invite someone to “Come spend the weekend with us at Little Forest.” I might write a book, and at the end of my preface, I might add, as writers do, the date and the place from which I wrote: “Little Forest.”

I might not do any of those things. I might just keep the name to myself, a secret magic word I can write in my journal, to locate my psyche in time and space whenever things fly apart.

We deeply know how fortunate we are to have even a modest house and a few friends and congenial relations we can share it with from time to time. Giving our home a name reminds us not to take it for granted. No, it’s nothing compared with the houses of those I sometimes envy.

But it has clean open spaces; cool, neutral colors; and trees. Six in the front; 17 in the back. A little forest, all our own, in which to lose ourselves and seek the kindness of rest, and shade, and oblivion.

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