Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised. ~Loretta Ross-Gotta
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. ~C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
Whenever there is the temptation to hunker down in retreat from the rest of the world, and God Himself, content with the status quo and reluctant to stretch beyond clear boundaries I’ve carefully constructed for my one weary life~
I am surprised.
Whether bunker or cottage or palace, when I seek safety or simplicity, it is not enough. I am not a dwelling for God until His remodel project is finished~
He puts down His chisel, hammer and saw, sees what He has salvaged from the junk heap, looks me over and declares it good.
My mother and I debate: we could sell the black walnut tree to the lumberman, and pay off the mortgage. Likely some storm anyway will churn down its dark boughs, smashing the house. We talk slowly, two women trying in a difficult time to be wise. Roots in the cellar drains, I say, and she replies that the leaves are getting heavier every year, and the fruit harder to gather away. But something brighter than money moves in our blood – an edge sharp and quick as a trowel that wants us to dig and sow. So we talk, but we don’t do anything.
What my mother and I both know is that we’d crawl with shame in the emptiness we’d made in our own and our fathers’ backyard. So the black walnut tree swings through another year of sun and leaping winds, of leaves and bounding fruit, and, month after month, the whip- crack of the mortgage. ~Mary Oliver from “The Black Walnut Tree” from Twelve Moons
We bought this old farm twenty five years ago:
the Lawrence family “Walnut Hill Farm”~
a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees
brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio
in the ought-1900’s.
These trees thrived for 80 years on this hilltop farm
overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north,
the Nooksack River valley to the west,
the Cascade peaks to the east,
each prolific in leaves
and prodigious in fruit.
The first year we were here,
a windstorm took one tree down.
A neighbor offered
to mill the twisted trunk for shares
so the fallen tree became planks
of fine grained chocolate hued lumber.
This old tree lines our kitchen cupboards,
a daily reminder of an immortality
living on in a legacy left behind~
sturdy while imperfect,
so beautiful to the eye and the heart.
Summer was our best season:
it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots,
or trying to sleep in the tree house;
summer was everything good to eat;
it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ~Harper Lee from “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Originally published in Country Magazine in 2008, now updated
Our treehouse is almost twenty years old, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even a writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches in our 100 year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time.
The dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My father, retired from his desk job and having recently survived lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider something a little less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.
The weather cleared, yet my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.
His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.
I kept my dad updated long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had a open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.
Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as a main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. It remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled as I look out my window. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots but its muscle failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.
The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and now they are raising five children there. The next generation is carrying on with the Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.
I still have a whole list full of dreams, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that time slips by me faster and faster. It would be a blessing to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.
Though I may be teetering in the wind like my old tree, barely hanging on, and ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand them off. The time will have come to let go.
A weft of leafless spray Woven fine against the gray Of the autumnal day, And blurred along those ghostly garden tops Clusters of berries crimson as the drops That my heart bleeds when I remember How often, in how many a far November, Of childhood and my children’s childhood I was glad, With the wild rapture of the Fall, Of all the beauty, and of all The ruin, now so intolerably sad. ~William Dean Howells “November: Impression”
Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened you and the seasons spoke the same language and all these years I have looked through your limbs to the river below and the roofs and the night and you were the way I saw the world ~W.S. Merwin from “Elegy for a Walnut”