May 16, 2012

Handmade house

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 7:51 am

The house my father designed. He hired a carpenter and they built it together. I was about eight and my job was dipping wooden shingles into cans of stain and lining them up to dry. On the left is the view from the driveway and the right from below the property. The house had been sold and when I took Sam to visit my hometown for the first time I was too shy to ask to look around, took a couple of quick pictures and fled.

On clear moonless summer nights I’d sleep on the top deck and watch the stars, sometimes staying up most of the night listening to the forest breathing quietly and nocturnals rooting around and faint uneven trickling from the stream below, being a little scared of the bats and lurking serial killers. It was a tree house. I loved reading Indian legends of the constellations and milky way, talking animals and strange creatures that kidnapped young women. Anything seems possible in the darkness, the night air soft and cool with fresh tree-breath, you a part of nature, a part of the sky and forest and mountains. And then the birds wake up and start screeching, everything turns black and white like an old movie, the sun slides into the sky and colors come back. Everything’s ordinary again — animals don’t talk and gravity cruelly pins you to the earth and you can’t eat with your hands or burp.

Those summers I’d play in the woods building forts and sometimes we’d build a campfire and roast marshmallows, but the woods weren’t so friendly after dark (serial killers). I preferred the deck. We picked delicate pink salmon berries and fruit from old abandoned orchard trees. There was an enormous sour cherry tree near a giant Douglas fir tree under which you stayed dry no matter how hard it rained. Ants liked it, too, and they constructed a mountainous ant hill there no matter how many times the neighborhood boys destroyed it. In the long warm bright evenings we went down to the beach and floated around on driftwood logs if the tide was in. At the time I had no idea that this beach had been an Indian salmon-drying camp and that in the 1930s the south end where we usually played was owned by a Japanese family. They collected admission to “Sand Beach” and built covered picnic tables and a boat house and raised strawberries to sell in the city until, I assume, that unpleasantness during the second world war and the camps. I was splashing around in the very spot where Indian kids had done for centuries, and then a few Japanese-American kids in the ’30s and didn’t know it.

Blackberry bushes lined the railroad tracks and I, as resident baker, loaded great rectangular pans with berries and sugar, covered them with a biscuit crust, and there was warm cobbler for dessert. I don’t even remember seeing my parents in the summer. We were in the woods, at the beach, riding around town on our bikes, fishing off the pier.

Autumn meant plums, apples, pears, nuts. In late autumn a good wind was like vigorously shaking a snow globe to make the snow go crazy, the world was a storm of yellow and brown maple leaves that landed on all the decks that I had to sweep before it rained. Flying squirrels leaped between trees and deer sometimes wandered by. Every once in a while a bad storm brought down a tree. You’d hear the groaning and creaking, sometimes a sharp crack, and a few seconds of suspense, holding your breath, wondering if you will soon be a victim of arborcide. A tree never did hit the house, but it landed on our car once. I begged my mother to drop me off down the street from school, but of course she was always late. Everybody saw our smashed car and wouldn’t believe it when I said a tree fell on it. I should have said a forest monster did it.

Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest:

“Seatco, evil spirit of the ocean, caused the storms that blew up and down the coast. He killed fish and threw them on the beach. Sometimes he swallowed canoes and fishermen. The coast people feared him and tried not to anger him.

“The mountain tribes did not know Seatco, and so did not fear him. One summer, four chiefs of the coast Indians held a big potlatch. The four tribes planned a big feast, for they wanted to show their guests how prosperous the coast tribes were. For days, the people were busy preparing the feast. The women and girls dug great numbers of clams and mussels and prepared them for steaming beneath sea moss and myrtle leaves. Hunters brought in a dozen elk and several deer. Many salmon were made ready for roasting on spits over driftwood fires. Huckleberries were heaped on cedar-bark trays.

“The chief brought with him his beautiful young daughter, and they camped on the potlatch grounds. The girl had never before seen the ocean. All day long, she and her dog, Komax, raced along the beach, excited by the breaking of the waves. People of the village warned her, ‘Don’t go alone on the bluff. Seatco might see you and take you.

“In the second morning of the second day all the guests had arrived, and the great feast began. All day the hosts and guests feasted. That night they slept where they had eaten. When all was quiet in the camp, the great chief’s daughter, taking her dog and her basket of raccoons with her, slipped away to the beach. She ran and danced along the shore, singing a song to the moon, which hung low over the ocean. She would swim toward the moon, following the silver trail. Suddenly a black hand passed across the moon, and she was seized by a creature that came out of the water.

“Next morning the chief missed his daughter. He and his hosts rushed to the beach. The tide was out. The girl was lying on the wet sand, her beautiful face looking up at the sky. Near by, her dog stood as if barking. A little west of them were the scattered raccoons and the empty basket. All had been turned to stone.”



  1. Man, your dad’s so much cooler than mine. Mine’s an artist too, but like me, the failed kind.

    Comment by Kazangaeru — May 16, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    • Well, he could’ve much, much more successful if he wasn’t a mild-mannered Midwestern Lutheran embarrassed by publicity. He designed houses and everything in them (he could design anything, really), painted, made wood carvings for churches. If he had a Frank Lloyd Wright sized ego … Then after he died his assistant stole a lot of his work and while he was in the hospital his latest girlfriend stole his credit card. Anthony Bourdain looks almost exactly like my father now. Tall, thin, gray hair. It gives me the creeps.

      Comment by theresaurus — May 16, 2012 @ 10:06 am

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