The Place Where I Live
Dawn. Nineteen degrees. Deer path made visible in a figure eight through snow bordering the garden. A skin of ice fogs the kitchen window. A few embers flare in the wood stove. Hemlocks at the edge of the Siuslaw Forest, four miles inland from the Pacific, blacken the woods. Tiles of grey sky show through the branches.
Layered up, boots on, I print my own path past the swingset friends installed after my husband, Mark, died suddenly twenty-six years ago, past a few of his ashes under the elderberry.
I check the pumphouse pipes wrapped with heat tape. Mark’s handprint is still reaching through the concrete slab he poured. Our son’s child-sized fist is there too. Our daughter, born three years after the pumphouse and a year before Mark’s death, is absent in this gallery of hands.
The house is thirty-three years old, just over half my age. It cost $6000 and a lot of friend labor to build. No city sewer or water serves Old Coastal Route 101, now Slab Creek Road. I don’t have garbage service.
It will be paradise Mark said as we walked the three acres together. And it was, even though he lived in it for too short a time. Staying here hasn’t been what I expected, more like a long complicated marriage than a place free of woe. But for Mark, everything was possible. He died knowing he was loved and placed.
I said I would never leave here, and it is only one of the promises I have broken. I have left to be able to stay, to be able to maintain this house that shelters and sustains. With eight years of work in the city behind me, I’ve returned. I have re-roofed, re-plumbed and made repairs.
My son chops cords of wood every fall; my daughter prunes and does heavy garden work. When I have to leave this place, either by choice or death, I will take its lessons of love in absentia. I will take this memory of snow on sand.