BORROWED LANDSCAPES

ImageI try to choose homes with a view. Our first apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was on the top floor of a third floor walkup. During the 1985 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty we hosted a roof-top party with a clear line view of New York Harbor. Our friends ate, drank and danced to fireworks but what they really talked about was the view. 

Then we moved out to the North Fork of Suffolk County and we had to walk around the corner to the view. The Long Island Sound stretched out endlessly from the tops of enormous beach boulders. The winter was cold and lonely for newlyweds who missed city life but the view of the Sound helped sustain us that entire year. I still miss it.

            Our next apartment was a dump in Yonkers in a crummy neighborhood where I made the mistake of staring at a neighbor’s Mohawk haircut a few seconds too long. The girl shouted out every time she saw me.

“Hey lady, what’re you staring at?”

It worsened when the girl stared calling out to Rob.

“Hey, man what is your wife staring at?”

“There really is no good answer to that question,” Rob said.

 For obvious reasons we only lived there a year as well but the backdoor faced out into an expansive valley with colorful houses that dotted the landscape. I could sit on the back staircase free to watch the sunset each night with no thought of seeing “the girl.”

We moved to Hastings-on Hudson and for nine years we gazed at the Palisades out two picture windows. I used to stand in a darkened kitchen in the middle of the night and watch the flashing green lights on the passing barges. It didn’t matter if it was a blizzard, you would find the slow, steady chug of the barges as a source of comfort.Image

In 1997 we moved to White Plains and lived on the top floor of a house that was built on the highest point of land in the entire city. From our veranda we had a line of site view of the World Trade Center Towers. We bought our lake house and moved away before they came down and I’m glad we weren’t there anymore to be constantly reminded. Because when you have something in your daily view you start to feel like it belongs to you. The Japanese refer to this as a “borrowed landscape.”

The best way to appreciate a borrowed landscape is to leave it. Once you return the relationship strengthens. We recently returned from a trip to Seattle to visit my brother and his wife. Their beautiful house rests on the top of Sixth Avenue in Edmonds, Washington with a partial view of the Puget Sound.

“Wow, what a great view, “ I noted.

“It is,” my bother agreed. “But if we could tear that house down it would be an even better view.”

Image

View from Chris and Sonia’s House

The point was hard to argue except everybody blocks someone, somewhere. But their view still boasted a daily surveillance of the Kingston Ferry traveling back and forth and the sun setting over the Puget Lowland, hard to beat. While I was there I found myself taking some ownership of their view and I started to miss my own so I knew it was time to leave. Traveling provides views of every variety and most of them aren’t meant to last, which is why we buy postcards and take photographs. Even stationary views are altered by light and shadow. Our most impressive view was of Mt. Rainier at sunset that Rob took from the airplane window as we began our descent into Seattle. It isn’t one anyone is likely to see again anytime soon. Image

Advertisements

SATAN ZERO, US ONE

ImageThirteen years ago this week we moved into our lake house. About three years into ownership I decided the house had been a huge mistake. The complaints were long and varied: it was small, there was no place inside for the children to entertain friends, my daughter’s bedroom was on the first floor facing the street, there was no garage, and the yard…well let’s just say we had nicknamed it Satan’s lawn.

That early lawn was actually a combination of crabgrass and plantains posing as grass. The front lawn sits three feet above the front entrance and is held back by an ugly cement block retaining wall. The backyard drops down one hundred and fifty feet to the dock. The lawn mower had to be lifted by two people section by section to keep the weeds at bay. So when we heaved the mower to the lower yard it tended to stay there. Mowers that are left out in the rain don’t last very long.

         “Help me move the mower.”

         “Ask my father.”

          “His back hurts.”

           “So does mine.”

I am not mechanically inclined. My husband thinks he is, which is interesting since we break lawnmowers with reckless abandon.  He explains it this way.

            “Just because someone is mechanically inclined doesn’t mean they understand all machines. I never studied small engines.”

            “Oh.”

We have owned (no exaggeration) nine lawnmowers. We average about one a year. This year we had two repaired. Having two mowers has cut down on the hauling. After thirteen years there are only two small sections of yard remaining that ever get mowed, yet we need two mowers.

Another big lawn issue is tree maintenance. Several years ago a two hundred year old maple tree silently pulled from the ground and landed in the lake, smashing the docks and rowboat in the process. Nobody heard or saw it fall except a neighbor who came over to inspect the damage.

“Oh, that was what I heard last night,” she said, as we stared fifty feet out into the water searching for the end of the tree.

Numerous tree men were called in to bid on the job.

            “That’s a doozy, alright.”

            “How much?”

            “Well seeing that it’s in the water… and the street is two hundred feet up, I’d say…seven thousand.”

            Next.

            “Have you ever thought about moving?”

The man we hired only charged two thousand dollars and brilliantly used a winch that he ran through other trees, pulling the fallen tree out of the lake by a truck up on the street. Then of course we had to hire two men to chop up the tree into fireplace size logs. We could have a fire every day for a decade and still have wood left over.

One of the early draws of the lake house was that we were planning to throw a lot of parties. I don’t know why we thought this since we never threw many parties before buying the house. For our daughter’s high school graduation she wanted a big party. We invited seventy-five people and needed the use of the whole yard, but the whole yard wasn’t available. A month before the graduation party I sat on the steps in the middle yard and cried.

            “How are were ever going to fix this?” I sobbed, pointing at the remains of a giant, rotten railroad tie sandbox. (That I had to have, eleven years prior.)

            “Don’t worry mama,” my son said. “I’ll fix it.”

            I stared blankly at this twenty-one year old who had feigned illness to get out of any and all yard work for his entire life. “You? How?”

            He shrugged. “This is nothing.”

One month and hundreds of dollars in plants and supplies afterward (which included a power saw with a burned out motor) we had a Japanese garden complete with a floating wooden walkway that he built from discarded lumber. Two summers later, I still can’t believe he pulled that off. It proved to me that miracles can happen.ImageImage

            In the years of ownership and with the help of various handy men we have also built tiered garden beds, erected three different types of fences, connected the upper and lower decks with a staircase, installed an interlocking brick walkway and patio, dug a flagstone walkway, erected a stone wall, designed and built a solitary reading deck, rebuilt the dock three times, installed two fountains and an outdoor shower, transplanted dozens of perennials in the hope that one day, the yard would be care free or at the very least easy to maintain. The other hope was that our marriage would last. With every winter season I never know what disaster lurks for the following spring. I don’t know why we stayed but I have only recently stopped wanting to sell it.

.Image