Eye of the Cottonwood

dead cottonwood and mountains south of Taos

I know, I know… Just do whatever the hell it says

The wind howled long and hard outside last night. Every now and then a dead branch from the giant elm growing out of the side of the old adobe clattered against the roof or just missed the kitchen window. If it wanted to get loose, however, it would have had to fight a whole lot harder.

Thick adobe walls are wonderful in a high wind. If it weren’t for things bouncing off the house, we’d never know there was a blow. It’s like living in a cave as far as wind noise goes. You generally don’t hear it unless it’s whistling in through a window I left cracked to help the wood stove out.

Back in Maryland in the old days, a wind like this might peel the siding off. That happened on our 1920s two-story in the country early in the spring we knew we had to sell it. I climbed up on a very tall extension ladder in the rain and pulled the panels back into place with my bare hands. It was crazy how flimsy everything felt, but at that point I didn’t care. All it had to do was hold together and look decent from a distance, which it did. But oh, the noise a wind would make in that old house, coming in through every little crack and seam.

The seasonal stream bed where the dead cottonwood stands above hasn’t seen water in a long time. None to matter, anyway; the tree’s a testament to that. But walking along it yesterday, I saw plenty of beautiful small boulders, smoothed and rounded on the edges like the respectable mountain river rocks they once were: “My, what lovely building stones you are!”

Long ago back when I was a whelp, in my seminal woods hippie year in Arkansas, I built a hearth, a well house, and a flagstone floor with stones and mortar. It was fun to fit the pieces together from I had there in the Ozark hills. There were so many wonderful flat rocks, I wanted to build a tower: two round rooms, one above the other, with a viewing platform up on top. I can see this in my mind’s eye now as plain as I did then: maybe straw for animals below, me living up above, bare stone walls with log beams across to hold the second floor. They’d stick out some on the outside, too, like, uh, vigas on a true adobe, I realized for the first time as I typed this.

(Wow, did you see that?)

So like, I could build a little studio, say. Even shelter, if I needed to. When you look into your lover’s eyes, do you see 2,000 square feet, a garage, and extra bedrooms? If all you had were warmth, clean water, and a roof, would your dying be any different?

All well and good, but in the meantime, where do I find rocks and trees? This life is most mysterious!

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  • Rita March 18, 2014, 2:38 PM

    Wasn’t Scott Nearing in his 70s when they moved to Maine and built a whole other homestead? Amazing.

    I have been lying on my daughter’s sofa for over a month now after my fall on the ice. I seem to have less enthusiasm now for going off to build myself a hermitage somewhere remote. But the urge to build and make things will probably not go quietly into that dark night. At least, I hope not.

  • Marti Fenton March 19, 2014, 1:05 PM

    After the lights go off at night I often imagine houses I’d like to create or even find. Isn’t a house like the dwelling place of the soul, symbolically speaking, or maybe not symbolically. Stones and mud are the best materials. Maybe its like a comfortable cave, womb of the earth. I dig all fantasies about ideal places to live.

  • Leanne Retana April 9, 2014, 7:03 PM

    Whereabouts in Arkansas did you live? Northern obviously…anyplace near Eureka Springs?

    • JHF April 9, 2014, 10:11 PM

      It was a few miles north of Patrick (on the White River) in Madison County, east of Fayetteville. Very isolated. I wonder what it’s like now!

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