Moving to a new home can mean adjustments beyond schools, jobs, commuting, what have you. Sometimes you even have to change how you live. At our last home, turning the outdoor space into something beautiful and useful caused my wife and I, and eventually our daughter, to become outdoors-y folk who eventually acquired the equipment AND the will to enjoy the Pacific Northwest outdoors in all weather and all seasons (generally speaking, people who want to get outside and enjoy the local fall and the winter are Not From Here).
I’ve tried to replicate many of the things we used to enjoy at our old home here at the new
one: ways and places to grow flowers, vegetables, and fruits though they are ‘illegal,’ front and back gardens that are beautiful to look at and be in, a kick*ss outdoor firepit. But being in the clearing in the morning means to be cold, in the midday to be hot, and to sit on the bench we can’t have means to be right next to the buzzy bitey swamp with your back to the forest. When you develop a stroll garden, once you’ve strolled around it, you’re good. To be honest, other than working in it, I am not quite sure how to use the outdoor spaces of my home.
Now, I live in a community where a large percentage of the population seems to pay some gardening service or other so that yardwork won’t interfere with mountain biking, skiing, or other outdoorsy exertions. Outdoor living means firing up the Frontgate grill and gathering on the deck, and if you put a gargantuan Costco playstructure outside your back window, it might never get used…but at least the kids have the option. My yard isn’t like that, and can’t be. A visitor to our house once looked out the back window and said, “It’s beautiful…but what can you do with it?” THAT is a question rich in multiple layers of meaning; and somehow, my daughter is the only one who gets it.
You can put a bucket on your head and make war upon the oscillating sprinkler. You can forage about the clearing, nibbling salal berries, salmonberry, wild blackberries, and huckleberries, red and black. Chase a baby rabbit. Use your butterfly net to capture all manner of insects. Attach a door, a roof, and a yard to the “elf holes” in the great roots of the Bigleaf maples. Flowers, leaves, and forest debris make fairies and other magical creatures.
Her crowning achievement is the Fairy House, a remarkable piece of 6-year-old
architecture. “The sticks that go this way,” she would tell you, “make the roof strong. The branches with leaves on them go this way, to keep the rain and snow out.” It has a partial wood floor, a table, and a bed made of forest moss (it took hold and grows! my kid!). If you go out the back you are in the Fairy Garden, but don’t go too far or you could get lost in the Tangled Woods. I am here to testify that occasionally she finds jewels and colored feathers in there, glitter and other small gifts that the fairies leave for her to thank her for the house.
Four years from now the Mitigation period expires–provided I’m officially ‘mitigated’–and if I planned to take down the confinement fence, expand the patio, bring in an azalea or hosta or Japaneses maple…I won’t tip my hand. Wink. Perhaps there is a new Shoji house in my future or I’ll build that trebuchet I dream of, to hurl things out into the swamp. Whether those days will come is yet unknown. Until then, we are here and trying to figure our yard out: looking at it, working in it, and wondering.