From The Outside In
10 Aug, 2012 - Laura Tokie
I grew up in a 968 square foot house. I would not call it designed. It seemed haphazard, a shelter, with newsprint for insulation. Rumors swirled: did the prior owner share the house with a pony? We couldn’t imagine it; where would a pony fit? With five people in three bedrooms, even a mouse would have to fight for space.
The lack of space might have crushed some women, but that house served as an inspiration of sorts for my mother. She measured the rooms and bought graph paper, making a scale drawing of the floor plan. She kept it in an envelope along with scale cutouts of our furniture. She laid it out often, dreaming of ways to expand or improve.
I take after my mother. My house is a little bigger, and I don’t bother with graph paper, but I want to better our space. This year in particular I’ve been thinking about ways to alter our environment, but I’m torn. So many ways to approach a house, so many ways to handle your money. How do I determine the best ways to use and/or change the house we have?
I dwell sometimes on efficiency. We need the space to work, to contribute to our purpose. I think about shelves and storage and baskets and a bigger kitchen. Other times I yearn for for something less utilitarian. How can I bring a sense of beauty into our lives?
Our culture chases me with ways I might spend time and money on my home. I don’t always like what I see. Magazines bait me to buy more and more things. Somehow, this ever-expanding list of essentials is supposed to make life more simple. Television shows exalt glossy customized rooms–beyond customized. Does everything have to enshrine us?
I want to create a space were we, family and friends, thrive. How to do that without falling into desperate consumerism and self-indulgence mystifies me, in some ways, but this summer I’ve realized that I manage one space that works.
What manner of loveliness is this? There is so little in my life that feels this fine. This is why I tolerate rutted dirt roads, possums scratching on my screen door, getting tangled in spiderwebs as I walk to my car. This is why I accept getting stuck in the snow, why I live miles from the city, miles and miles from everything good a city offers.
This beloved space in my home isn’t inside my home, and I’ve done little to it. It’s my back deck. A flight of stairs up from the driveway, the back deck juts out into a hill, a low platform thrust into trees and sky. To the right, surrounded by hostas and day lilies, we placed the tiniest of water features; the frogs move in and call it their summer home. Craggy rock walls mark flower beds carved into the hill, filled with periwinkle, rhododendron, violets, lily of the valley. A verdant arch of grass and moss begins at the far end of the deck and follow the hill’s incline, surrounding the flowers beneath. Boughs and bushes and vines hover above, the crown, woods pouring from woods, our quiet cove.
A breeze blows and the leaves are louder than the sounds of children calling to one another out front, louder than the voices inside our home. I watch the wide sassafras, the shaggy oak, the fringe of wild cherry. I imagine if I stayed outside long enough, I wouldn’t even need to see them move. I would know the leaves by their sounds.
And I try to stay outside all day. A cup of coffee in the silence of the morning, waiting for the birds and squirrels to wake up. An afternoon read, stress peeling off my shoulders. Some evenings with friends, with easy food and easy drinks and the best sorts of conversations, the kind that are as warm and bright as the small fire we sit around. Other evenings spent staring at the night sky, the fireflies looking like stars wandering.
I could live like this year round if the weather co-operated, tucked into the edge of the woods with a chair, a good book, times of silence and times of socializing, celebrating what we have and what is offered. To let that spirit spread and grow throughout our interior spaces … when I think of thriving, I wish to create nothing else.