23. Paul’s Estate
Thursday Sept. 29, 2005. My brother Paul lives on five and a half acres in the country, with his wife Diana and two children, Ariadne and Tony and four llamas, and various cats, and for a while a couple of very nice dogs. They’ve lived there since the late 1980s, and I have found it fascinating to watch the process by which a raw patch of land has become shaped by their living on it.
First, of course, came the building of their house. But after all, everybody puts up a shelter. if you’re going to live somewhere, you’re going to build a house – or move a trailer onto the lot, or erect a tent, or something. It’s the other things they’ve done that aren’t necessarily so common.
Like the redwoods, for instance.
Early on – perhaps before they even bought the property, or at any rate within a pretty short time – they learned that the county was going to relocate a road closer to their house. Hmm, dust, and lack of privacy. So they resolved to build a fence – of redwood trees! They planted 100 redwoods in two long rows, and put in a drip-trickle system of irrigation to assure that they would have the water they’d need regardless of the weather. On my first visit, he and I spent part of our time putting mulch around these little sticks that were so small that we often had to root around in the weeds to find them. Those little sticks are now as tall as full-grown trees, easily 20 feet tall or more, and branches perhaps a dozen feet wide at the base.
When they bought the property, there was not a tree to be seen. In the intervening years he has planted I don’t know how many hundred trees of various kinds, most of them on trip-trickle life-support systems until they get their roots deeply enough into the soil, and all of them in special caging designed to prevent gophers from inviting them to lunch. Some of them, like the redwoods, are firmly established, there to stay. Others are still battling, and some have only just entered the fray. And he’s still planting.
And then there are the extensive gardens, and the fruit trees, and the recycling piles, and the llama pens, and the decking and yard surfacing, and even the junk Scouts in the driveway that 16-year-old Tony is busily transforming, via knowledge and grease and new and used parts and excursions into the world of Scout enthusiasts, into one functioning vehicle.
It is a story as old as the settling of the country. Older, for it is probably as old as any humans who ever settled their families into any land anywhere, any time, and said, “Here we are. Let us shape this land to our own uses, respecting what it needs and envisioning what it may become.” Clearly, they settled there with the intent to stay. I can’t think of a more heartening example of the true alternative to the throw-away society which is dying around us of its own unsustainable excess.
25. Headed home
Friday Sept. 30, 2005. On Friday, my last day there, Paul and I in a quite unhurried way wind up doing quite a lot, which I don’t realize or remember until I list them. An outdoor sculpture exhibition. Lunch in Santa Rosa. Two bookstores. A museum featuring Indian crafts. A pottery place whose owner he knows, where I bought a little something. A museum featuring Shona art. A third bookstore (Copperfield’s, in Petaluma) and home. A lot for one day, but we didn’t do it on tourist time. Indeed, it felt quite leisurely, sort of hanging out, with periodic changes of scenery and a little retail therapy. (Bookstores!)
Saturday Oct. 1, 2005. Saturday morning, his parents sitting trustfully (apprehensively?) in the back seat, 16-year-old Tony drives me to the Petaluma Fairgrounds so that I can pick up the express bus to San Francisco Airport. I find departures always a little awkward, with all the standing around, so I say my goodbyes and get on the bus right away. Got the front seat, opposite the driver, great view. A nice smooth ride through Saturday traffic down the length of Marin County and through the city. I read some, daydream some, snooze some, as usual. (Doesn’t matter how well rested I am, put me on a public conveyance and I’m ready to nap.)
Don had offered to meet me at the airport, and he and I are both there early, so that works out well. We have some hanging-out-together time until I start getting nervous about going through security and all. A year may go by, with us not exchanging a word, but next time I’m here things will be the same between us. Some friendships are like that.
Plenty to read on the plane – three bookstores saw to that! – and nothing urgent calling me. A restful flight back to Detroit. Some extensive and fast walking required, to change planes across the length of the airport, and I am pleased to see that neither my heart nor my lungs give me any trouble about it. It is late when I get in to Charlottesville, but the drive home is easy, since it’s three hours earlier, according to my readjusted internal clock.
Maybe I readjusted too thoroughly. It’s three a.m. before I finally settle myself in to sleep. Good thing the next day is Sunday.