A path, a wall, a gate – space into place into home

Photograph of small farm on river bend

We’re closing on Monday. We’re going to do this! And even before it begins, I feel the urgent need to document it all. Hopefully I’ll have the time to write here more often again.

Last week a new septic system was put in, which tore up the entire front and back yard. We knew about this of course, and welcomed it – it allows for the 2 bedroom to become a 3 bedroom if we wish. The result saved us some work: it made the sloping front yard a little more gradual, got rid of lots of scrawny trees (we requested the wood was left), so cleared space (and light) for the garden. Psychologically, with “the woods” removed, it is now easier for me to see the garden.

But the place looks so violated: all that bare earth! It’s not my own yet and I feel for it already. Also, the leach field we now realize is humongous (looks it, in any case), and as I balk from growing veggies on it, my first reaction was to lament the loss of space. I know it’s only a small loss, really, only a small area in the grand scheme of our almost-an-acre. I know my perplexity has more to do with my reaction to all that space and the question: what to do with it. Or rather, where to do it all?

The space as it exists now overwhelms any kind of vision for the future.

As for the space that exists… With all that emptiness after the construction of the septic system, the garden in front is one, large, amorphous space, with a dense cluster of trees (some mature, some not) to the left and a path of destruction all the way up to the house.

In the back and to the sides, there are unrelated pockets of space, segmented by little stone walls and trees and most obviously by ugly, metal fences. They cut the space apart and even exclude land that turns out to belongs to the property too.

Add to that the contents: so many trees we’d like to keep, so many types of soil and microclimates, most of which are unknowns as yet.

I approach this torn-up, fragmented, schizophrenic space with my equally fragmented vision.

There are so many functions that we want our garden to fulfill: vegetable garden, herb garden, bird garden, insect garden, orchard, hedges and paths, play space, discovery space, wild space, calm space…

And so many elements to incorporate. Things that are already there: the huge masonry BBQ (make it into an oven?), the old stone ring, which we’d like to keep. Structures to be built: a root cellar, Amie’s play structures (swing, seesaw, jungle gym), a little house for her (cob?), fences, and walls to train fruit trees on, a green house, a composting place, a woodcutting and curing area, maybe a tiny pond…

But standing there today, among the budding trees and the birdsong and the rustling of all those fall leaves that were left there (leaf mould!), and surveying the front from the house on the hill, I had a vision that clicked into place! And that’s exactly what we need: to make space into place, then to make that place into home.

It began with a path, a wall and a gate. Exactly the three main spatial elements that aren’t spatial themselves at all, but that divide and integrate and open space.

It’s a single meandering path that runs down the slope. It meets a small wooden gate in a thick and a low, curving wall.

The path is terraced by wooden dividers and covered with stones, all found on the property (oh many stones!). Over it at intervals are trellises and arbors, and along it (invading the garden space), benches, a birdbath. The wall is made of cob and the larger stones, painted a deep, warm brown. Along it on the inside grow the fruit trees. On the other side is the street. It is not meant for privacy: any person of average height can look over it. It is meant as an invitation.

The gate does the inviting. It sits in a higher, thicker part of the wall, with space above it for a cob sculpture, and generous chinks for preliminary glimpses of what lies behind it. It is a wooden, painted gate, rounded on top. There is perhaps a bell – with a clapper, maybe a chain (and a notice to the effect of “bell is optional”). There’s a niche for the mailbox next to it, and some flowers or a little object. Maybe a bench, on the outside, for weary passers-by.

It says: home. We live here, we are native here. And you are welcome.

Maybe I’ll draw it for you sometime. Maybe I’ll even get to build it!

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