Sunday, July 24, 2005

The House on the Mountain, Part II: In the House, 1999

Or, Everything That Rises Must Converge

Link to part 1

Six years ago, Renaissance Woman and her girlfriend (me! But you knew that), returned to her old haunts on our way to a wedding. I'd heard so many stories about this place-- the beautiful mountains, the desolate mill town, the mean school bus driver with the biting dog--that it felt like a fairy tale.

We came in on a ferry. The mountains across the lake emerged slowly out of the fog. It was dark by the time we found our campsite. "I can't believe we're really here," I kept saying as we set up the tent.

In the morning, we emerged to find that our campsite was right in town itself, just a few blocks from RW's old high school. It was a little like waking up to discover that you've pitched your tent on Main Street. We packed up and drove around, RW marvelling at the renaissance that had transformed the place: over the last fifteen years, the scorned hippies had taken over and revitalized the town with small businesses; organic food restaurants and groovy tchotchke shops were everywhere.

We drove past Skaterboy's old house and considered saying hi to his mom, but decided not to. Instead, I begged Renaissance Woman to take me out of town and up the mountain to the house her parents built.

"I'm sure it's gone," she said, on the road out of town. "My dad sold it a little after I left, and I can't imagine anyone would stay in it for long. Oh-- that's the road!"

She turned right and put the little red Civic into first, gunning up the mountain. "It'd just be a pile of rubble now," she protested as the road turned to dirt and we bumped along.

We forked off onto an even smaller, steeper, bumpier dirt road. "This is the turnoff, it must be," she muttered. "There won't be anything to see, though."

We bumped and revved up the mountain, higher and higher, past signs that grew ever more forbidding: "Private Property." "No Trespassing." "Absolutely No Trespassers!" Even if we'd wanted to flee, there was no place to turn around. So we jolted onwards until the slope levelled off and we came to a clearing. In the clearing stood a wooden house, with a view of mountains invisible from down in the valley.

"That's it," RW breathed. "That's the house."

We nosed around the outside, peering in windows. A rifle lay on the sofa; that didn't look promising. On the other hand, the house was actually in better shape than it had been when RW'd seen it last. It was rustic and woodsy in a well-kept-up kind of way. There was a porch and a glass door, and it looked like there was running water.

While we dithered about what to do, the owner came back from his trip to town. It was the same guy who’d bought the house from RW's parents almost twenty years earlier.

Despite the rifle and the scary signs, he was gentle and welcoming. He showed us around the house, pointing out improvements he’d made over the years (“Hot water!” RW gasped). His own daughter had used RW’s old room as her bedroom when she lived there, and he showed us the wooden nameplate he’d made for her. The skylight was still there. He had hand-carved sills for all the windows out of trees that grew on the property.

Alas, part of the house’s history had repeated itself, and his wife and daughter had left him a few years earlier and moved into town. He seemed relatively content, though, and happy to talk with RW about changes in the house and the town. He’d even kept the books her dad left behind—her mom’s philosophy textbooks, her dad’s science fiction novels, some folktales and poetry-- and asked her if she wanted any of them back.

She took a couple of books, a gift from the past to her present life. We thanked him, and drove away in our Civic, feeling like we’d just seen Brigadoon, or a living-history museum, or a dream.


Blogger Jo said...

Oh my god, that's so great.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa, you really can write. It's RW's story but your casting of it is evocative. I cried. It is indeed like something out of a really great children's book, like Heidi. Do you think you could write something like this about my years in Portales? Would it be possible to turn my bible belt girlhood (making out in the cemetary across from the high school) into prose like this? Or was it really, really great material combined with prodigious talent?


1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps: Not that I'm trying to get you to write my life story--I just meant could you take something as dreary--as geographically and metaphorically flat--as those years and do something this good with it? Or are you just lucky that RW's parents went back to the land?


1:48 PM  

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