Monday, January 7, 2008

Doorways : Addendum #1

The Spicy Tiger Mountain House

There were some 500 doorways on my rural mail delivery route in the Cascade foothills east of Seattle. About sixty percent of the homes were up or down some steep driveway. Most were in a high-end community of large properties with spacious and distinctly architectured homes tucked into the tall firs. The doorways in that area tended to be at the least gracious and distinguished looking, and included some that were downright palatial looking.

Not far away on the same mountain were horse acres and even trailers parked up bumpy roads among the tall firs and alders.

There was only one house on my route that I actually took photos of, and I called it my Spicy Tiger Mountain House.

gouache, SGH, copyright 1994

It sat on a knoll at the top of a hill and through its miscellaneously placed "eyes" looked south toward Mt. Rainier. Miscellaneous is a good word for almost everything about this house, including its purposes. There was nothing that looked particularly designed about the place -- it said in every way "I have grown up around my people."

There were two or three sheep inside the wire fence to the right of the dirt driveway, and banty chickens clucking about, quite unafraid of my mail truck jostling up to the back door. There were tricycles and go-cars and buckets in the dirt and there were an unknown number of goats scampering about behind the house in another wired-in area.

I usually did not see the occupants--usually I was not on a signing-for-delivery mission -- just there to park a package by the back door and get on with my mail duties. But even so, the evidence of the people gave out an aura of joy -- real joy of living! It was just so humanly attractive and alive!

I did get to know the folks that lived there -- writer/scientist folks with deep interests in education and biology. They were an energetic couple with young children and while I served them, they bought the place from the folks they had been renting it from.

They made some changes. Their changes were not for beautification, but more as a handshake with nature. There was acreage on the downhill slope west of their house that was nearly terminally overrun with blackberries. These plants get a death-grip on the glacial moraine of the Cascade foothills, and given space, they will fill it with viscious, thorny snarls of foliage and delicious black-druped fruit that is delectible to eat, but daunting to harvest. The family fenced in this forbidding acreage with barbed wire and let their goats loose in it. Starting at the outside periphery, the blackberry patch gradually receded, week by week, until there were only the alders and firs left in that field, and a bunch of frolicking goats. The goats were a crop, I found. They were for sale to ecology-minded buyers.

They divided the sheepfold to house a couple of pretty cows. The colorful chickens multiplied and the tricycles became two-wheelers with training wheels. I grew more and more fond of the spirit of that house.

Here is a watercolor of the back step of that place. The door, I knew, led into a large windowed porch full of neat farming and gardening and cooking stuff, and then led into a house full of books and computers and cooking odors and happy sounds.

watercolor, SGH copyright 1994

The fact that I selected THIS doorway to paint tells me as much about myself as it tells me about the family that lives there. Why am I drawn particularly to a doorway akimbo with a sagging screen on a flapping screen door? Why did I like the odd boards propped up and the warping of the porch. Why was that hat such a delight, shyly revealing itself from behind the humble house-face?

I think I am drawn to the evidence of a life in progress. I think that's what I like about it, and about that family. I like that the people didn't choose to hide behind a grand fa├žade with a big brass kick plate and heavy door latch and a doorbell that played Westminster chimes. I like that the family were there in essence before you even knocked, and that they were busy being happy in their life without worrying about what the mail-lady might think.

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