Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
A stone wall separates the small yard behind our cottage from a stretch of meadow. The stone’s a relic of agrarian days, when it marked farmers’ fields, though the only thing growing in the meadow these days is wild grass. The wall runs parallel to the back of the cottage, tapering off into deconstructed rubble that blends into the woods to the west. Along the perpendicular line, from the corner of the stone wall to the corner of the cottage, runs a wooden fence, slatted like half-open venetian blinds, gated in the middle. The wood has weathered, or the ground has settled, in such a way that the gate won’t close; it remains ajar just enough for small critters to get through and shut just enough to deter larger ones. I’ve yet to see a bear or coyote in our backyard.
A crumbling stone wall and a buckling fence – it feels right for this borderline to be so porous. It’s no barricade; more of a soft buffer, the topographical equivalent of that personal boundary we each carry with us, our extended psychic space that feels impinged upon when someone is too intrusive. When our personal space is respected, we’re more at ease; so with the pliable border of our cottage – it creates a zone of comfort and meets two complementary needs at the same time: to be contained and to be unbounded. The nesting and the nomadic impulses are thereby balanced. We are, for all our restlessness, nesting creatures, and seek a home base to which all our journeying forth is referred. Part of the appeal of the Tiny House phenomenon is that the houses evoke nests, or even shells: one lives, mollusk-like, portably housed.
We share the nesting impulse with other wildlife. The hummingbird builds a nest of extraordinary delicacy and strength, weaving together lichen and moss with threads of spiderwebbing. A hummingbird nest looks like it’s on the verge of falling apart, yet contains the fledglings perfectly, expanding as they grow, like a second skin. By the time the young birds are ready for flight, the nest has flattened out into a level platform from which they launch into a more roving lifestyle. One day they will build such nests for their own young.
Our strip of lawn isn’t quite as adaptable as the hummingbird’s nest, but it serves a similar purpose. It’s a holding environment, with gate ajar to welcome contingency and the unseen hosts, to keep the mind free of overly rigid exclusions and divisions.
The suburban lawns I grew up with have often been derided as mere signifiers of status – whose lawn is larger? greener? more cultivated? But, for the child, the lawn was a world that invited exploration in safety, an organic extension of the house that it fringed. Its limits (neighborhood streets on two sides; neighboring lawns on the other two) were respected; one didn’t venture out across those streets unaccompanied until permitted to do so. Within those limits, the lawn was boundless. There were corners of shrubbery and garden that made up little worlds of their own, within the larger green cosmos. The imagination fed on all the elements – each rock, each shrub – composing the lawn. At the shore of the lawn, the young child could look out, in curiosity and wonder, at the wide sea of the world beyond, and feel the pull of adventure, such as lured Odysseus, and the counter-pull, from behind, of home, that gave those adventures their measure and meaning. For everything is referred back, in the end, to Ithaka, to home.
Jonathan Shimkin, writer and editor, may be contacted at email@example.com, or via his website: jonathanshimkin.weebly.com.]