Sunday, April 11, 2010


When we were shown this house, it was such a piece of shit, I burst into tears on the tour, because I knew right then that I was going to have to live here.

I've posted about it before and I wont bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say, it was mediocre house that had been picked up by its ears and dipped in a vat of bad interior decorating and plopped in a beautiful setting. Everything about the house was coated in a thick layer of smoked glass, hollow core doors, brass, weeds and frogs. My future appeared, mirage-like, in the wavering image of a split-level in the middle of nowhere. Lily, who was then still a toddler, bloodied her head by standing up too quickly in a knee-level pass-through (A what? Yes, a knee-level pass-through. You're right to ask, but I can't help you) from the dining room to the lower-level fire place room. From the lower level's vantage, you could literally look up a guest's skirt while watching ESPN. I held a paper towel to the nick on her head and knew that my powers were useless.

After living here a very short time, I was called to a certain spot on the property. Always a front yard/front porch kind of girl, I placed two Adirondack chairs in front of the house between two curly willows, planted some thirty years ago. I've sat in those two chairs with every house guest I've ever had, every member of my family, in every combination. Those two chairs have provided an anchor to those trees and that yard for all five years we've lived here. When the house was unbearable, either due to construction or bad temper, and also in fair humor, when everyone is playing and relaxed, those chairs have brought forth. Tears have been shed in those chairs, moments passed between people, truths discovered, pot smoked.

One night the wind blew fiercely and it knocked our forward-standing curly willow right out of its rooted slippers and blew her on her side, where I found her in the morning, leaning against a stand of pines, in her death swoon, the skirts lifted on her elaborate root system, leaving a giant hole in the ground in which I could have laid down with my whole family outstretched.

I put my hand to my heart when I saw that tree on its side like that; big beautiful creature.

But time passes and the tree posed some obvious hazard. We had to cut that sucker down. And this is where Vild comes into the picture; where the four corners off cheapness and power tools, rope and ladder meet, that's where you'll find Vildy. But for once this is not a story about him.

He cut her down from the pines that had become a harness for her gravity, suspending her in mid air. I was nervous, but he did it well, as he always does, though any moment runs the potential to turn into a You Tube video.

The roots and stump righted itself, filling back up the hole, but maybe four inches off, so the thing turned into a mound of dirt with a big stump on top. Sad. But the kids kind of loved it. Kids love any kind of yard or house drama. And it was a good vantage point, a thing to jump from, sit on, hit with sticks.

Then one day the stump turned savage, sending out these long brown shoots, with thorns like parrot talons curling out from them. Thorns that don't just snag your sweater, but threaten to extract your liver as you walk by.

No one played on or near the stump anymore. The Adirondack chairs moved back, under the more rearward of the two willows, where its still nice, but not quite as nice.

Suddenly our place looked like a hick shanty to me. Brush was piled up everywhere and crap of every conceivable shape and size had accumulated. An old satellite dish in pieces over here, a chicken wire fence from a overly ambitious and completely failed vegetable garden over there. An overturned bathtub, pieces of drywall in the garage, rusted metal parts. A perfect hillbilly paradise.

My home is at once a rural dreamscape, filled with natural splendor, freedom and privacy and then just as quickly a prison of isolation, loneliness and enormous chores that require the community personnel of a large Amish family. Not just me, swatting at the landscape crankily with a broken rake and a garbage bag.

But this week we rented a really big dumpster, and I rode around the property loading up our belching, squealing rider mower that is more like riding a gas can with wheels, than any kind of lawn cutter. I filled up its wretched wagon eight times with all the waste from our lives and the lives of divorced people before us, and hurled it clanging into the metal belly of the dumpster.

The piles of brush I dragged over to the now evil stump, making a pyre of fallen wood. Vild lit the pile with one match and I watched the fire burn. All day I added more and more dead wood from around the place. At times the flames burned ten feet tall, at others it smoldered. But I tended that fire for nearly four hours, burning burning burning it all down.

Rain started to fall after I'd shoveled the perimeter and I sat in my Adirondack chair watching the last of the snarled, prickly wood burn away as passing drizzle sizzled on my skin.

But the stump remained.

After half a day of burn, that stump is only slightly charred from heat. Vild even went at it with an axe, both of us expecting it to crumble apart. But his blade hit that thing with such a resistant thud, it was as if he'd struck rock.

The willow will not go.

You can sit below it, you can turn up its roots, lay it down, chop her into firewood then light her up, but at the core, that girl is solid as a rock, and she's not going anywhere.


  1. The need for Amish personnel mixed with the description of a Hillbilly Paradise makes for good TV sitcom. I wanna sit in the Adirondack chairs with you NOW!
    I hate the book the Giving Tree. That kid turned old man is an ass. Glad he does'nt live with you.
    It says this is Eric, but it is really Deb writing the comment signed in as Eric...though I am sure he'd want to sit in the chairs too, and also thinks the guy from Giving Tree is an ass.

  2. The Giving Tree sucks, and I'm glad to have found someone who understands that.

  3. Oh, thank God you're back in the writing saddle again! Such a lovely piece, and hilarious as usual. Though I am sad about the tree. Thank you, thank you.
    Now go reupholster some more furniture.

    But damn, I love Chagrin & Bear It.


    But damn, I love Chagrin & Bear It.


  6. that tree is Rasputin

  7. There is a thing called a stump grinder that you might find very useful. It's a big powerful tool that Vild might find fun to use. You will end up with a big pile of woodchips that you can put in yoru big bon fire. We had to use it lots upstate. I loved the giving tree. Sure he was an ass but it's good for kids to see that the world is full of them.

    Love from remotest Sikkim.

  8. As bitter and vicious as you get, you still make me laugh out loud while my heart breaks.
    I love you! xoJ

  9. This one uprooted my heart.

  10. A friend just told me about your blog. Glad I stumbled onto you...and your solid girl.

  11. My first comment fell like a tree in the woods that nobody heard. But I want to go on the public record as saying you are my favorite writer!

  12. I am just so happy to find others who hate The Giving Tree. Great piece Jessica.