Knock On Wood
I’m a city gal, born and bred. The idea of living someplace with air I can’t see always kind of gave me the creeps. But that was BC — Before C-19. After that, clean air and no people sounded pretty damn good.
It probably sounded pretty damn good to a lot of people, but I called a realtor, anyway. Never been so sorry to be right.
“You want how much an acre? Without structures or utilities?”
“Everybody wants to get away from it all,” the real estate guy said, his apologetic tone laced with smug delight. “Sorry I couldn’t help.”
He was generous enough to email me a list of what he called “jack-leg realtors”, people who knew people with tag-ends of less marketable property that the big firms were above handling.
I went through the list, bearing their astonishment at how little I could pay, feeling first ashamed, then irritated, then belligerant, then amused, then resigned.
Three names from the end of the list, I found Sylvia Timberlake. She didn’t laugh. She didn’t repeat my top figure, as if she must have heard it wrong.
“Uh-huh,” she said, with that special tone that means, I’m writing this down because it’s important and I’ll need to keep it in mind. “I don’t think I can come up with much for that price. Not that it’s too small, it’s just that rural property is inflated right now. I’m sure you understand.”
It felt so good to be spoken to as if my scant dollars deserved respect, I nearly broke down in tears.
“I do understand,” I said. “I should probably just forget it and keep sheltering in place. But I live in an apartment….”
“Air ducts,” Sylvia said, getting my meaning immediately. “Circulation. Sure. Hang on.”
I heard the tapping of a keyboard.
“Well,” she said, doubtfully, “I do have one small parcel. Half an acre. No road frontage, but four right-of-ways. Want to see it?”
Out of gratitude for her kindness, I said yes.
Two days later, I met Sylvia Timberlake at a pull-over on RR30 three miles south of a little burg called Greenman. We were both in masks, of course, but Sylvia had told me she drove a red VW beetle and that she had green eyes.
As we walked the dirt path between barbed wire fences, she waved at the land on either side and said, “These four brothers could never get along. So the parents made a will that divided the property four ways, with a half-acre in trust right where the four parcels meet, and a right-of-way none of them can use in between each. No boundary disputes possible. That was a long time ago. The parents are long gone, and it’s been 21 years since the last brother passed, so the trust is up. It’s such a silly little property, you can have it for your price, just to get it off the books.”
There wasn’t much of it. The closest parts of the surrounding properties had grown up in woods, so it was private, but we could hear children playing and riding mowers and something Sylvia said was probably a small roto-tiller.
“Everybody’s gardening these days,” she said. There was a squawk and a flurry of cackles. “And raising chickens,” she added.
My land — I already claimed it in my heart — wouldn’t support a garden; it barely supported moss and ferns. There was no room for a house unless I cut down every tree on the place.
“You love it, don’t you?” Sylvia’s eyes shone. “I was sure you would. I could hear it in your voice, when you called.”
“I do love it,” I said, dreading the moment when I would have to walk away. I reached out to a slender dogwood in the center of the property and stroked the bark. “I love it too much to clear it, and there’s no room for me without that.”
“But there is,” Sylvia said. Her shining eyes glowed, bathing me in a clear, green light. “There is, if you love the woods enough.”
My hand slid down the tree’s trunk as I shrank, Sylvia shrinking with me, until we were each no higher than a hedgehog. She gestured to the trunk I still touched, and I saw that what I had taken to be damage was actually a door. Inside was a spiral staircase going both up and down.
Sylvia looked up, sunlight from a million tiny openings above glittering over her shining face. “Summer quarters up there,” she said. She looked down into a cozy dark that breathed clean warmth. “Winter quarters. Fully furnished.” She removed her mask and smiled. “I lived here, myself, until I fell in love and left to be married and live with my husband’s people.”
Sylvia visits me, often. There’s always a feast: I can raid the neighbors’ gardens and their hens’ nests and it either goes unnoticed or they blame the wildlife — and I suppose they’re right, at that.
Thursday doors is the brainchild of Norm Frampton, photographer extraordinaire. Visit his site, enjoy his wonderful photographs, follow his directions, and enter a world of doors.
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: A walk in the woods. Story A Day May