It’s not just that Halloween comes around now. You’re drawn to the spooky anyway at this season, with the bones of the world emerging through the trees; the branches scratching like dead man’s fingers at window panes icy to the touch.
When I was little, we went once with our cousins to a tall old ruin of a house, abandoned and alone on a hill. We stole inside and crept around. We looked down the parched throat of a long-gone toilet. “See that rusty stuff in there?” the eldest among us said. “That’s blood!” We shrieked, and bolted, and ran all the way home.
Funny: I live in a house like that now, though it teems with life still. I sit by the hour in the little window seat of its second-floor study. Just outside the glass, when there’s a wind, the ivy outside waves like the Queen at the parade passing before it. In summer, the ten-thousand hands of its leaves are shiny-green. Now they are red-tipped, or vermilion throughout.
“Ivy rots the shingles!,” the experts shout when the talk turns to house-painting. “Ivy is ruinous!”
“Tell it to the birds,” I think, the birds who shelter and practice their scales there, all safe and hidden in its rustling depths.
Once a decade, the painters come and strip the ivy to the ground. But almost before the year is out, it has grown back, clear to the roof, nearly – and we secretly cheer it on.
When David and I were in our twenties and babies still in every way, we bought a little apple orchard way up in Maine that belonged to a dead man named Luce. This land was inexpensive because it had no electricity and no water on it. The old man, who had been born on the land, sold it for not much money to some city-slicker who immediately doubled the price and sold it to us. Shortly after this, Luce died. Some said it was the humiliation that killed him.
A neighbor that first year asked us if he could graze his cows on our land; it would keep the grass down, he said. Sure, we told him, and went back to building a cabin that looked like the Three Little Pigs’ House of Sticks.
We used to go there for weekends, and cows as big as oil burners watched us as we set fire to our steaks, to our marshmallows, to our very selves, on some nights. After eating, they watched us walk the orchard’s 20 acres.
We often stopped to wonder at the clump of vegetation growing together by the road – birch and aspen, and a riot of blackberry – a strange sight on this land, cleared but for the tidy rows of apple. Finally, one day we looked closer: The growth sprang from a cellar-hole, the foundation of the house where Old Man Luce was born.
Structures crumble, the message seems to be, but loveliness grows up from the ruins. And though Winter seems like death to us now, it is only Winter. Would the noble geese leave us had they not made reservations for next year’s visit?
The part of our house covered in ivy is a small turret capped at the top by a pointy princess-hat of a roof. Under it, on the second floor, is my curve-ended study with its window seat. Under that is the equally arc-shaped end of the living room where we put the Christmas tree each year.
“When I die, lay me out here inside the curve of this turret,” I used to tell our kids. Never mind rented men in a set of rented parlors, I say. “Invite the world, give ’em lots of food and drink, and laugh as much as you like. “
“OK!” they answer in chipper fashion. They don’t find it strange or macabre, because they were kids, and kids understand this truth best of all: the Old Growth dies to make way for the New.
Scary? Nah, it’s not scary.That little cat at the top is mostly just …curious!