On the way out to the garden, there's a big old red oak tree. Whenever I take my basket and go out there, I can hear the wind sighing through its branches. In summer its thousands of leaves wave to me, rustling gently, as I stand beneath its spreading branches, looking up. In the fall it makes a blazing, glowing ceiling. In the winter, the naked branches hold back the empty sky.
At the very edge of the oak tree's canopy, where the branches nearly touch the ground, a patch of clover grows lush in the summer. This last summer, I found a four-leaf clover there. Then, days later, another. From then on, every time I passed, I'd lean down and pick a little good luck to put in a punch cup on the counter in the kitchen.
I stood back near the creek on a brisk afternoon last fall, when the silence was heavy in the woods, and thought that if I ever did get completely fed up with everyone and everything, I'd come back here and live like Thoreau, alone with my thoughts near the chuckling sound of the water.
I've walked the pasture dozens of times, figuring exactly where to build the little shed where I'd someday milk my cow, while at the same time loving having the pasture empty, so my children can just run. We've spent endless hours digging stumps out of fence lines so that we could plant berries there instead, dug deep trenches in the clay to carefully plant asparagus crowns, and meticulously fed the soil in our side yard full of raised beds until it'll grow just about anything. We've been barefoot here, been cozy here, been alone, and together, and...happy here.
And now, well, now it's time to go. Work, The Hand That Feeds, has called Father Bird back to California. At first I hoped there was some mistake, then that there was some alternative, and now I know that this is the way things have to be. I don't think I have to mention how much I love this place, this funny little strip of land that's rural-but-not-so-much, a place where we could play out any agricultural whimsy we came up with. Or how much we love the friends we've made here, all the people, the faces, the lives that are dear to us now.
The realtors came yesterday and figured up how much our home is worth, how many dollars per square foot, how many per acre. Which square feet, I wanted to ask them. The six square feet where all of us cram into one corner of the couch together? The nine square feet where the Christmas tree has stood four years in a row? The 30 square feet where it falls every time the children pull it over? Or the 10 square feet I can fill up with hot water and soak after a difficult day? What about the 18 square feet where we lay each of our children at night, or the two where we stand after we've crept across the creaky floor to look into their angel faces while they sleep? Are those worth the same as all the rest?
The answer, of course, is that in dollars per square foot and dollars per acre, our home isn't worth what we think it is. How could it be? "You paid too much for your house," the realtor lady said flatly, and I wanted to say to her, "You have no idea."
I think we should all start a new tradition. We should choose a place, like taped to the side of the water heater, or sitting on the studs behind the furnace, where we'll keep a book that contains the story of a house. So that when we're pulling up a floor, or knocking down a wall, and we find something strange, we can leaf through the house log and find out what it means. Because once we're gone, who will know, beyond the words in the listing, new water heater, about the weekend we spent taking frigid showers and heating water for the children's baths on the stove? Who will understand why all the brush in the backyard is cropped bare up to chest level? If anyone ever tears out the dining room floor, the giant magic marker heart with our initials that's drawn on the plywood will probably explain itself, but can it ever tell the new owners how much we loved this house?
Dollars per square foot. For a home. In part because I can't stand living in a house that I'm not allowed to love anymore, within the next couple of weeks we'll be packing up, setting our faces west, and trying not to look back. The chickens and the goats are sold, we planted no fall garden. Yesterday I threw away the list of chores I'd made that would help us realize all our crazy dreams for this place.
I know someone else will come to live here. In my sentimental way, I can't imagine them doing anything but loving it the way we have. All the same, I wish they'd let me write the real estate listing. Somehow I bet they'll forget to mention the lucky clover patch.