Monday, January 19, 2015

The Explorer's Retreat

 After we bought the ranch house, a crusty, old gardener pulled us aside.
"You know the history of this place?" he asked.
The split-level had been built in the early 70s, and I couldn't imagine what sort of history it had accumulated. Had a tornado ripped up a tree? Did the kitchen have Bad Appliance Karma?

"It's a house of divorce," the man said. "Everyone who lives here splits up." To drive home the point, he drew a finger across his throat.


What a relief. Because I'd imagined a darker event, like, maybe the house had been built over a cemetery. Not that I'd ever concerned myself with otherworldly matters. After all, I'd lived in a former funeral home, and it had been a sunny, happy place. That house had come with a checkered marital history, too.  
As I looked up at the ranch, it reminded me of a scene from The Brady Bunch, not The X Files

I released a breath that I hadn't known I was holding.  
No need to burn smudge sticks or exorcise the ghosts of scorned lovers. 
I had another idea.
See, I have this little trick that I use on new (or "new old") houses: I invent a history, one to my liking. On the spot, I dreamed up a previous owner for the ranch, along with his (much more pleasing) background. I decided that my house had been built by a portly British archaeologist, a bearded chap named Sir Nigel. He'd traveled the world, collecting items that had caught his fancy. But when he wanted to relax, he returned to the hilltop ranch--the Explorer's Retreat.




My explorer liked old books and textiles. On one of his travels,
he'd found a pottery duck--it appeared to be the lid to a trinket box or a small tureen.


Sir Nigel also had a taste for fine wines, lace doilies, and old silver. 
He loved gardening, too, and he'd created a private, verdant world on the hilltop.



I liked Nigel's philosophy. 
In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said it best:
"How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives."

 Sir Nigel believed this, too. Small gestures make huge impressions. For example, he turned each meal into an occasion. Linen napkins, fresh flowers, silver, and candlelight. Naturally, he had quite a stash of old china, which he displayed in a pine Welsh cupboard. 

"A beautiful dish can transform an ordinary brownie into a Parisian dessert," he said.


I imagined having conversations with my explorer.
"Nigel, my house is tainted," I said. 
"Cheer up," he said, repressing a grin. "It's not Ebola."

The more I thought about my explorer, the more I liked my ranch house.
Oddly enough, the new history shaped my decorating decisions. Nigel wouldn't have paid attention to trends or those pesky "in/out" lists. During his time at the ranch, he would have filled the rooms with objects that had stories and meaning. Nothing would have been bought to fill a space or echo a color. Nigel's house would have reflected his travels--inward and outward. 
He would have collected stray feathers, a turtle print in Ecuador, lily of the valley from his aunt's garden in the Cotswolds, books he'd found in dusty shops on Charing Cross Road. 


When I was going through the attic, I found Nigel's old leather-bound journal. On the title page, he'd jotted down a quote:

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
--William Morris, English artist, author, and textile designer.

As I closed the journal, a bit of twine fell out. It was both useful and beautiful. 
I tucked it in my pocket, thinking I was off to a good start.
A new house.
A new history.
A new way to build a nest.


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32 comments:

  1. I'm lovin' all your creative energy this month and how you're weaving stories with your posts! A British archaeologist, named Sir Nigel rings an Acquainted with the Night bell :) I can't tell from the photo, is your climbing vine jasmine, clematis or wisteria?

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    1. Yes, old Nigel gets around. :-) I'm not sure about that type of vine. I didn't bloom this past summer. I will be watching it with great interest this spring!

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  2. We've lived in a gillion houses. "A new house, a new place to build a nest" - an absolutely perfect way to put it and one I shall adopt myself. Enjoy your new home ML.
    Sam

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  3. I hope that man who shared the negative news with you is not a pesky neighbor! I can't believe he told you that, but you certainly put an end to his story by fabricating your own magical tale~ I loved all the wonderful quotes of advice for living...beautiful thoughts Michael Lee, and an inspired way to begin my week~
    Jenna

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    1. No, not a neighbor (apparently, the stories are true...but that could be said for many houses).

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  4. Oh I love this and how you manage to tell such enchanting stories. Love this gorgeous space and vignette.

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  5. loving reading, as always. I am really enjoying this adventure.....glad your writing a new and more exciting story for the ranchburger. I know you and the doc have nothing to worry about. This new adventure will bring you all even closer. LET THE LOVE BLOOM, even more just as sure as those beautiful flowering vines are about to bust forth with amazing fragrant blooms...hope you keep the vines, so romantic, I can already picture yall sitting under the aromatic's and having morning coffee.

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    1. Thanks for your sweet, positive vibes! Yes, I plan to keep that vine.

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  6. Love love love the author playing house... with a camera and treats! I would grab nigels latest book in a heart beat! We have been in total white out fog for days, you don't know night from day, land from sky, car from road, in other worlds all I have been doing is reading, I would adore to slip into nigels life of travels and wanderlust, yet anchored to his beloved ranch, sounds like a best seller ;-)

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    1. Where is the fog--the hillside or the beach? I hope is clears soon!

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  7. Cool. That sounds exactly like what I'm trying to do with our home. An anchor that brings us back from our travels... and launches us into new ones.

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    1. I love that idea of coming home and launching new adventures! Thanks for visiting!

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  8. The 'story' of your home sounds enchanting.

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  9. Such a great post! I laughed when he told you it was divorce....I thought he was gonna say "crime scene tape, dead body" and all I could think of was ho am I gonna tell this great blogger to run like hell without hurting her feelings....LOL

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    1. If it had been that, I'd be running like a wild woman.LOL

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  10. I adore this post! It's definitely a much better version than the true one. I actually laughed out loud at the Ebola comment that you imagined Sir Nigel said :)

    xo

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  11. I love Nigel and his philosophies on life and living. I'm thinking he should be a character in your newest book! I'm also happy that you paid no heed to the neighbor's news and spun your own tale instead...much more interesting!

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  12. I'm wishing that Nigel would have a yard sale. LOL

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  13. You are the best storyteller...

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  14. You have a wonderful spirit. I will be watching to see how you cast your spell upon your new home. I'm sure it will be wonderful! It seems 2014 was quite the year for many of us bloggers!

    - Alma, The Tablescaper

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  15. What a lovely story ! Sir Nigel is a very wise man....I am so looking forward to seeing your new nest emerge !

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  16. Love your philosophy! Terrific story. Your history is much better than the one the man told you.

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  17. Love your home, your quaint table setting, and especially your story. Wonderful!

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