Monday, July 12, 2010


The place in which you live.

  I go by this willow structure a few times a month. It's one part of a very appealing elemental sculpture on the grounds of Colorado College, installed by sculptor Patrick Dougherty.  It always makes me think about shelter; our conception of what makes a good shelter. It is often by chance or circumstance that we live in a particular abode. A place to be while pursuing education or some other thing, we reside in a home (or apartment) until a career move or other change takes us elsewhere. Usually we start out small. As we obtain more means, or become rooted to a place, we think to reach beyond making do, to make our habitation more permanent, or at least to let it reflect a bit more of our selves and our willingness to commit to a locale.

  We in North America are seen to be obsessed with making a display of our houses, the bigger the better. It's not exactly a humble approach, but then, many of these aren't humble homes. Traveling in Europe, I knew that giving guests a tour of one's home was not something generally done. I didn't even ask. Even to me, it seems an unnecessary burden to expect to give a tour on moment's notice of what is supposed to be one's private space.

  A popular tide sweeps many along, at which point their choice of abode can have more to do with what is expected of them, instead of being a reflection of their individual nature. I can only be thinly disguising my dislike of artifice and sheer size, as a measure of what makes a great home. A cookie-cutter development, spread across the landscape, is not my ideal. Other than the cost of sprawl and the disconnect from the larger community, I personally feel unease at the idea of coming home to that. This isn't meant to be a moral judgement of the inhabitants of such houses. There's nothing wrong with the people who live in them (at least nothing that can be attributed solely to the house they live in.) We can assume that inside these homes good, generous people are going through their day. But I do sometimes refer to suburbs ballooning with outsize houses, grand and looming over each other, as soul-robbing. It may be a case of  'maximizing-your-dollar.' Because you can. Because others already have. Because you won't be recognized as a success if you don't.  I don't intend to go into foreclosures and the overall home mortgage crisis happening now. But I do think about the impulse of overreaching to own a lot of house.

  In the minds of homebuyers, thoughts on the psychology of one's choice of home aren't at the surface, if they are there at all. Practical considerations such as square footage, the room count, number of bathrooms, and so on, loom large. Nearness to job or schools play a big role, as you'd expect. Yet I am amazed at how often the intelligence of a group, in desiring these practical amenities, is poorly served by the producers of those amenities. I believe that the masses don't specifically desire the papier-mache constructs that have been built for the average home-buying public by production builders in the last forty years. I think they'd appreciate something less 'faux.'

  Where are those homebuyers, scheming around their kitchen tables, proposing to "make it brick on one side only." "Put fake quoins on the corners of a stucco box, that's what I want" or, "give me a twenty-foot tall entry hall, I want the house to be visible for miles." There are technical and aesthetic reasons why these artificial approaches are somewhat out of balance. Perhaps what bothers me is the attempt to project a style using fakery, rather than accept that budget dictates using a more honest list of materials. Can't afford stone? Select otherwise.

  Anything seems possible in our global way of living; we tend to import, truck, or ship by rail, all the things we desire. If that is too expensive, we make up a veneer to resemble the materials that are native to another locale. Often the material is not the burdening cost, instead it is the labor to work with it in a skilled manner that is the budget breaker.  And we are reluctant to pay for the skilled execution.  Thus the fakery. I stop myself here, realizing that these points are just my own prejudice against artifice and against disconnect from materials' honest structural origins. For example, brick was not meant as 'cake decoration' over another structural element. Its real beauty resides in an engineered pattern of repeated courses, done to meet structural requirements, to become the load-carrying element all on its own.

  But to bring this back to the concept of shelter. I have the highest regard for an abode that meets perhaps its most important role, no matter how large or small,  simple or look-alike the abode may be: to house the people within, away from the elements, sheltered from the cares of the world.  (Too many do not have even the most basic form of this.) A shelter with perhaps a pot of tea resting on a chipped counter, a waiting chair, and an invitation to take refuge within its walls for a time.

  We create the feeling of 'abode' every time we settle somewhere to take a respite, in a way. The noun abode is meant to refer to a place we dwell more than temporarily. Yet the urge to make ourselves fit in any number of locations in a more than temporary way seems to emerge in surprising impulses. At a hotel, we find the ice machine and test the windows. We trust the roof over our head for a night or two.  At a restaurant, we look for an appealing table, away from the din by the door. Gathering chairs, we welcome our friends around.  Camping on a windswept beach, it seems a game to gather driftwood for a bonfire. With it we enhance the amenities of our abode-by-the-sea. When the stars come out, we sit near the crackling orange warmth as a defense against the sea-mist in the night. Once inside a tent's fabric shelter, the flimsy barrier suddenly takes on a protective dimension. Our abode for the night.

As my Scots ancestors might have said: "bide a wee." Abide. Stay awhile.

The willow sculptures seem to say that, too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPod              --all photos  by the author.