I was outside most of the last two days preparing for a season of gardening, trying to get all the heavy work done early so I won’t have to do any heavy work later beyond just planting and watering. I’ll be busy, later, with more books and more stories. Today and yesterday I needed sunlight, hard labor. I’d been cooped up at a computer too long, scribbling away at a new novel and a new short story for the Fathomless Abyss. Afterwards, I sat on the back deck, and looked up at the roof where my dad and I replaced the wooden slats with trellising a few weeks ago. I got to thinking about houses, and owning houses, and living in houses.
Someone built the deck before we got here, and now it’s one of the best things about the house. Prior residents did things to this house. There’s tile throughout the rooms, nice and cool on a hot, Texas summer day, instead of carpet. Someone added that. My brother installed a fancy thermostat for the AC unit. There’s an island of plants in front, with drought-tolerant natives, that will probably be here forever because the plants live forever in all seasons, and it reduces the yard work greatly up there. I am doing things, too. I built concrete planters, planted trees that will grow large.
These marks we make on the building and the ground carry forward through time. We live in the house, but we don’t live alone. We live with everyone that lived here, and everyone that will live here. We are a community of people living in the same house, separated by time. We all work to maintain the house, and to make changes to it that suit our character and our desire for the future of the house. We are responsible for a patch of ground, and we plant things and tear them down – build things and tear them down – repair, repair, repair, renovate, repair. We never know what marks we make will truly last. Someone built a deck in the back yard that is epic and one of the greatest things about the house and will probably last and be maintained forever, now. I sit on it, and love it, and we’re sitting together, them and me. I changed the roof of the deck to trellis, to make my mark and sit with the people that will come after us. We took down a tree that was too large. We planted other things. There are trees planted that we keep, and trees that we don’t keep, and trees that we keep but don’t want to and maybe we’ll never get around to cutting them down. Right now, I’m moving large shrubs from the front yard to the back yard. Perhaps the person who comes next will move them from the back to the front. The person before me planted them, and painted the walls different colors, and put nails and hooks in places for things my wife and I do not own. Sometimes the nails just sit there, empty, because I don’t bother taking them out until I know what to do with the place that is empty. Maybe I will never know, and the next person will see the same empty hooks and nails.
We are all here toiling away at the domicile, a community of people trying to make the best marks we can, and to maintain the house for the future and repair where it breaks. We are haunted, just a little, by the people that came before and the people that will come soon enough, but hopefully not too soon.
This is a metaphor for life, for society, for so many things.
Even if you live alone in your house, you’re never alone because you live with everyone else who has and will live there. Make the best marks in the ground that you can. Be a good roommate. Take the trash out, and don’t let the dishes stack up or the bugs will get in.
Sometimes there’s ghosts.