We went to the house around noon today, with plans to walk the boundaries of our propertyâ€”and discovered an entire field that is ours, that we didnâ€™t know about. It is an old meadow, grown tall with hickory and crab apple saplings. The week has been warm, as though a chinook wind were blowing from the east, already bringing spring. Almost all the snow has melted, and the mud is thick along the road approaching our house. Only on the shadiest slopes of the hill snow still lingers in white patches like an Andrew Wyeth painting. Shelf fungus and moss grows thickly on the fallen branchesâ€”ripped from trunks in the ice storm last October.
Already I am itching to keep field notes in a new moleskine where I can press beech leaves and wild grasses into the pages, or sketch the deer tracks and raccoon turds I found today along one of the old stone walls that skirt the property. Today I brought my camera and clambered up the quartz and granite boulders at the back edge of the woods, and then down to the splashing creek. It sounded deeper than it isâ€”the ground is so satturated from recent rains, the water echoes off it like a drum.
The stream meanders down a channel of mud and rocks towards the road and the neighbor's land. We walk there next to say helloâ€”something both of us are kind of hesitant to do. But, as is generally the case, those first encounters are more awkward in our heads than they are in person and when we knock at the neighborâ€™s door they both answer, soot on their hands.
â€œCome on in,â€ she says, without asking us who we are or why weâ€™re there.
So there we are, crossing over the threshold into their snug living room, and mumbling about how we just bought the house on the hill.
He is cleaning their wood burning stove, but stops, brushes off his hands, and shakes ours. He has big limpid blue eyes, graying hair, and a dark smudge over one shaggy eyebrow.
As I say the words, â€œthe house on the hill,â€ her eyes immediately tear up. I ask, â€œDid you know the woman who lived there?â€
â€œI was with her when she died,â€ she says. â€œWe were very close. She was the nicest lady in the world.â€ Then she tells us about the flowers sheâ€™s planted in our yard that will surprise us in the springâ€”and all about our other neighbors.
He stands there grinning, adding tidbits to the story. Egging her on when she leaves the juicy details out. â€œYouâ€™ve got to know about Crazy Bob,â€ he says. And also about kooky Kay, whose husband died years ago and her floor hasnâ€™t been cleaned since, or so the story goes.
But they also tell us about our immediate neighborsâ€”a doctor, a mechanic, a vetâ€”who throw a sugaring off party each spring and go cross country skiing together, and whoâ€™ve known each other for years.
We canâ€™t help but feel youngâ€”most of our neighbors have kids our age. But they put us at easeâ€”extending an invitation already to the sugaring party, where, they promise, weâ€™ll meet everyone. Before we leave she promises to help me with my garden in the spring, then blows Bean kisses in the drive as we walk back to our house.
Inside, the house is warm. The air is dusty, the floors stripped down to the plywood. DH has been going over after work, ripping down walls and reframing, and already the difference is huge. Like any renovation project things are unexpected: the set of oak stairs masked beneath hideous carpetâ€”but also the furnace so old it will need replacing before next winter. We stand togetherâ€”the three of usâ€”eating hot pastrami sandwiches and planning out where walls will go. Bean takes bites of the bread with his new teeth and squirms in my arms. Soon we will be able to come here and let him run around on the grass. Soon, this will be home.