There are moments ion our lives when suddenly we are transported from the tangible, material world to the spiritual, ethereal world. Once or twice in a lifetime can suffice. When it happens to me I feel breathless as if the air in my body rushed forward to follow the moment.
Yesterday my breath followed such a moment. After ascertaining with the plumbers that the bathtub was the right one and in good shape, I left the framed-in bathroom and walked into the living room that is open to the floor above, stretching all the way to the highest point of the house. All too often rooms that stretch as if to reach the sky are filled with hollow echos. They feel as if they are drifting somewhere between the foundation of the house and the ceiling. The proportions are off and the materials make the room sound hollow. The voices of people in rooms like that can sound hollow even if they are not.
I stood looking around my framed house with a roof that was almost completely sheathed. I looked around at the various patterns the wood made. I turned in a circle looking up and felt as if I was in a cathedral, as if in a holy place. I lifted my gaze higher and saw the final light of the open roof. By the end of the day the roof would be completely enclosed.
At the peak, the trusses made a pattern like a great reptilian spine. I was entranced by the pattern but knew there was more in the moment. I turned slowly taking in the shadows of the unlit rooms and the stark, flat light of the gray snowy day that seeped from the sky in through the gap in my roof. The light playing on the spine of the giant reptile.
I wanted to capture the pattern. I had on camera by my phone. In moments like this, cameras are useless since the lens cannot see what the eye of the soul sees. I was drawn to try. Entranced by the spine, I tried to steady my hand enough to capture a photo. I stilled my breathing concentrating the moment. I could see through the lenses of the cell phone camera what I saw with my eyes. The image was so powerful that it survived the transformation from vision to so many bits and bytes.
Still wondering what I was seeing but not understanding, I turned slowly again. I saw the spine as a dragon. A dragon who would live in our roof, a sleeping giant. Dragons can be daunting images but thanks, in part to the writings of Robin Hobbs, I think of dragons as mythical creatures that can be warmly loving when they are connected to the people they are with.
Of course, dragons are mythical creatures but this was a mythical moment. It was a moment that eluded being formed into words and archived. It was a moment complete in its self. It was a moment that changed me.
This house came from me. It is designed by me and it is made in love for the people who live in it and who will visit in it. This house that has a dragon’s spine to hold it firm and to keep watch is the tenth house we have tried to have since the fire. In the weeks following the fire we negotiated with a log cabin kit home company. We almost wrote the check but our uncertainty and confusion in those early weeks after the fire left us unable to finalize the contract. Soon thereafter I set about designing a house for us. I completed three designs and we picked one. Still, we could not get focused.The fall came, we had two houses that did not come to pass.
In the late fall we stated working with an architect who labored hard to bring us a perfect plan. It was a perfect plan for someone but it was not perfect for us. We all tried hard to squeeze that house into a plan for us but it did not happen. When the initial construction bids came in about twice what we had to to put into the house, we set the plan aside.
The next plan was much simpler and the architect gallantly and valiantly allowed us, and in particular me, to pick at the house plan like a raven picks at bones. We came to love that house and stated to build it. The house was much grander than what we had before but we could imagine ourselves living in it. After months of weather-related construction delays, the foundation was laid and the lumber ordered. A week after the foundation was laid, my ongoing sickness finally overtook me and my spouses job suddenly disappeared. We stopped building the house.
Two more houses that did not become ours. Four houses, all of which were blueprints ready to be built.
We had been planning to retire in the next few years and decided the circumstances dictated the moment of retirement. I started designing a small house for us that we could live in for a year or two and “lick our wounds” and heal from all the tumultuous things that had happened to us in the previous year. We were down to two companies both of whom were ready to build one of my designs. I had two new plans ready to go, one for each company.
Two more houses ready to be built. Twelve months since the fire and six houses joined with our old house as so much ash.
When we came to Montana we tried unsuccessfully to find a house to buy that would fit us. We even made an offer on a house and negotiated for more than a week without success. I was committed to buying a house but I also had recurrent bouts of dread and sorrow over not being able to build a house. In a year I lost my home and now seven houses slipped through my fingers.
We finally decided that it was best for us to build. We interviewed three contractors and selected one. We knew our budget was going to be tight so I designed yet another house. And another. We worked out the bid and were ready to start building on the second one but the costs overcame the house. Nine houses.
Finally the tenth house became real. It is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. It rises from the the sorrow of the fire and the lessons I have learned. It harkens back to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Belcher, who taught us to draw floor plans. It links with those days through the phases of my life when drawing house plans and studying those others designed was one of my constants. Our blueprint is not so much ink and paper. It is us.
The dragon who showed me his spine and how he was willing to live captured by our roof and ceiling made me feel weak with heartfelt gratitude. The gratitude I knew, and still know now, is gratitude for our space and for our new life.
This house that is growing on the hill for us is a house of the spirit. It is a house with a presence even when it is not finished. It has given us that rare gift of finding the spiritual, ethereal world in the tangible material of wood and stone.