It has been almost exactly twelve years since I moved into my little house in Fort Worth.
I had been house hunting, off and on, for about a year, when I found it. In that time I had driven my realtor to distraction, turning away from one house after another that seemed to meet the qualifications I had listed for her, but did not appeal to me on some deeper level. There were always practical reasons, of course: I didn’t like the street, the roof looked like it might need a re-shingling, unsightly cracks in the walkways around the house. One place even had carpeting in the kitchen! Who does that?!
The truth is, I fully expected that any place I bought would require some vigorous remodeling, and any of those blemishes could have been dealt with in good time. These were the “practical” excuses, which I could express out loud, in leu of the real reason for all these rejections…, none of these houses spoke to me.
At one point, I nearly put a deposit down on a house a few blocks away from where I currently live. I stopped myself at the last minute, when I realized that I was doing it because I was upset with myself for being unable to settle on something, and because I could feel the exasperation coming off of my realtor in waves.
I don’t like being an unreasonable person, and it WAS a perfectly serviceable little house, with a nice big porch and very tall ceilings.
Did I mention the carpeting in the kitchen?
Well sure, I could have torn the carpeting out and put in some nice tile, but that seemed like a lot of work for a house that didn’t have anything to say for itself.
So I gave it a pass.
“Okay, so why don’t you look at the listings on the web again and if you see something that you really like, just give me a call and we’ll take a look.”
Translation: “Stop wasting my time.”
So, back to the real-estate listings I went, and almost right away I spotted this cute little white house that hadn’t been there on my previous searches. The price was right and the square footage looked good, but I almost didn’t call because I was afraid it might be another dud.
Sure enough, there were some cracks over a few of the interior doorways, along with wretched blue carpeting (replete with cigarette burns), and a ghastly drop-ceiling in the den (converted garage). On the other hand, I liked the odd layout of the place, the 1950’s style kitchen was charming, and the street seemed quiet and friendly.
Then, we stepped through the back door and into the yard beyond and I was sold. The entire thing was enclosed within a leafy canopy. Oak, hackberry, and mesquite trees arched from either side of the yard creating a shady avenue, at the center of which stood a massive oak.
No matter where I walked in that yard, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from that tree for long. We wandered back inside, to give the house another walkthrough, and I noticed how the bedroom and kitchen windows both gave excellent views of the backyard and the dominate tree at its center.
The tree, the yard, the house…, they spoke to me, and all the little problems that would have caused me to keep looking, had it been any other house, became projects that I would get to eventually.
Needless to say, I bought the house.
That was twelve years ago.
I’ve spent a lot of the intervening years dealing with maintenance problems and remodeling projects that never seem to end. I’ve just spent the last two weeks away from work, trying to get caught up on some of those projects and frankly, I am bone-tired.
There have been moments when I’ve regretted buying this place, when it seems to fight my maintenance efforts with every fiber of it’s woody frame and I imagine just walking away and calling it done. I tell myself that every homeowner has such moments, now and then.
Eventually, after the house and I have spent a few days glaring silently at each other from our respective corners, we come to a suitable accommodation.
I roam from corner to corner, looking not at walls and ceiling but at potential character. Day becomes night, the world grows dark and cool, and I can hear that deep old voice speaking to me again.
When I hear that voice, I am often moved to wander the backyard, feeling the ebb and flow of the ground beneath me, and making my way out to that great oak in the center of the yard. I stand there, near its trunk, and I stare up into the dark cloud spreading above me.
Or so it used to be.
Now there are only barren branches and the darkened sky above.
The tree died last year.
I’d watched it diminishing for the last five years.
They were little changes at first: greater than normal scarring in the bark, a thinning in the shape of the leaves, less fullness in the density of the overarching canopy. I’d spent enough time under that tree to know when it wasn’t feeling well.
It was the spiritual center of my property, after all.
It was the heart of my sacred space.
And it was finished off, in the end, by long drought and a hard winter.
After that, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hear the land at all. The voice is still there, of course, only muted and unfocused. The landscape has changed and the center cannot hold.
So now we come to it.
Throughout the years, my sacred spaces have always been ones that I found, usually, but not always, in some expression of the natural environment.
On the other hand, in my travels I have encountered many places that have been ‘made’ sacred by the mind and hand of men, places where the energy and voice of the land have been focused into an almost tangible force. How is this achieved, and can it be done in a place that has lost a vital element in the spiritual equation that made it powerful in the first place?
I don’t know, but I intend to find out.
My goal it to build a small temple space around the trunk of that perished oak. I will cut away the limbs, strip away the bark, and shape the wood underneath. I hope that the roots that still lie there can be used to draw that space back into focus. It’s a major undertaking, both physically and otherwise, and the exact form and functionality of the space, still elude me.
Oh, and I have no working time frame.
There are projects inside the house that demand my attention in both time and resources. The ‘Sacred Space’ project is one that will be long in coming but never, I think, far from my thoughts.
In the coming months I will be visiting various other spaces, and re-examining those I have visited already. I want to see what I can learn from them, how they were built, how they exist within the landscape, and how I can apply those things to the shrine I will eventually build in my backyard.
Along the way, I intend to do a lot of “thinking out loud” and I’ll be doing that thinking here with a series of blog posts labeled ‘Sacred Space’. You can probably expect one of these to show up every month or so. I hope you don’t mind.
And if anyone has any suggestions or ideas on the topic, I would love to hear them. Please, comment away.
Can we build sacred space?
“Facts are the barren branches on which we hang the dear, obscuring foliage of our dreams.”
— Natalie Babbitt, Kneeknock Rise
Maybe so, but dreamers have been known to build some pretty incredible things.