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In Bloom

From the living room I watched as the breeze ripped through the densely vegetated slopes, rattling the tree branches and tousling their fragile new leaves.

In the distance, the Space Needle glowed torch-like and I stared on until the gusts died down and the wind-bent trees rebounded into place, cluttering the view ever so slightly. Built in the early 40s, Gay Gardens had had quite a view of the growing Seattle skyline, even before the 1962 World’s Fair raised the city’s most iconic building. And gradually, the view narrowed with the enveloping canopy, and the little rotting cottage became isolated behind a nearly impenetrable green wall of blackberry bushes and aged rhododendrons.

JoJo dozed in my lap, and I focused on the mediocre movie I’d snagged from the Renton Goodwill a few weeks prior. The wind howled again, and a thud echoed across the roof, rousing JoJo who woofed and scampered around searching for the offending noisemaker.

The next morning, as I made my rounds ripping up weeds, I noticed one of the chimney caps had gotten dislodged from the windstorm. A few weeks prior, the same thing had happened, and some wee beast had made its way into the attic, startling me and JoJo awake with what could only be described as zombie-inspired guttural cleansing. So as I clawed my way up onto the roof, I worked quickly to carefully re-center the cap, ensuring there was no available point of entry. In the process, I eyed a rogue brick that’d dislodged from the chimney stack—clearly the thud-inducing culprit from the previous night. I shoved it back into place, completing the puzzle.

With the spotty clouds opening up between intermittent rain showers, I had an unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and a faint rainbow. Just below me, pale pink buds studded the branches of a gnarled tree clinging precariously to the back slope. Glutted with promising effulgence, each one dripped and glistened in the rapidly clearing grayish mist.

I took a deep breath and slowly took stock of my little home, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to play a role in reviving this oasis.

A little slice of paradise.

And in my bones I felt something familiar—the sense that Gay Gardens will be where I celebrate many life-changing moments, each of which will become a part of this Eden, adding to the narrative of this secret long-held by time.

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Getting Bent

Halfway into the crawl space, my flashlight flickered horror movie style, the telltale sign of imminent, consuming darkness. I’d be alone, beneath Gay Gardens, surrounded by cast-off insulation tubes filled with mummified rat remains – their long, serpentine tails hardened, their taut, paper-thin skin stretched over hollow shells.

Above me, through the floorboards, Joanna pitter-pattered anxiously; Lassie’s antithesis, she’d likely curl into a ball and lick herself had I called out for rescue. It was just me and the corpses and the fading light.

My glasses fogged from my labored breathing, and I could feel blood dribbling across my mouth. Ever the wet blanket, my immune system was having none of this. If I wasn’t opting to turn around and crawl out willingly, my body would force me to – a nosebleed would tip the scales.

Tumbling out of the unhinged, rotted access door, I unfastened my jacket hood, tossed my dirt-caked gloves to the frost-covered ground, and pulled off my bloody face mask. I gulped down the cool air, and held my glasses away from me, watching their lenses slowly clear. Around me, piles of old wood, moldy cardboard, and rusted pipe fragments lay in piles.

A replacement mask and a new flashlight battery later, I hauled out more piles of junk, along with the insulation tubes and their desiccated passengers. The most random task on my weekend to-do list was done, and I even walked away with a few unexpected prizes: a hand-painted flower pot and a 1950s milk glass mixing bowl.

As I folded the tubing into my tiny garbage can and topped it with the bag of dead rats, I could almost feel the house breathe a sigh of relief; or, maybe that was me.

***

Cleaning has always been a way for me to center – to unplug and dust away mental cobwebs – and Gay Gardens has certainly afforded plenty of opportunities to do just that. It’s been a labor of love, and an anchor as life continues to change and unfold.

And while I don’t know what the future holds for me or this little cottage, I’m thankful every morning that, for now, I’m its caretaker. Plenty of people have asked why I’m putting so much effort into a place that’s not even mine, and that’ll most likely be bulldozed at some point down the line. My response is simple: “Why not?” I, too, sometimes question the amount of blood, sweat, and tears I keep putting into this place, but then I acknowledge the importance I’ve always put on creating a home wherever I land. The process has always been a source of strength, and right now I need this place as much as it needs me.

I often need the quiet and the calm to melt into myself, to plan out my next steps. Lately, I’ve needed more time away from the hubbub, and the growing national horror. I’ve cycled the energies I’d usually expend scrolling through Facebook feeds to other hobbies that interest me more – things that actually elicit in me a drive to start that next new chapter.

While I still have a long ways to go, I’ll enjoy each moment along the way to my next great endeavor – whether I’m scaling a mountain, crossing a border, or bending into a crawl space.