Monday, June 30, 2008

In front of my hut

The bamboo grove in front of my hut!
Every day I see it a thousand times
Yet never tire of it.

-- Ryōkan

I've been reading John Brinckerhoff Jackson's Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. At one point he notes the etymology of "dwelling," which did not start out meaning something like "house" but rather originated with a meaning more like "lingering" or "delaying." A dwelling was a place to dawdle for a time, then to move on. Compared to our hunting-and-gathering ancestors, who patrolled something like 99 percent of our evolutionary past, we are much more sedentary now -- despite all the mobility we like to attribute to ourselves. Early European-American history was characterized by abodes built to be temporary, lived in for a time until the family literally pulled up stakes, moved on, moved west, to the rumor of better land. Jackson speaks of two types of architecture in America: stone, which suggests stability and permanence and wealth (and entered the American picture relatively late), and wood, which suggests mobility and temporality and, if not poverty, at least less wealth.

My house is made of wood and is not the home of a rich man. But I like it a lot, and I don't think of it as temporary, at least not within the bounds of my own life. Carol and I talk of living here until we die. It's one story, easy to age in, convenient to downtown and work. We like our neighbors. And we like the views. We do not dwell on leaving. The photograph above was taken from my front porch last night. It reminded me of the Ryōkan poem: I've seen the landscape outside my door a thousand times and never tire of it. In fact, many evenings I'll step outside to let the dog pee in the yard, and I'll linger over the view, savoring what it tells me about me and my neighbors.

No comments: