“Somewhere simple”-the lure of the Little House

Grading pile’s about to replenish, as exam week begins. There’s just time to take a breath and exhale a quick word of appreciation for my old Vandy friend David Wood’s New York Times Stone essay on writer’s huts and the specific locales where thinking and writing can occur.

little house3

The Lure of the Writer’s Cabin” materialized whilst I was gliding out on the back porch of my own shoddy little Shangri-la yesterday (another eerily-warm December day), a place I’ve waxed about before [search “Little House”].

My new neighbor, the one I find I like a lot more since the Romney signs fell, was gazing at it across the fence with curious envy just yesterday morning. He wondered if it had cable. No, but it does pick up Fox sports nicely during baseball season. And wi-fi. And it’s where I ignite my recreational (and thermal) hydrocarbons to indulge my fireplace delusion.

My old firewood man stopped by again last night, startling Younger Daughter, banging on the back door we never open and greeting me with his cheery “Hello, Perfesser!” He was hoping I’d already spent my last rick. Told him I think I’m good ’til February.

Anyway, I appreciate David’s clear-eyed recognition that being in the hut/cabin/Little House is a cultural construction saturated in allusion, association, and reference. It’s not some mythic Thoreauvian retreat into purest nature.

One does not have to be a Thoreau or a Rousseau for one of these modest spaces to supply what is needed to write. Identification with nature is not required (if indeed it were possible); a certain harmony with nature is already broken by putting pen to paper. And would one really seek harmony with nature if one were privy to the ruthless struggles being played out under every rock? The roof of the cabin, the door, the window are all designed to keep nature at bay. The flat surface of the desk, the laptop screen, the artificial light all bear witness to the necessity to subordinate nature’s spontaneous irregularity, to fashion a little Versailles.

The greatest lure of my Little House is that it feels so much more remote and private than it actually is. When I’m there, I can pretend that the little stand of trees in back is the edge of a great dark Wood. I can shuffle from porch to hammock to roll-top to recliner and sit and think. Or just sit. Sometimes even write a bit. And grade.

But it’s not too far away from what we call civilization, up in the Big House. I was halfway through David’s lovely essay when I heard Older Daughter’s familiar insistent “Da-aa-ad!” She’d come for the car-keys, she and Younger Daughter were going malling – without a parental escort. (Now there’s a milestone!) Did I need anything? Not much, really. Just “a table, a chair, somewhere simple, free of distraction.”

And maybe some eggnog, please. “Conjuring other worlds, brave new possibilities” is thirsty work.

And guess what? The girls delivered. Did Emerson ever do that for Henry?

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