This pile of rubble was my beloved cabin home for twenty-three years. It stood in a circle with a dozen other cabins at the edge of an intact Ponderosa pine forest a little south of Flagstaff, Arizona. The people who built it used salvaged building materials and wallboard. There was a kitchen with a huge window behind the stove; a living room with a wood stove; a bedroom with a hand-built bed. There was no toilet or running water. Those of us who were blessed to live in “Shady Acres” shared a shower house and a two-seater outhouse.
Most mornings, I took my coffee and journal to the back deck and watched dawn move in. I was in the company of ravens, jays – and one foggy sunrise, two young elk stags, who calmly looked at me for a half hour. Most mornings, I wrote.
The landlord talked often about the spiritual gift of our home. Thanksgiving, 1989 or 90, he loaded a plywood panel on his forklift, drove across the yard and parked in front of my cabin. We – the ten or twelve tenants, most of whom were in recovery or deep poverty – brought food for a pot-luck and set it on the forklift banquet table. There were two roast turkeys; cornbread; a lavish tossed salad; canned green beans in mushroom soup with deep fried onions on top; home-made cranberry sauce; three store-bought day-old pies; hot lemonade and coffee brewed from Tim Macy’s European Coffee Shop dark roast coffee beans.
There were no cell phones then – at least not in our circles – no Instagram. I have no photos from that feast, but here is my rocking chair on the back deck, from which I watched the young stags watch me. And, here is the only chant that could be a fitting sound-track for how I feel as I write this Breakthrough: Gate gate para gate para sum gate bodhi swaha. Gone, gone, gone to the Other Shore, attained the Other Shore having never left.
Money trumped devotion to the delicate spirit of Shady Acres. The property has been sold at least three times. The new owner leveled most of the cabins. It is rumored that he will build “really nice” vacation rentals.
* Thanks to Giles Carwyn – who might remember this place and who longed to create a House Without Walls.
And, here is an incantation from Talitha Milroy. I imagine, Talitha, that you would have loved living at Shady Acres.
Deep in the hollows of your skull, in the basement of consciousness, lies a witch’s brew of ideas.
As the long years pass, you throw things in. Sometimes haphazardly and sometimes with purpose. Some things shining, bright and blooming, some things writhing, dark and heavy. Memories of the past and dreams for the future. It all goes in the cauldron. Your heartbreak, your nail trimmings, your creaking chair, your sister’s child. The neighbour’s cat, the summer storm, an empty day, a candle-stub. Herbs from your garden, whispers in the darkness, the scent of a lover long left behind. In it goes, to work its spells. To compost, brew, and metamorphose.
It sits and ferments, strange things rising to the surface for a moment, then sinking again. It speaks quietly amongst itself, in gentle murmurs, gurgles, sucking sounds. Strange vapours rise from the surface, and sometimes they rise through the rest of the house, casting your waking life for a moment in a peculiar glow. Long enough to remind you.
It waits for you, patient. Until, at long last, you descend the steps to taste it, and find it ready, to add daylight and conscious movement to the mix. To fit words to form, transmute potion to poetry.
Scooping up a hatful, you ascend the stairs again. You pour it into the silver bowl on your workbench and stare at it with apprehension. Then you put on your boots and cloak and walk out into the world. To find the last few needed ingredients, and a target.
Gaze at the target a long while. Now walk back home, and place the ingredients beside the bowl.
Whisper a prayer.
There’s work to do.
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