the front of the garnet hill catalog features a collection of stones and says, “there’s beauty in simplicity.” yes. i recognize those rocks – they are scattered through our house…pebbles of mica-laced igneous, slices of red rock, chunks of granite, smooth water-worn river rock. small cairns stacked on the windowsill or the sunroom table, a vase with rocks that are special but can no longer be traced back specifically to why. simple beauty, they remind us that we are all a part of it. no less, no more.
as i get older i realize that i am leaning into simplicity. i am less inclined to be moved by fancy stuff, more given to the unembellished. we hike on trails and are reminded of nature’s brilliant eye for decorating the world. no tchotchkes or trinkets, just no-frills and unadorned life.
i’m guessing this propensity – this leaning – has something to do with my love of arvo pärt’s tintinnabuli minimalist exquisiteness. spiegel im spiegel on repeat. not fussy. not ornamented. straight up gut-wrenchingly beautiful, much like the pine needles in the snow. two monodic lines – melody and triad – woven into the simplest tapestry and “expressing the composer’s special relationship to silence”. nothing bombastic. no blustering. purity.
“there’s beauty in simplicity.” stark, unpretentious, natural.
i don’t know how much i noticed the rock garden next to the chalet shed in the backyard of my growing-up house. i know it was there. there were plants peeking out from in-between the rocks and the garden-pile grew through the years as my momma – with a love of rocks and stone – added to it.
the cairns and vessel-collections in our house echo that garden and its solid base for my own love of rocks and stone and pebbles. though i believe i will remember where each individual rock originates, where i picked it up, what it means to me or what moment it represents, reality is that i forget. with a few exceptions, i simply know that they are important. they were part of something i wanted to hold onto. and they became part of the rock garden of my life. they all count.
the rockway of the shoin house of the chicago botanic garden is deliberate. carefully placed stones, “bones of the earth” form a pathway through the fragile mosses of deep green. we stood, gazing down, both of us – i’m pretty sure – lost in thought about how we could incorporate such a walkway in our own backyard. orderly and stunning and functional, protecting all around it.
we spent a couple hours in the basement last night. i heard them from a distance first; the tornado sirens were going off. then, closer. i am storm-nervous. the derecho back a decade has gifted me with long-term storm ptsd and i’m not sure if there is much i can do to alleviate it. so when the weather forecast offers “tornado watch” i get ready.
we created a go-bag during the riots in our city a couple years back. it was recommended. i also keep an empty backpack nearby for computers and cords. there’s a leash in the go-bag and we have a duffel with a few clothes. i didn’t unpack all this after those devastating riots. instead, we realized the wisdom of having important stuff nearby, things you can grab in an emergency. and so, i had this all lined up – like a good rockwalk – on the couch in the sitting room off our bedroom, waiting. d picked up the dog (who doesn’t do steps for some strange aussie reason) and i grabbed the bags and water and some dog treats.
when you think about tornadoes as you sit in the basement listening, you realize that you can only create so much order…you can only try to design a walkway…you can only make plans. sitting in two rocking chairs in d’s studio, surrounded by the bins i am emptying and clearing down there, a couple dehumidifiers turned off so we could hear, with our backpacks and duffel bag, it all comes down to, well, not much. chaos happens and we find ourselves in it, stepping, trying to find our way on the rockwalk, to the other side, the next sunrise.
we waited for the sirens to stop and for the weather app to show that the worst of it had passed over us. david carried dogga back up and he got another sleepynightnight cookie. the bags went back on the couch, lined up, things to put away in the morning.
i wanted pancakes but it was too late and we were too tired.
i was grateful when they attached a name to it – shabby chic. my inclination to love things with the texture of peeling paint and a bit rough-hewn was vindicated…wait!…not only vindicated, but reinforced by the decorating fashion industry. phew! that meant that the old screen doors on the wall, the glass-less window frames tucked here and there, the chopped-off-side-of-the-vintage-desk end table, the vintage black suitcases, the metal radiator grate catty-corner in the foyer, the old door laid horizontal on horses, the tin ceiling panels…these were all fashion statements and not statements of making-do-decor. such a relief.
i must say, however, that i wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. these all make me happy. they are cozy and warm and, mostly, they have history. and it’s the history-that-remains-a-mystery and the history-that-i-know-a-smidge-about that i love. i had no idea whose screen door screens these were when i got them at a wholesale trade show years ago but i could imagine the sound they made when they slammed shut. nor did i know where the old black window with one colored glass square in my studio was from. the old four-foot tall window frames were being thrown out of the historic lakefront building where i had my offices, making room for new windows. i couldn’t bear to see them in the trashpile and the way i adored those offices made it easy to take them home. someone literally chopped off the side of the old desk leaving three drawers and a rough edge and selling it in the estate sale for $5. you can’t see the rough edge unless you really look and this piece has been in the living room for years and years now, serving a purpose and feeling loved. the tin, well, who knows? what i do know is that they make marvelous places to magnet photographs and cards and tiny little signs with sayings that help each day. so, yeah, i guess my point is that whether i know the back-story or not, i really appreciate the warmth of long living they bring. they sit alongside many rocks and sticks that have made short and long journeys home with me, in the back of little baby scion or in backpacks with corks that come home from times spent with my children and moments i want to remember.
i haven’t purchased a lot of brand new furniture. there was the first herculon-fabric overstuffed couch with two matching overstuffed chairs, a tweed in lovely shades of very-early 1980s brown.
well over a decade later that was donated to a youth group and a new couch in mid 1990s floral barn red and forest green with a reclining wingchair of red and white checks made its way into the living room. both of those pieces still have a place in the house – though no longer in the living room. the couch, still very comfortable, is covered with a black slipcover and has a place in the sitting room with a hand-me-down lazyboy, an old farm table and an antique copper boiler tub that stores our roadtrip writings.
there’s a black leather couch in the living room now that has been there over a decade. it shares the space with the old secretary that was my brother’s, the bistro table that was in the second story porch of my old offices, a vintage typewriter 20 bought me for my birthday a couple years ago, a few paintings i spattered, the desk-turned-end-table you now know too much about and the driftwood we brought back from a trip to long island. the two big branches we painted white and potted to hold happy lights still stand steadfastly happying up the room and each day i pass them i wonder if they are too holiday-ish. i quickly reject this as too big a decision and plug them in.
it is in recent days i have had the good fortune of hearing from a dear old friend i taught with in my first two years of teaching way-back-when. we soon will have a phone chat and catch up on everything from a-z. what lois doesn’t realize is that i have thought of her simply every day…as it is her dresser that stands in our bedroom of vintage size that couldn’t really accommodate one of those bedroom suites you see in magazines. instead, this old sturdy five-drawer sits opposite the windows of the sunrise and hold my dad’s peanut can, one of the precious items i have of my sweet poppo’s, the planters peanut blue metal can he tucked in his drawer that always held a few dollars and was the place he sent you if you were going to go pick up the pizza.
as i look at the top of that dresser right this second, pictures of d and me and of my beloved children are on top. there is a small piece of the carpet padding from the irresponsible-gasket-flood waiting to go in the special box next to the yago-sangria-wine-bottle-turned-lamp i made when i was 19 and there is a card in a glass frame that reads: “someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life? and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.”
all of this – the stuff with history i know, the stuff with history i don’t know, the peeling paint, the rough-hewn, the used and the it-took-me-a-long-time-to-decide new…all of it – around me reminds me of that and is the connecting thread. of the concentric circles of me, of us. probably that’s why “shabby chic” speaks to me. it is most definitely why it works for me.
i stopped and went back. i had to take this picture. reminders are everywhere and right now, although, truly, as always, i knew i wanted to capture as many as possible.
it feels as if we are surrounded by whirling hypocrisy. those people who proclaim one thing and treat people in an extraordinarily different way. i’ve been stunned into i-don’t-even-know-what-to-say-silence more than once lately. people who demand respect but don’t give it, people who are unnecessarily controlling, people who go behind your back, people who list toward cruelty, people who declare appreciation but tear down, people who hide behind glossy words. what is going on? narcissism seems to be alive and well as we suffer the effects of those-who-believe-they-are-on-pedestals, pedestals that seem to exist on every step of the ladder. it’s shocking and more than a little disconcerting. we each have first-hand in-our-own-life experience. what a disappointment. we are humans capable of so much more.
and so, the reminders are incredibly welcome. the heart leaves or rocks, the sun’s rays glowing through clouds in the sky, the presence of a cardinal or two blue jays crossing our path in the woods. a text message or call out of the blue, beautiful generous raw-matte-finish words spoken to you. all reminders. a kindness extended by a stranger, an eye-contact smile. the big initiatives, the little gestures. not picking up the tug-of-war rope. reaching out to offer the olive branch. life-giving. practicing. we are truly capable of so much. we need be reminded.
maybe we’ll go back. this sassy coffee pot sits at one of our favorite antique shops and drew my eye. we’ll be sure to know where to put it and, perhaps, how to use it before we maybe go get it.
we were on our way to cape cod and the sign salvage chic antiques stopped us. four old aluminum coffee pots later, we left the store. they are now part of a five-aluminum-coffee-pot collection on a shelf in our kitchen; instead of a canister set, these coffee pots keep all our different teas easily accessible.
anyone who knows us knows that we love our coffee. anyone who knows us knows that we also love re-purposing old stuff. but not the fancy stuff. old aluminum coffee pots, old black vintage suitcases, old wooden boxes. they are the treasures around us. they hold special mementos, nespresso coffee pods, clothespins for the ukulele band, art supplies, rocks we have collected on beaches, in woods, from high sandstone precipices or red rock canyons deep. they are history and they are new. both true.
when we need a break, a few moments to lose ourselves, we will either hike or go to one of our local favorite antique shops. things of worry will gently fall off as we walk through woods or aisles of things-that-remind-us of other times, memories, or maybe inspire us with a beckon to be brought home.
we choose carefully and deliberately. for ourselves and for the gifts we get others. it’s never the fancy stuff, but it’s the stuff that stops us, draws our eye, beckons to be purchased and re-treasured.
i am a scavenger. i readily admit it. it’s not like you don’t know. you have read posts about my pieces of wood or sticks or rocks or feathers; i have even posted photographs of how these things decorate our home. but i am always looking…keeping an eye out for something else i can bring home. something that is natural. something that will remind me of time spent. something i really treasure. and every now and then, i will find a heart – that nature, in its infinite wisdom, has left behind. a gentle reminder that love is everywhere.
three weeks ago we loaded a 5 1/2 foot long piece of driftwood and more rocks and shells than we could count into the xb to drive home. with sand everywhere, we carried back to wisconsin with us morsels of my life on long island…pieces of the north shore and my beloved crab meadow beach, pieces of the south shore and the fierce atlantic ocean.
i have always always collected rocks and pieces of wood. i’d like to be able to say that i could identify each one and its origin, but i really don’t know. the easier ones to identify are the ones my children painted for me, all of which i saved. but now all the pieces of my life that i have carried have blended into each other, blended into who i am.
for me, the piece of quartz or granite, the sedimentary rock with mica flecks, the conglomerate somehow arriving in northport, the clamshell that had been home to some northeast clam, the sand in a bag, pebbles, flowers from the field, grasses that dried in the woods…all important souvenirs – unlike a perfunctory t-shirt – things that ground me, help me remember, things i can touch.
my sweet momma loved rocks too. growing up we had a rock garden out back and their tv stand was a huge slab of rock that they moved on a moving van down to florida with them when they left long island. i always knew that i could give her something made of rock, made of wood, something natural, something organic, and she would celebrate it….with all her heart. she got it. that feeling of staying connected with the land she loved, the earth, the very soil, the very spot that gave her a memory. i get that. the rocks around our pond and scattered inside our house, the pebbles in my purse, the 6 foot long aspen branch in our dining room are evidence. the driftwood – and the sand – on our table make it clear.
i am thready, just like my sweet momma. i blame her.