Crawling Backwards

“Architecture is inhabited sculpture.” — Constantin Brancusi

Maybe you and I are not that far from the cave? A few steps perhaps?

When I was five or six years old, we lived in a house that had an old barn, but I have no memories of it, although I do recall the ladder leading up to the hayloft. That ladder called my name any time I wandered near it.

What I do remember is a very small, shabby shed out behind the barn. Dusty dirt floor. No windows. Light leaking in between the siding boards. A little dark, but not scary dark, although I never dared go out there after the sun set. It became a favorite play spot. I have a vague memory of one of us being in trouble for starting a fire there. It was our space, small, intimate, and the big people never ventured out there. We accumulated small treasures and furnishings there–a couple of chipped cups for the “kitchen,” some broken toys, a row of very valuable rocks.

Last summer we walked the beach at the Point No Point Lighthouse and passed some seven or eight driftwood creations. Every 30 to 50 feet would be another unique structure–never a driftwood animal or sculpture, never a tower, but always a small cabin-like structure we could walk or crawl into. Some of them were tall enough to allow us to stand upright in them.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site--a Bellingham Bay beach.

Driftwood sculpture at another Salish Sea site–a Bellingham Bay beach.

Like a sandy subdivision, they lined up in a row down the beach. Days like that restore my faith in people. Why? They stood upright, unguarded and unprotected. Even though they were fragile (no nails, of course), they stood! No one had come along and knocked them down, one by one, just for the heck of it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t more than a couple of weeks later that someone lit one on fire (I choose to believe it was an accident) and during a summer that was way too hot and dry, it created considerable problems for the fire department.

Something draws us back into the tight, small, warm spaces. Like babies playing with cardboard cartons, like the architects of tree houses and playhouses, like tent designers, like my friend Jean’s beloved little domed “Turtle” she pulls behind her car, we crawl back into the cave. It makes me wonder if the architects and buyers of the current Monster Houses might be misguided.

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5 thoughts on “Crawling Backwards

  1. Yes, I remember my special space……a playhouse built for me out of scraps…..even had a window. Brothers morphed it into a fort; eventually it became a wood shed. And now I live in a small house, a converted barn…….would be just fine is something even smaller. Schumacher wrote a theory of economics as if people mattered, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. Thank you for recalling this memories.

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  2. There is a wonderful movement afoot….tiny houses. storage container houses, shed houses…. we are very inventive. I am most at home in my Turtle and try to duplicate it’s simplicity in my stationery house. I love your writing.

  3. this is good inspiration to do some experimenting with driftwood on our beaches! and i do remember camping in a lean-to for several days on a beach that someone had lashed together above tideline. it leaked a little in the rain… when i visit you next i’m going to check out your pump house accommodations.

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