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Here at this old house, we, like many, have been grieving Robin Williams’ death. The Mork and Mindy house is here in Boulder and it has become quite a shrine. A constant stream of people, some from long distances, have brought signs to hang on the fence, placed candles and flowers on the front sidewalk, have taken pictures, or stood in silence. After one choir rehearsal, the singers trooped down the street and sang an arrangement of “Abide With Me” for the mourners who were there. We know the people who own the house; I haven’t yet asked them what it has been like to live with virtually no privacy these past several days.

Here is a link to what the house looks like today: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_26322166 The first picture below is what it looked liked in the 1970s. In the video that the newspaper provided, a gentleman talks about Robin Williams spending a lot of time in the house. In truth, only the outside of the house was used in the TV series; all the inside shots were filmed in a studio. How many others assumed that what we saw in the TV show is the actual inside of this particular house?

What does it mean to live in a tourist destination? We in this old house gets some of that as people walk through our National Landmark neighborhood. My husband, especially, when he is gardening will get questions from people, wanting to know about the park or how to find the trailhead. Occasionally, I will see someone taking a picture. The most nerve-wracking moment I had was before we added a shed-roof sleeping porch to the back. I came upstairs one day to see people on the hiking trail below the house staring up into my bedroom window with binoculars. It took me a moment to realize they were watching birds at the bird feeder! (This was back in the day when we still had a seed feeder. The new sleeping porch blocked the view of it from the kitchen and the bears were always taking it down so we gave up and now only feed hummingbirds; see last week’s post.)

The house in which Jon Benet Ramsey was murdered is only a few blocks away from this old house (see bottom picture). People still drive by and take pictures of that, years after that tragedy occurred. The house has been sold several times and had some modifications to it but I wonder how many more years will go by before the stigma of that tragic night is no longer attached to that building in present memory.

People are drawn to structures and places where significant events happened. Battlefields, Presidential homes, historic mining towns, celebrity homes in Hollywood–all hold our interest and fascination. We want to have a tangible sense of where an event, distant past or more recent, took place. We try to imagine the people who lived there or what the event must have been like. With the Mork and Mindy house, people are recalling episodes from the TV series and remembering where they were when they ran into Robin Williams unexpectedly.

Our homes are not neutral. They have histories, short or long. I have often wished the walls of this old house could talk. Oh, the stories they would tell! That is true of all of our homes, large or small, single-family or multi-unit dwellings, owned or rented. It is the lives lived within the walls that “make a house a home.”

However heart-warming it may sound, though, that cliche isn’t exactly true because in some cases, the stories unfolding within the walls destroy any sense of home for the occupants. The stories are ones we seek to flee and forget. One of the powerful scenes for me in the movie “Forest Gump” was when Forest and Jenny go back as adults to her childhood home (a run-down shack in a cornfield) in Alabama. It had been the place of sexual abuse and other unspeakable horrors for Jenny. She starts crying and throws stones at it until she collapses on the ground. Forest has it bull-dozed. Some things are not redeemable.

I will be interested to see how long the shrine for Robin Williams continues to grow. What will our friends do with all the tributes? Will the Boulder history museum take them for some future display? When will they get to enjoy their home in private again? It is a tension when you own something everyone wants to connect with. Where are appropriate boundaries for having a life and letting people have a place of pilgrimage? Each case is different, I suspect, and right now, the Mork and Mindy home front sidewalk is holding a lot of memories and emotions.

 

I just had to re-fill the hummingbird feeder here at this old house. The hummingbirds are draining it nearly daily these days. They, too, have felt the rounded-corner turn into autumn and are stocking up for their long migratory flights. We have Broad-tailed hummingbirds, with iridescent fuchsia throats and bright green bodies, all summer and Rufous ones, with iridescent orange throats and rust-colored bodies, starting about mid-July. The latter come down from Alaska, stopping here on their way to Mexico and even South America, and really heat things up at the feeder. (The Broad-tailed and Rufous females are nearly indistinguishable from each other though I feel the Rufous females are more “nervous” than the Broad-tailed.)

The male Rufous does not like any other hummingbirds on “his” feeder, especially the Broad-tailed males. Ideally, we would have two feeders: one for the Rufous male to defend as his own and one for all the rest but with the bears and the racoons to also think about, we only have a good spot for one feeder.  When the Rufous males are fighting with each other and with the Broad-tailed males, they make the Harry Potter Quidditch game look slow. I have been sitting on the back deck as one-ounce dive bombers flying close to 60 mph have swooped by, a rush of wind in my face or hair. How they manage to not hit me or the apple tree is mind-boggling though there has been more than one occasion where I wondered if they went in one ear and out the other.

Creation is marvelous. So much variety and color. So many interesting and funny animals, plants, birds and fish to observe. How anyone can mis-use or abuse animals or the earth in any way baffles me. It is a form of self-destruction, really. When we don’t remember that we, too, are a part of creation ourselves, it is like sawing the limb off the tree while sitting on its outer edge. Not only is the tree affected but the person sawing goes down with the limb. In the years ahead, I fear, we will be seeing a lot more destruction within Nature as humanity has tipped the natural cycles past the point of return. It reminds me of an off-balanced washer load that spins wildly, making a loud noise and destroying the delicate balance in the spin cycle. Nothing good comes of it–the clothes aren’t spun out and the washer mechanism is ultimately ruined–unless someone intervenes and re-balances the load. How that will happen on a global scale with billions of people who can’t or won’t work together for a solution is beyond me.

Already, the hummingbirds are arriving earlier in their arrival window due to the warming climates around the globe. Will I someday have the hummingbird feeder out ten months a year, instead of the 5 I used to do 25 years ago? Hummingbirds may seem expendable when it comes to finding oil and gas for human life but what kind of life for humans would there be with no hummingbirds to go zinging through the trees? What kind of starvation would humanity face if all the bees died off and there was nothing to pollinate the crops? The tiny things as well as the big things in Creation all have their place and when a hole due to extinction is created, the fabric of Nature begins to unravel.For me, that is why the small steps I can take of recycling, driving less, using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs make a difference because in Nature, one may seem like an insignificant number. However, a vast multitudes of ones can make or break the natural order of things.

The first hummingbird of the season, one lone, tiny creature at the feeder, is a day of celebration at our house each year. It is a day to know that the circle of Life is still spinning properly, that the days of total unbalance have not yet arrived. God bless the hummingbirds.

 

 

We are in transition here at this old house. The first whiffs of autumn have floated by: that certain quality of air that will be more consistent as we move closer to September, trees loaded with green apples, warm days with very cool nights, a dark blue sky only seen in fall. The historic summer community is mostly gone except for those who own houses and are able to live here, out of the Texas heat, well into September and October. The tenants of the owners that rent their houses during the academic year have begun to move in. Those of us who live here year round will educate them to the ways of living in this community: Quiet Hours, though the afternoon ones will end in a couple of weeks, interfacing safely with the wild animals, respectful parking on narrow streets, not driving the wrong way on the thoroughfares, even though it can be faster and more convenient to exit the park that way “when no one is coming up.”

Living well in community has to be taught, especially in this day and age when too many children raise themselves in front of a screen. Also, when you are used to not knowing your neighbors, having people who interact regularly with each other, who watch what goes on in the neighborhood, can be an intimidating sensation. The “right to privacy” is an important part of the American psyche but we need to look out for each other, care for each other and we can’t do that if we don’t have any idea who is living next door.  People with no experience of community either in their childhood neighborhood or with a close extended family are clueless as to what living in community means. Like lifelong urban dwellers who are frightened by wilderness, true community can feel like a negative to people used to living in virtual isolation in their homes.

Some of the characteristics of good community include:

Knowing your neighbors’ names and basic life circumstances (where they work or go to school, who their kids are, what kind of car they drive).

A sense of how they live. For example, does your neighbor come home every day at the same time or do their work hours vary? Do they always mow their lawn at 7 AM on Saturday mornings? Do they go to church on Sunday mornings or sit on their deck reading the paper? Would you know if something looked amiss at their house based on a sense of what “normal” means for them?

One cul de sac neighborhood I am aware of met each other for the first time at a potluck initiated by one couple. A map of the neighborhood was given to each attendee so that they could fill in the name, phone number and/or e-mail address of the occupants. This was not only for safety reasons but for working together, if desired. Who has a generator? Who has a very tall extension ladder? Who could be called to run check on your house in an emergency? The end result was everyone loved meeting the other people on their small street and having a sense of who was who. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t done something like this before! A simple evening but one with potentially profound implications for future connections.

I know at this old house, whenever the bears are around in the fall, the phone starts ringing. Not only do we all want to see them (from a safe distance, of course) but we want to alert others to their presence so that doors or windows can be closed, dogs be taken in, bird feeders brought in, and the garbage cans secured. The next morning, we share stories of what the bear did in whose yard.

Our neighborhood is pretty safe, even as public as it is, and some of that is due to the fact that we all watch out for each other. We know what is normal on our streets. After the historic floods last September, we all gathered spontaneously and shared stories and food to comfort ourselves from the shock of Nature’s power in our little stream valley. It felt good to know that we were not alone, that there were people to call even in the night when the water was pouring over the road and threatening our house.

Community takes time and effort. It can be messy. Not everyone will like everyone else. People will be selfish and insensitive. Some people will just be odd and quirky but the overall benefit of knowing your neighbors, of having someone to look out for you as you look out for them, is priceless. Even when your community changes frequently, as it does here at this old house, the effort of being “neighborly” is well worth it. You never know when it might make a real difference in your life.

 

It has been harvest time here at this old house. I have been making pesto from the small pot of basil growing on the back deck. We also harvested one of the two cherry trees, getting about 2 cups of cherries. After eating a few and sharing a few, I had a little over a cup left. Fortunately, I have a very small pie tin and was able to make a tiny cherry pie to share with friends who dropped by. We have two cherry trees now that we had to cut the maple down a few years ago. It had been trimmed back so far to keep it out of the power lines that it just didn’t look good any more. When they took it down, we discovered rot had begun in the base of the trunk and was working its way up. It’s a good thing we took it down before Mother Nature did in one of our big wind storms. We planted a second pie cherry tree in its place.

We have to net the cherry trees as the fruit begins to develop because the birds will eat every single cherry unless we do. The original cherry tree, for some reason, didn’t put out much of a crop this year. We had a Mother’s Day snow and I think it was just blossoming when that hit. It is a different variety than the new cherry tree though for the life of me, I can’t remember either name. We harvested the new cherry tree for the first time this year after netting it several weeks ago. Last year, it produced a few cherries but we let those go to the birds. John wanted to do a “first fruits” thank offering with it (see Leviticus 23:9-14). It wasn’t exactly the Biblical ritual but it was an awareness of thanksgiving for one of nature’s great marvels, fresh cherries.

Two cups of cherries may not seem like much. The first cherry tree has had years where we get six or eight cups from it, but those two cups of cherries made me ridiculously happy. Maybe because we aren’t really able to grow anything here at this old house. Between a lack of space and wild animals, namely racoons, deer and bears, anything we plant is decimated before we can get to it. In addition to the basil and cherry trees, we have oregano and mint, a grape vine and a rhubarb patch. The grape vine is loaded but the racoons have an uncanny knack of knowing the night before we plan to harvest the next day. They go through and strip the vines bare. The grapes aren’t really on my cooking radar screen because for years, we have ended up with so few of them.

This year, for the first time I can remember, we didn’t get any rhubarb. We had a lot of rain and then it got very hot very fast. The rhubarb was not happy. Also, the patch is about 30 years old. Does rhubarb expire from old age? I don’t know. Usually I make at least one rhubarb custard pie and some chutney. I have also discovered that cherry rhubarb pies are great! Many people are familiar with strawberry rhubarb pie but cherry rhubarb is less common. I like it better; the flavors meld better, in my opinion.

Coming in to the end of July and harvest season, I am reminded of the parable of the Sower and the Seed found in Matthew 13: 1-23. In that story, a man throws seed prodigiously on all kinds of ground. Some never sprouts, some sprouts but withers in the sun due to shallow roots or dies out in overwhelming weed patches. Some produces a great harvest. While Jesus meant this as a metaphor for the spiritual life, it also speaks to life in this old house. We can’t have a vegetable garden because there is no ground to plant it in and the animals will get it all anyway. However, we can rejoice in our herbs, our rhubarb and our cherries. We do what we can, not what we can’t. It makes for a peaceful co-existence in our little corner of creation and some darn good cherry pies and pesto. That feels like a full harvest to me.

 

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