When Jan and I decided to build a house we had no idea of the journey we were about to embark on. We knew we wanted to live in the woods and I wanted a place that had some kind of water. After a lot of looking, we finally found a beautiful 15 acres about 6 miles south of town. It had a small creek and only one building spot. It sat in a steep hollow assuring us the privacy we were looking for. 100-year-old oak trees graced the property and small rock bluffs peeked out through the dense forest.
Most of the people we have seen build houses start by clearing the spot for the foundation and then some. We didn’t. I always wondered why folks would build a house in the woods and then cut down a bunch of trees. We did just the opposite. We had mapped out the drive that reached from the county road to that one building spot, a distance of a couple of hundred yards. From that point, I recall arguing with the contractor about what else could go. I believe he wanted enough space for his crew to park their pickups around the house they were building. I believe they thought we were crazy or at least a band of radical “tree huggers.” But the house was finished and it was time to move in.
I tried my best to avoid what I call “chainsaw fever.” That is the act of cutting down the things that need cutting and then keep on cutting. We did exactly the opposite. We had discovered several places on the property that we liked and the route to them eventually turned into paths. Some of the places around the house were covered mostly in brush and small trees. We cleared those areas leaving only the redbuds and dogwoods. The result was a landscape of small “islands” of woods and a series of paths leading off in several directions.
Over the years moss has taken over the ground around the house and the paths that lead to our favorite spots in the forest. I’m not sure how others would like it but for us it was perfect. And it required no mowing. I always saw that as a big plus when it came to moss.
My youngest son Matt was famous for his parties and had cleared a small area at the very back of the property. He made a fire pit around which he and his friends did things we didn’t want to know about. After he left for college my sentimental nature found me keeping the path and his “party spot” clear of weeds and leaves resulting in a path and a small clearing covered in, you guessed it, moss. Two years ago Matt married his lady Ashley at the party spot. Romance springs eternal out here.
The summer before last our power company came to clear a 30 ft wide path of trees from the road to our house. No way. After a long and expensive period, they agreed to bury the power line and leave our woods intact. All that we lost was a small spot by the road to put in one, necessary power poll. Then my oldest son Marc cleared the area of the mess that is always left after such an ordeal. With the help of the Missouri Department of Conservation, we planted that cleared and now sunny spot with wildflowers. For more on that check out my story “Butterfly Garden”.
With a new “area’ on the property, we had a new place to visit. This past winter, in the throes of being locked away from the rest of the world, we took on the task of putting in a path from the house to the garden. It would follow the small creek that runs through the land and crosses the road at the foot of the garden. I believe that this creek like a lot of them in Missouri is called Tick Creek. I would like to add Chiggers to make the name more honest. Tick and Chigger Creek works for me as long as I’m covered in Deet.
Along the path, I would put in a couple of clearings where one might enjoy sitting to enjoy the woods, the creek, and perhaps a glass of wine. The other small clearing overlooks a fen which is a unique wetland area. If I have a path that overlooks such an environment why not make a comfortable place to enjoy it and possibly have another glass of wine.
Over this Covid winter and spring, we have managed to finish the path and add the one missing ingredient. Moss. Since we had discovered moss as our perfect and only ground cover I have learned how to transplant it to help things along. It really isn’t difficult and becomes a perfect reason to get off the couch or out of the studio to collect and plant. It made an otherwise dismal year productive and not nearly as dark as it could have been. And this spring has given us a new place to visit along with a new place to travel.
Over this holiday weekend, Jan and I have spent time at our new clearing that overlooks a beautiful spot on the creek. It was way too early for wine so we went with beer to keep ourselves honest. Over the past year I have found myself immersed in fantasies about the path, especially having a neat clearing by the creek, and with Jan, enjoying a new part of the deep woods that has surrounded us for all these years.
Out here in our enchanted forest, listening to the birds with Jan, I understood that we hadn’t been crazy and dreams really do come true.