Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Signature design

I was weary to the bone from closing up the camp and took a moment to sit and read what my friend had written in the Trout Lake Journal—a fancy name for the spiral notebook my sister designated for this use some quarter-century ago. Now nearing the close of its second volume, the journal has outlived my grandmother, Uncle Bob, Aunt Jane, Ron, several marriages, and the very camp in which it was housed.  I opened to the last entry, where Doug, the architect from Lifespan Design Studio who helped me design the new camp, had laid fresh ink on a musty page.

He referenced how stressful it had been for me as, one decision at a time, I left our old camp behind. Why copy it? he'd ask me. He wouldn't settle for a murky argument like "sentimental attachment." Slowly I came to see his point—that structure had never been designed in the first place, but patched together to meet new needs over a century of use. Envisioning the new camp required mimicking the very process that allowed personal growth after Ron's suicide: I needed to set aside "the way it had always been" and make purposeful new choices. This was not easy. Coping is in my blood, and readily accessible. I find it much harder to access the kind of deep knowing that can turn into a vision.

But that was old news. I was eager to know what it was like for an architect to walk into a building he had designed. Yes, he knew the floor plan, and yes, he had created a black and white sketch of the exterior, but what did it feel like to be surrounded by its 3-D surfaces, in living color? Doug wasn't just my architect; he and I had been friends for 36 years. I knew he wouldn't let me down. I scanned the entry until the following words, so loving in their intent, pulled me up short:

When I walked into the camp I immediately felt at home. I designed the camp for Kathy; it is her. 

I sought the truth in these words as I finished what I used to call "chores" but now regarded as a fitting expression of loving care for this place. I mopped surfaces that are practical and frugal and easy to care for; I'd no sooner spend money on a manicure than furniture wax. The pine paneling is new and strong and displays precious family heirlooms. The interior is open and welcoming, large windows making parts of it almost transparent. While the sleeping porch and open living room/kitchen area encourage togetherness, bedrooms with closing doors create needed boundaries. The kitchen and laundry room encourage optimism; the necessary work of daily living can be a joy. The simple line of rocking chairs on the porch allows the work of a writer—observing, dreaming. The building is protected by materials that compliment the natural setting, and while they may look old, they are plenty strong enough to deflect storms—the numerous pots placed around the old camp to catch the rain are now solely used for cooking. A new bird feeder and flowers in a rotted stump celebrate the surrounding nature.

Fond as I am of extended metaphors, these weren't the thoughts that brought tears to my eyes when I read Doug's entry. It was an immediate association to words I'd uttered time and again since the camp had been rebuilt; words many others unaware of this metaphor had echoed.

It is her, he wrote. Could this really be true? Because this was my gut reaction: It is beautiful.