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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Unsettled Epilogue A


Through much of my adult lifetime, I had intended to write some of the stories now in the Unsettled posts of the past eighteen months, but what triggered the project in 2008 was the aftermath of my mother’s death and the subsequent family business with the five children, primarily deciding what to do with our homestead. There is a part of us that would want to keep things as they are for as long as possible, keep the place as a kind of "retreat." Speaking personally, it has been that to me for many years. If the land were a working farm or income property, it would be an easier decision; if we had a reliable, caring family to rent the home for as long as it made sense to both parties, it may be a different matter. If one of us siblings was in a situation to buy the house as a primary or second home, it might be a different matter.

But at the time of this writing, none of those three options seems likely, and the truth is, this is a beautiful house in a wonderful setting, and it is meant to be someone’s home, a family’s home.

This place is meant for a family who enjoys being close to the Metro Area while at the same time being “out in the woods"; a family who enjoys the change of seasons; that enjoys walks in the russet and gold of autumn; sledding the hill or skating the creek in the winter; and looking for Trilliums in late spring; a family that can step into a forty-year-old barn made from native logs and enjoy telling the story of how it was built and called “a work of art” by the inspector; a family that can look at the well under the stairway and fully understand the weeks of work that sunk it crock-by-crock 28 feet deep years before the house was there, back when the land was home to some of the vanishing wildlife squeezed out by the neighboring development in the township.

True, the house is not one of those super-sized “McMansions” that were so popular at the turn of the century, but if you’re looking for a home, built like a rock, with a story behind each beam and brick, a house that can easily be heated with wood split in your own backyard, with a breath-taking view from every window and lots of cozy living space inside, including a four seasons room, a back patio and front porch with a swing, a walk-out self-contained basement, a huge walk-up attic, and ample two-car attached garage with its own attic large enough to make a small apartment or workshop.... This “house on a hill in a woods somewhere” may very well be just the place for you.

Your family may be the one to pick up where these chapters left off. If so...if our house is now the place you call home, and if you are sitting there at one of those windows or curled up beside a fireplace with these pages, know that you were the imaginary reader in my mind as I wrote them. True, I also wrote for family and friends, but mostly I wanted you, the someday owner of this house, to better understand the walls and woods around you in hopes of bringing deeper meaning to each day you spend here.

And if someday, you see a stranger, young or old, there at the edge of the road looking down the long driveway, have no fear. It is probably one of us, or one of our children or grandchildren who has come across a copy of this book and come by the homestead for themselves to see if it is still as I’ve described. That is the purpose of this epilogue. It is a summary of how the house and the family in it continued to grow in the three decades after the Christmas of 1975. It will be more anecdotal and disjointed than the chapters before it, but I trust it will still be of interest.


When I headed back to college after Christmas, I looked at the house as we pulled out the two-track drive. None of the exterior brick was on the house; the walls were Celotex sheeting wrapped in tar-paper, and to me it looked like “a shadow of black half-hidden by trees of gray,” an image I recalled a year later, when I headed back to college and the walls were encased in the old brick Dad bought from the cleared RenCen site in Detroit. Along with the exterior brick, the chimney now stood in place from the basement floor right up through the roof, and the basement was heated by a wood-buring stove, which made the second part of the image possible: "And an arm of smoke gropes from its stack and waves with a lonely sway." It was in the weeks after that second Christmas in the basement that I wrote the following poem. A year after writing it, I entered the lines in a creative writing contest and won first place. It was the first "prize" I'd ever won for writing. [I say that as if many followed. It was actually the first of very few honors I earned with a typewriter.]

A House in Winter's Hold

There’s a house on a hill in a woods somewhere,
in a woods where no one sees
(save those who pass with a lasting stare
at its glimmer of light through the trees).
In winter it’s a shadow of black
half-hidden by trees of gray,
and an arm of smoke

gropes from its stack
and waves with a lonely sway.

Then comes a whistling winter wind.
The house shuts tight

with a shoulder pinned
against a threatening door
and waits for what’s in store.

A blizzard is coming;

windows are humming;
to the wind’s tune

the shutters are drumming.
The house is clenched in Winter’s hold—
freezing, frosting, frightening cold,
bare tress bending to and fro
in the pageantry of snow:
sifting, blowing, drifting, growing,
Autumn’s reaped and Winter’s sowing—
sowing seeds of icy white;
snow sifts through the moonless night;
falling thick with crystal frills
skirting ‘round the timbered hills;
lacing lace on dry leaves curled,
still clung to branches bare;
and covering softly all the world
that the house on the hill

in the woods somewhere
will ever, ever know.

© Copyright 1978, TK, Patterns of Ink

This was one of the first poems I ever wrote. (The title never seemed right but I left it all unrevised.) It was an experiment in rhythms and alliteration. The setting was inspired in part by Frost's "An Old Man's Winter Night" and the knowledge that a part of my father could happily live that life... but the lines were based mostly on that fine but foreboding feeling that comes when a family is snowbound in a winter storm as we were more than once in our house on a hill deep in the woods (which, by the way, is not in the house in the first picture. The shutters were drumming only in my imagination; our house never did get shutters, but they were part of Dad's original plan.)


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