When we first acquired our Jessamine farmstead, the house, shed, and fences could all have been marketed as being in “as is” condition. This is typically realtor-speak meaning “somewhat run down and probably lots of things will need to be repaired or replaced.”
We were not daunted. Our thrill was with the land and location. When friends and family came to visit they often commented on the shack–a leaning structure with bowed out barn wood on the sides and two small low-slung entrances on front and side. Indeed we discovered in the first winter that snow was easily blown through the boards so that its contents were only slightly protected from the elements.
All this is reality and yet I’m enchanted by the beauty of this little deteriorating historic structure in our backyard. It serves as trellis to vines of colored leaves in the fall and supports pink peonies likely planted about the time of its construction every spring. In the winter it shelters stacks of wood that Hule splits in just the right size for our wood stove and in the summer it holds our mowers, garden tools, and a bird nest or two.
A few years ago I was introduced to a series of words that are conjectured by some as “untranslatable” from other languages into English. So many of these words intrigue me and challenge me to appreciate the cultures that nurtured and created them. One such word is wabi-sabi from the Japanese. Wabi-sabi is said to refer to an appreciation of a beauty inherent in objects of transience and a respect of imperfection and admiration toward an essentially natural cycle of decay or deterioration. While I believe that one must study a culture more thoroughly to truly know the full meaning of such words, what I read of this concept reminds me of how I feel about our little lean-to. In fact I have now named it our wabi-sabi shed.
Maybe it is our stage or season of life that gives me this perspective. In my 2nd half of life I am choosing to focus on the value of an unfading beauty of the inner spirit rather than the fleeting beauty of my outer form. A few years ago when at the beach I looked down at my hands and hardly recognized them…age spots, crinkled skin, protruding veins…these were not the hands of my youth.
When I was dating my Mississippi boyfriend (later to become my husband, Hule) and he held my hand for the first time he said, “Wooo! Your skin is softer than a catfish’s belly!” At first, this Illinois girl wondered if that was a slam, but pretty quickly I discovered it was indeed high praise. Remembering that, I considered the history that each scar and spot and rough patch represented. A new perspective valued my hands’ natural decay to reveal a sort of beauty.
With this perspective, which now I might call a wabi-sabi perspective, I wrote this poem to my husband:
Take my hand, my love
“Softer than a catfish’s belly!”
Writing, underlining, studying,
Washing dishes and laundry
Days on the beach
Constellations of pigment
Calloused from work
And years from wearing your ring
I still choose to put my hand in yours