Monday, May 1, 2017

Let It Rain

Poet Gary Snyder quoted a woodsman as saying, " 'Gonna live in this country, don't have nothin' you can't leave out in the rain." Yesterday I gave close attention to the books for the first time in several years. The inventory is small, and I keep a nose on a volume that I pull off the shelf, so I wasn't too worried about how things were doing. 

They're holding, but a new book, Caring for Your Family Treasures from Heritage Preservation, has guidelines that have me reevaluating just about everything. It's a good time to be doing so as I downsize in place and consider offerings to a new young household and to an old archive. Treasures supplements advice I found in The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, England's operating guide for the stately homes that are its living legacy. The short version is protect your possessions from contact with destructive wood chemistry and keep them in the same circumstances that you find comfortable yourself.

I've been road-testing Snyder's quote for a generation. In the Eighties, enthusiastic family and friends showered us with old things after we bought an1890 house. A long series of what I hope have been responsible and well-informed, not to mention discreet, decisions leave me with a domestic inventory that is as close to the outdoor community's Ten Essentials as reason can justify.

Nowhere in the Ten is listed culture, and that's the kicker. However, with kitchen, tabletop, and wardrobe honed to the efficient minima, I have attention to spare for a few valuables. Things based on plant and animal fiber, like books, photographs, and textiles, are the most demanding possessions. I now discuss storage and maintenance with the next generation. Having skimmed Treasures, I'll designate a few things for the best any archive can provide and enjoy the rest with care.

I was reminded of how recently European-Americans settled Western Washington on a recent visit to the Fort Nisqually restoration in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park, one fine day trip. Family tales of early times as well as the ubiquitous "prices slightly higher west of the Rockies" notation that persisted in advertising until the mid-Seventies prepared me to appreciate the historic advantage of owning well-designed and produced artifacts of the European tradition.

Earlier visits to the fort preceded the detailed furnishings that now support the reenactments that are staged there. I found it telling to compare the relatively familiar interiors of the Hudson's Bay factor's residence with the Blue Willow pottery of the tiny living quarters of the tribeswoman who slept and kept house with her family in a corner of the blockhouse. Those few dishes must have looked like a light show in the rainy woods when they and the fort were new.

That accommodation was comfortable and generous compared to the pallet at the foot of the blockhouse stair where one of the men on the staff spent his nights. Like a castle, I suppose, being inside the paling was the principal advantage -30-

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