March 11, 2011

Beautiful Decay

We live in a very old town in north central Connecticut.  It was settled in the early 1700s.  There are homesteads that have been here for centuries.  Some have been preserved, most are gone, but a few have fallen into gentle, beautiful decay, taking with them their stories of families, livelihoods, and struggles.

My own home is a new, modern, upscale house built by a national "luxury" home builder in a development of 70 homes.  It's carved out of former woods and pastures, with zoning setbacks and community covenants and restrictions (No clotheslines!  No swingsets!)  It even has a eye-rolling faux royal name: "Regency" (really?  and am I then the queen of all I survey?  A princess in Sloggers with a Cobrahead scepter?)

The long-time locals, descendants of the old New England farmers, bemoan the new fancy houses with their fake siding, big lawns and sprinkler systems.  They tell us they used to snowmobile and hunt deer in the open meadows that are now our yards --- our deer-infested yards.

I feel conflicted.  I too bemoan the loss of the old aesthetic.  But...  I love my home.

I do love my home.  I love the view, the open sky and meadow, the opportunity to remake an abandoned pasture into a real garden.  All with a modern open floorplan, efficient plumbing and energy saving appliances.
The beautiful decay that I drive by when I am out and about in town is a reminder that it all changes, and it changes all the time.  My new, fancy vinyl sided house will also decay some day.  I wonder if it will fall down with the same soft whump of deflation that collapsed the old sawmill and the sawyer's home, and let the saplings come in to repopulate where its ancestors had been felled.

And what will happen to my gardens?

from real estate listing when it was for sale
We actually looked at buying an old house in town, rather than moving in to a development that had such an impact on the town's dwindling open fields.  It was built in 1787, had been renovated enough that it was in no danger of falling down, and the history and sense of connection were beyond charming.   But it belonged to another world.  The basement was still dirt, and none of the 4 fireplaces that took up almost all the floorplan worked.  The stairwell had a head clearance of 5 feet 8 inches.  Jim is 6 foot one.  He had to crawl hunched over to make it upstairs.  It was utterly unworkable for us.

My goal, in atonement for the travesty of our new house scraped out of this old field, is to create some beauty around it.  Hence the gardens, the 100 trees I have planted so far, both to reforest what the builder tore out, and for my own fulfillment. 
In 2004 this was an open field.  Now it's my home and garden.
In hundreds of years, when the trees are grown and my house is ready to fall down in its own slump of decay, will it be beautiful in the way the old barns and relics around town are now?


  1. This really was a great tour of interesting structures in all stages of decay. You got some great images. When I go back to Pennsylvania, there are so many old buildings I hope to photograph.

    My husband is 6 foot one also and we too looked at a home from the early 1800's when I first moved up here. It had really low ceilings and he would not even consider it. It was on a horse farm and I wanted horses so it did not matter to me. But he won out.

  2. Those old buildings really looks sad without all the greenery around them. I think your place will be one that people will bid to own some day. Your garden will be the magnet. Hopefully someone will always want to live there.

  3. Laurrie, what a thoughtful post. I love my old house but I completely understand it's not to everyones tastes. Something a lot of people don't seem to acknowledge is that our population is constantly increasing so as sad as it is to see the loss of fields, it's also not going to stop anytime soon. Perhaps we would be better concentrating, as you have, on getting rid of our lawns and planting trees instead.

  4. Once upon a time the settlers came and built and put their stamp upon the land, and now it's your turn! And you will leave a beautiful legacy. The place you occupy will be better because you have been there, and that is the best you can do. And I bet most of those settlers would have LOVED your house!

  5. Donna, thanks. I also feel bad we didn't buy the old house, but like your husband, mine wouldn't hear of it! And he was right....

    Lisa, I wonder if the garden will be a magnet for new owners someday. It all reverts to nature so quickly, I hope there is some sign I gardened here 200 years from now.

    Marguerite, I love the pictures of your old house. Even though it's antique, it looks like the ceilings can accommodate a 6 foot tall man!

    Deborah, I do hope I leave a legacy here. A good one.

  6. Oh how I identified with your post! Here we are situated on former farming land in Lancaster County - land that was once forest, too. Like you, we put in over 100 trees and shrubs to try and do our bit for the wildlife in the neighborhood. Unfortunately the neighbors are happy with their one small specimen the builder put in - no one wants the hassle of maintaining their yard. Sigh.

  7. Beautiful post Laurrie. A lot of habitat and beauty can be regained if only more people were doing what you are doing.

  8. Tracey, your neighbors are like most of ours here... all they have is lawn (which they hire someone to mow), and two trees the builder put in. I'm glad to hear you have planted so many wonderful things in the space you manage!

    Sweetbay, thanks. I wish there was more awareness of (and interest in) natural habitats in suburban developments.

  9. What a lovely blog you have:).I'm on my first visit and I really like your pictures and the way you tell stories.Love to follow your blog!

  10. You pose an interesting question and I really enjoyed debsgarden's response. You are doing the best you can, and beautifully, I might add and the homesteaders would have probably killed for central heat and a dishwasher!!

  11. I love to see those pictures of old barns!
    My friends and I have often had the opportunity to demo old barns like this and reuse the old hand-hewn lumber. It is a distinguishing mark in our deli's and cafes around the country. We'll even reuse the old cedar shakes and shingles if we can.
    Check it out in the photo galleries
    here on this site;

  12. Tina, Thanks for visiting and welcome!

    Cat, Thank you. I do hope my legacy here endures.

    Chris, If you like old barns, check out the photos on Bluff Area Daily, under the feature called "Barn Charm"

    (I loved the tour of the deli locations!)


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