St. Francis Leaves the Bluff

When we moved to Bainbridge two years ago, we wanted to make sure the move was right, so we didn’t sell our house, but leased it. Planning to visit often, we kept access to the guesthouse, the Buffalo. But the universe conspired to prevent visits, and time has come to put the property on the market. (I recognize this as a tale of privilege. Several times that’s stopped me from writing, but the blog began on the bluff, and now that part of the story ends.)

Only 900 square feet, the Buffalo is still a complete house with the utensils, bedding, linens, art, photos, books, and furniture of a house. And, because of a big closet, extraneous things got stored over the years – all our photo negatives packaged in labelled shoeboxes, beloved aged backpacking tent, sleeping bags, extra kid equipment. An empty file cabinet became the repository of my mother’s things when she died, her purse, her files and photos, and little stacks of expired passports and driver’s licenses.

In her book of essays, titled “Everywhere I Look,” Helen Garner quotes a clergyman’s wife on changing houses, “Every time you move you have to work through your whole life.”

Because we never really lived there, the Buffalo’s emotional weight blindsided me. In the first few of many trips to clear out, I thought it would be just sort, give away or toss, pack. But things speak of their provenance to a person packing up, voicing memories and original hopes.

A lot of the things I hoped for came to be. We built the bigger house and a garden and moved there, our sons came willingly to visit, and one married there in a beautiful ceremony. Eventually the Buffalo sheltered their growing families, and always it made it a pleasure to have guests.

In the drawing below, done early in the garden’s life, it’s orderly. But this spring, nature occupied every available space. Thuggish plants crowd and engulf plants once cosseted. Buttercups invade the beds, water suckers ruin the shape of the enormous Sambucus, the paths are clotted and choked by grass. I used to fantasize it was “contained abundance” – no longer.

My friend the wordsmith (who has been the most amazing help and support, making a sometimes hard thing cheerful) says it looks like the garden of an abandoned English estate. Kinda. The realtor will have it cleaned up for listing, and I’m hoping for a new gardener to love it.

The wordsmith’s husband muscled our statue of St. Francis (it stood for years in the center of the foursquare garden) into my car. I remember the first time Lady Baby spotted him and stood nearby, seemingly shocked he was taller than she. He looks contented now, in his tiny pretend Tuscan courtyard, surrounded by rosemary and welcoming hummingbirds who visit a nearby fountain.


10 thoughts on “St. Francis Leaves the Bluff

    • Well thank you Ben, and if that is true in the least, it’s thanks to my in-house editor and the wordsmith – always guiding me to fewer words in the right order. I really love the energy of their imput – and I’ve learned a lot! And I thank you for being always, for so long, a loyal reader.

  1. I have such good memories of staying in the Buffalo. Even though it’s time to sell it, it must be so hard to let such a place go. But yay for St. Francis! A solid and enduring presence and a reminder of the dreams that you made happen for yourselves and your children and grandchildren – and friends!! xoxo

    • Thank you Carol, that was a long ago visit – before Henry’s birth – and now how old he is! I just had breakfast out beside St. Francis in the tiny courtyard, and watched a ruby-throated hummingbird dip a drink and then dip its little body in the fountain. I’m glad to be here, and glad St. Francis is here, too.

  2. Dear Katy, So glad to hear that St. Francis made the journey! He’s one of our most beloved saints. If all goes well (in this age of Covid), in about six or seven years, my husband and I will retire and move back to my home state (Montana) from Washington State. I’ve already started sorting through the life detritus we dragged here with us nearly 20 years ago (some boxes have remained unopened since then!). Covid has given me the impetus to purge fearlessly and relentlessly, so boxes of books for the AAUW, intact back issues of art and crafts mags and books, etc. have already gone out the door. I’m hoping, Lord willing, I’ll have gotten rid of all the extraneous things before we make the final trip back home (my husband always whistles “Beautiful Dreamer” when I say things like this). One can always hope… Congrats on sending the Buffalo onto its next journey with new owners. May they embrace all the goodness there and, in turn, be embraced by it.

    • Thanks Cate for writing! St. Francis is so easy to love — our concrete statue depicts him cradling a bunny in the crook of his arm, and a wren sits on his shoulder – patron saint of animals, ecology among others! Here’s a quote pertinent to your (and my) endeavor: For it is in giving that we receive. You sound like a definite planner – good luck with all of it. I didn’t know AAUW took books – that’s a helpful hint!

  3. Such a lovely essay. And the quote about moving is true also for those of us trying to work through a lifetime’s accumulation in order to spare our kids the mess. (My grandmother’s chipped sugar bowl that lived in a drawer of her stove and now holds odds and ends in my work room–no one else would see it as anything but junk.) Oh, dear, such a long way to go. I suspect my best bet is to take pictures of these personal treasures and perhaps write about them–then I could let the object itself go.

    As always, your images (written and painted) are inspiring!

    • That’s a huge motivator to spare “our kids the mess.” And i wanted to say that your picture taking plans will work. When we left Alaska, and I had to face the little chest of drawers full of baby clothes from our sons, I drew them all. I still treasure those drawings – and they make just a little stack compared with all the tattered clothes! You never know about that sugar bowl – Josie might treasure it as belonging to her Meema!

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