He was eighty-two.
I was twenty-nine.
Marjorie and I were buying
our first and, as it turned out,
our only home these last 53 years.
The old man and his wife had owned the place
since Genesis, Chapter 1.
I know, it is an anomaly, these days,
for anyone to live in one spot,
for so long, but Marg and I are nesters
and the house is beautifully old and stone
and strong enough to hold
years of roof loads of snow
and one fallen oak, felled by
a great gusting storm,
crushing the north-east corner of the house,
causing, as he proudly explained,
“…the only renovation in the place”.
He’d used the same blue-stone to repair
the crumbled corner and I couldn’t tell
the old from the new.
While Marjorie talked with Ethyl, Mr. Freer’s wife,
he invited me to take a walk,
which, for him, I would discover,
meant to have a talk.
We stepped out the back door, onto the cedar deck.
I couldn’t see very deep into the woods behind the house.
It was thick with leafy saplings,
full grown trees and tall underbrush
blocking the view.
Mr. Freer didn’t say anything.
He just cricked his head for me to follow him
down the steps onto a blue-stone path
edging the woods,
then curving left to become
a border for the back yard on one side
and the woods on the other.
The stone path past what appeared to be
a hole on the edge of the dark woods,
then further down into an overgrown hollow
surrounded by pine, oak and maples.
The hollow was circled by weed draped boulders.
On the western side of the circle,
squat a stone, maybe 400 pounds,
with a soft curve in it,
like some modern chair from Macy’s.
He sat on it, put his hands on his knees and said,
“Look around. What do you think this place is?”
So I looked, trying to grasp the form in the chaos,
some sort of structure beneath the under growth.
I sensed rather than saw the blueprint.
Two circles, 100 feet or so in diameter, connected
to each other and the stone path by two
mulch and wood chip paths.
Everything, pretty much grown over.
Mr.Freer called the circles his “grottos”.
“I liked the lay of the land,” he said.
“That flat spot, up the slope there, close to the house.
This hollow down here…
I saw it in my mind, but there was work to do
to make it real.
Turned out to be a lot of work!
I started one spring, about forty years ago.
Then the summer and autumn.
Had to stop for winter.
A bad one, so all I could do was stare out the window
and watch the snow fall, four feet deep in the woods.
The second Spring I finished up the circle on the rise,
this grotto down here and the paths.
Cost me some elbow grease, but it was worth the effort.
Ethyl and I were ‘Re-wed’, she called it, on the rise.
My son was married right here in the grotto.
(It didn’t take, but what the hell…)
We had a few little concerts here.
See? It makes a sort of amphitheater down here.
One of my students played the saxophone.
A guitarist played some Bach.
Had a pretty lady folk singer
and a little guy, a lute player…
Brought their own chairs or sat on the rocks.
I rolled those rocks all around the circle here.
This big one I’m sittin’ on I dug up right over there.
Pushed it a bit with a big 4 by 4
until it started rollin’ down the slope
Thought it might keep goin’ but it stopped of it’s own accord.
I call it “Merlin’s Stone”.
My three dogs are buried over there.”
(I saw three stones, bread loaf size,
dog collars draped on them, each with rusty tags)
“I pray here, sometimes.
Talk to the dogs…
the years and arthritis took over.
Couldn’t do the work no more to keep it clear.
Nature sort of just took it back.
You can make it out now, can’t you?”
It wasn’t a question.
It was a plea.
And my imagination did catch the vision of it, just about.
I heard the soft sound of the sax,
the eerie, fairy lilt of the lute.
When I told him, “Yes, I can”,
He smiled like I’d given him
the Medal of Honor.
“Well, you’re gonna buy the house.
Think you’ll ever do some work back here?”
I thought again and felt an obligation
to restore the old man’s dream
rooting its way into my hands
Yes, I’ll do some work on it.”
I’d passed his test.
I swore he was happier about our gentleman’s agreement
than he was about the selling of his house.
As I walked behind him back to the wives,
I sensed he walked a little lighter now.
If not for the business woman Ethyl was,
I like to believe he might have given Marge and I
the whole place for free.
As I write this, I’m sitting on Merlin’s Stone,
waiting for a potential buyer to come see
our historic house,
It’s on the Hudson Valley Register, now.
I’m waiting to ask him just what Mr. Freer asked me.
I’ll know, then, if he deserves to live here.