It was an ordinary, small home; a compact gathering of a few rooms clad in framed sheets perforated with crucifixed windows. The roof, a simple, low skillioned gable form with a centreline ridge running its length, had the patina of time - rusty patches and rippled edges fretted by vegetation. The cabin - this hut or cottage - was only small. It sat along the short rear boundary of a large corner block, looking through its’ length at the park beside the river opposite. The block held some mature trees that filled its bright sky and shrouded the little home in heavy shade at different times of the day. The grass was kept as a links - or was unkempt, depending on one’s preference for tidiness and rational explanations. Uncut grass becomes an anathema for one who likes edges to be precise and closely clipped; to others it is a delight.
The trees presented a grand, picturesque authority, with a power somewhat suggestive of that which, one is led to believe, was understood by the Druids. The trees stood large, tall and spread broadly, both as trunks, branches and foliage. They held a quality of a Gainsbrough in Australia: an innocent, naïve grandeur towering over the inadvertent sense of shack in a mess of long grass. The perception was that a painting could be made from this romantic assemblage, such was the impact of the layering and framing of textures and light on the prospect of this tiny worn cottage ensconced in its silent, ancient trees.
It was quaintly quaint. It held all of the mystery that one would associate with a cottage, an old lady and a forest clearing, even without the wolf and a young girl. Sunlight and shade shared a dappling over this place that knitted everything into its moving murmurs with an unpretentious pleasure and innocent pride.
Indeed, an old lady did live in this little place of light and dark below the mass of trees. One would rarely see her, but her presence through remembered nursery stories gave rise to the feeling of myth in her being, and in her being there, and reinforced the powerful wonder that this corner block held. She could be imagined as the small, scarfed figure standing at the open door of her home, waiting patiently to welcome the unknown. It was simply idyllic. It was the place that everyone dreamed of occupying; a place of inner peace and contentment with the prosperity that this modest satisfaction engenders. It seemed to be occupied by the little people too, with its magical dancing light. It stimulated, not greed, but desire: the desire to be a part of it.
Two people had an eye on this property. Each joked that they were waiting for the old lady to die, but they were in serious competition. Both had spoken to her, but not about any sale. It was as if contact might generate a preference for ownership should a decision have to be made between the two. It added an intimate touch. Such interest could illustrate a genuine concern for person and place that might sway another’s opinion when issues had to be separated.
The lady died. The builder/developer was first off the blocks and purchased this one. It was a surprise to the other. It was for his new home, or so he said. Others thought it was for a unit development.
For years the little cottage sat humbly at the rear of the block facing its beautiful tree-covered void. It was satisfied with just being there. Age did not weary it; nor did neglect. The thick bulky trunks became softer, more mellow, heavier, as the grass grew longer and the casual supervision given by the old lady was not replicated. One came to see what the activities - or lack of them; what might be labelled their loving abandon - had been doing for this place. Things stabilized into the numbness of time that lost its immediate welcome, as a ruin does. The developer had other interests. In the same street, he was building two sets of small unit blocks. This was a seaside, retirement location that had controls more modest than some of the larger tourist centres. The builder kept himself busy with others’ projects while his dream was put on hold. This place could wait. It seemed to relish its quiet.
Then one day the site was cleared - gone: all was gone. A construction fence was erected around nothingness. Gone - everything: mystery, love, dancing light, and ancient life: its’ depth. The dream that drove the desire for its being had killed the thing that it loved. Did it understand? One might weep at the loss - weep uncontrollably; inexplicably. Why?
The builder seemed not to notice anything as the bold, blank timber skeleton of his new home confidently filled the whole, now sandy site with stacked gables, boxed voids, and fields of floor levels. The modesty of the old lady’s cottage and its beautiful trees had become the glaring cheek of the new declaration of ownership and presence: I am here. Everything else bowed before this presence, even the Druid mystery and the unconditional welcome. One had to knock now in order to avoid the threat.
Why is man so foolish? Is it this age of quantity that drives the mania for me and my that is blind to everything else, soft, gentle, beautiful and caring? Blind to love? To wonder? Why? Oh, weep; despair in a weary silence. Is it our destiny that such events need to occur? Is loss our future, not love?
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Oscar Wilde The Ballad of Reading Goal
Note: Top image is the idyllic vision of cottage, trees and place.
The two lower images show the cottage in Google Street View, North Haven, NSW, Australia prior to clearance.