Letting in the day
In the Dick Francis novel Decider, the protagonist is an architect with many sons and a difficult marriage. At one point he reflects on the unlikely things that make people buy one house over another—in his case, a large tree that he can envision his boys climbing.
I bought a house last year. My decider was what lay just inside the front door: a jungle. At the time it had not received any care except watering for over a year, and the tiles beneath were sticky with the droppings of aphids and mealybugs. It took aggressive pruning and a lot of insecticide soap to get both the bugs and the plants themselves under control.
My family and I have had many discussions about this jungle: whether to furnish it with a resident parrot or a cage of finches; whether there is enough light for orchids or if I should stick to foliage plants; whether it should have rain forest sound effects every time someone walks through.
And then there’s the door. The inside door to this idiosyncratic airlock is glass, making for a nice terrarium effect from inside. However, the outer door is very solid oak, and the lights (those long windows next to the door) are not transparent. And the view outside is stunning, especially when the trumpet vine is in flower, about eight months of the year.
I would stand in the entranceway and study the view with the door open, and then I would turn around and look into the house, and see the living room—as anyone standing outside would see it, especially at night. Yes, we have few passers-by, and the trumpet vine hedge is so thick a person has to work hard to see through it, nonetheless, having both doors transparent would make for a an openness verging on vulnerability. Of course, I could always put up shades, but…
This went on for months. In the morning, I would open the outside door and let the sun pour in, admiring the view. Then at night I would close up the house and admire the oak’s solidity. As the weather got warmer, the issue of cross-ventilation entered into the conundrum: leaving both doors open cooled the house in the evening, but it also invited in a lot of flying creatures.
As I said, it was months (slow learner?) before the answer came to me: the conundrum was the decision. I realized that I liked opening the house in the morning—literally opening it up to the day and to the world. Equally, I appreciated the day’s closure, with the visual barricade more important than the actual turn of the outer lock. So why not leave it that way? The discussion had become an important part of my day’s ritual. And by replacing the inner lights with openable (screened) windows, I could even have my cross-draft.
All of which, come to think of it, is pretty much how I write as well, muttering and grumbling at what look like problems but turn out to be the very element the book was missing.
The only puzzle is knowing when it’s time to open the door and let the day in.