The formerly 20-foot-tall juniper tree (a.k.a. eastern red cedar) that had stood proudly erect beside my front portico has been bowed and humbled. The big ice storm back on January 6 left it canted at a 30-degree angle from the side of the house in a pose that strikes me by turns as humorous, ominous or obscene. I still do a double-take every time I come back from a walk and see the thing leaning out like that. It’s very disorienting.
The last time my friend A. stopped by, in late December, she said that the house reminded her of a ship. Well, now the ship has a figurehead. That’s what I was thinking just now as I glanced out at the juniper swaying in the breeze with snowflakes swirling all around: it’s like a headless figurehead, green and maternal – at least to the birds that take shelter in it each night. It faces southwest, more or less into the weather, as I suppose a good figurehead should.
But actually, A. didn’t specify which side of the house corresponded to the bow in her mind. In my own view, the house has two fronts, or at least two front doors: the one just mentioned with its portico on the southwest side, and the other that leads out onto the front porch, facing southeast toward the woods. Like the other main buildings of this old farm, it’s aligned with the ridges on either side. Thus, to confuse things still further, the front porch of the main house, a hundred feet away on top of a little hill, faces straight back in this direction – toward my front portico and the leaning juniper. An older, larger juniper tree leans out from the side of the main house, as well, though not at such an extreme angle. It faces southeast. Back behind it, on the same side of the house, is the small back porch off my parents’ kitchen.
In other words, though both houses have precisely the same alignment, the back porch on one faces the same direction as the front porch on the other. And though the houses otherwise look nothing alike, these two southeast-facing porches are almost architectural mates. Each house sits within a large, right-angled bend of the driveway that passes between them. Some combination of the internal arrangement of rooms and the external orientation toward the driveway seems, in each case, to account for our sense of which is the back and which is the front. The hollow itself faces northeast.
So it’s no wonder I’m still resting at anchor here on the old farm. I couldn’t begin to chart a route out of the harbor.