They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
A couple of things came up this week. First thing, on Monday, I found a cockroach in the sink and panicked and emptied the kitchen to make sure it had no brethren (there were no brethren). However, in the process, I mentioned that at one point my family had burned our house down to deal with mice, and it was requested that I finish the story. I'll recount it here, but since most of you have seen it already, know that there's more, after:
I grew up on my stepdad’s family’s farm, from the time I was six until I left. The original house was built in roughly 1880 as a one-room house. Over time, the original house became the kitchen, and was then added onto haphazardly until there were four bedrooms (two upstairs and two down), an attic, living and dining room, a closed-in porch, a summer kitchen, plus halls and stairs and a bathroom and cellar.
All that adding on meant that there were gaps in the foundation and old rotting beams buried in the walls, badly joined roofs and knocked out beams.
One winter, when I was about 13, the mouse situation got really bad, to the point where they would die and stink in the walls and sometimes inside furniture. We looked into what it would take to fix the house so the mice couldn’t get in as easily, only to find that fixing the foundation would mean lifting the house, and we couldn’t lift the house without first shoring up all that haphazard adding on.
All that would have cost us as much as building a new house, so we decided to just build a new house. We ended up going prefab because we were kind of in a hurry and didn’t want to spend another winter in the old house with the herd of mice, so that’s what we did. The property was 5 acres, so we built the new house in what had previously been about ¼ of our pasture.
When they finished assembling the new house, they dug a hole and pushed the old house into it and then set it on fire. Now a garden stands on the footprint of the old house.
And that’s the story of when we burned our house down to get rid of a mouse infestation.
I tell that story because I've been thinking a lot this week about the idea of burning things down, both literally and metaphorically. I've been thinking about what it means that the option of burning our house down to deal with a problem, even a serious one, was even on the table, both from a privilege standpoint (who has enough land to build a second house on the lot even if they can build a second house?) and from a psychological one. I've been thinking more abstractly about burned bridges, about how bridge burning is a temptation I always have and how I've finally managed to identify some of where it comes from. In doing so, I've realized that over the years I've both realized how it's hurt me and gone too far in the other extreme, to where I have a hard time acknowledging when a bridge has been burnt and keep trying to venture across on scorched cinders and ash. No matter how close to the halfway mark I can get with haphazard repairs, I can't cross bridges someone else has burned.
I've also been thinking about the idea of controlled burns, about how a forest that's never allowed to burn at all eventually goes up in catastrophic flames, and whether it's possible to make the choice to take control of something that threatens to destroy you. I suggested to a friend who's been struggling with complicated situations for years that perhaps right now, when she's not beholden to much, is a good time to choose to let herself fall apart a little. She won't, I don't think, because she is born and bred a fighter and I don't think she even knows how to give up, but having broken down and rebuilt myself I still can't help but thinking that if I'd had to keep resisting and resisting and resisting all this time, the eventual crash would have been so, so much harder. Controlled burns help ensure the ecosystem of the forest can recover from a fire, making sure the underbrush can grow in the ashes.
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