by Pearl Abraham
A white farm house (much like my house) on 44 in East Canaan, CT.
I have been seeing it from the car for years now, twice a week, sometimes three times, and these were always round trips, so that it was on my left in the morning, my right in the evening, but today, this first morning in May, seeing it at slant, its roof registered as temporary tarp blue, another roof overcome by a winter of more rain than snow, more wind, more damage. I turned my head for a full on and saw that I was wrong, this roof was standing seam metal, would last forever, or as long as this house, which was probably 1800s, the age of farmhouses in the area. The blue had misled me, and in the part resigned, part resentful, part restive, rare meditative moments I ride in during these repetitive two hour drives, I took the time to consider why anyone would choose this color for a roof, a blue that signals bad news for any homeowner. Perhaps an actual blue tarp had waterproofed this roof long enough for the owner to fall in like with the color. Something the contractor who is repairing a 20-year leak on my house said this morning was going round in my head: All these old houses built in the 1800s are letting go now, wanting to return to earth.
He was showing me a structural issue in the basement, a disintegrating support plank in a crawl space, at the heart of the house, getting ready to buckle.
This isn't a matter of years, he said, it's imminent. Your house will break. You will hear a crack and then things will buckle.
This plank is nowhere near the leak I asked him to look at, and yet it is the source of the leak: The house is caving, twisting inward, he explained, so that no amount of caulk seals for long.
This is the first explanation that truly fully actually explains this perennial leak, but it comes with a price tag that forces me to ask: Is this house worth this kind of money? And is probably why twenty-four years ago when I purchased the house, the first contractor averted his eyes, covered it up and left it for the next one.
Seeing blue as a tarp, the kind of associative mistake our subjective minds incline towards, has everything to do with the tarp nailed over my own leaking window, blocking out the sunlight and southern breezes of this long awaited spring. The morning after the tarp went up, strong gusts from the south tore it off. Awakened by a cracking thump when it tore away from the structure, I lay there, still dreaming I hoped. But no, another thump. Was the house breaking? I waited for the predicted buckling, but my bed, the four walls, four windows and ceiling all stood square and still.
I got up to look. The tarp, still attached to the house in one corner, was puffed up with wind like a sail, filling and deflating in the wind, and the strip of wood used to pin it in place was knocking against the house. I opened the offending leaking window, grabbed the tarp, and pulled the wood off.
Friday's bad news followed me into Monday, haunting me. Coming through Canaan again in the evening, on the lookout for this roof now, I noted quite a few of these new, blue, standing-seam roofs. Was this unwanted color sold at a discount? Or it was a choice, intentional, a mark of dark humor: In this era of crazy climate, when a full-on tropical rainy season displaced the crisp dry Indian summer the northeast is known for, this is the future: Ongoing rain spells ruin. Our grazing animals are knee deep in mud. Our crops rot in the fields because they are too wet to harvest. Farmers and sons of farmers, these locals grow up knowing how to solve problems, but weather is beyond them, nothing they can do.
Nature's revenge, wrote one nature writer. But revenge indicates a response that’s intentional, gives agency to a system that functions involuntarily, like breathing, inhaling the noxious emissions we produce, unable to exhale enough oxygen to keep our planet cool, our arctic ice intact, our water table stable. Agency remains with us. We must repair our home, restore the planet that gave us life, our world. We know how to do it, and must find our way to doing it.
About the Author
Pearl Abraham is the author of, most recently, Animal Voices, Mineral Hum (2018 Mary McCarthy Prize, shortlist), American Taliban, and The Seventh Beggar (semi-finalist for Koret Int'l Award).