I knew it was going to be ugly, no one had tackled the shed for close to two decades. The last time I had looked in there I just remembered old machinery, a lawn mower inherited from the previous owner, lots of dirt and mess and falling-apart boxes of unknown quantities. My mother being unwell, I told her to leave it all to me, but she didn’t quite. So it wasn’t entirely in a pristine state when I entered it, but close.
I have been stung by a scorpion twice, bitten by some unknown spider that may or may not have been a recluse, shared a house with tarantulas, fished multiple large insects and spiders out of the bathtub every morning just to take a shower, I am well trained in the rather glorious riot of biting stinging things that we share the desert with. You never put your hands where you can’t see, and if you invade their territory you need to be respectfully prepared. Even after you move into the city, where most people pretend that this glorious riot of biting, stinging things doesn’t exist, you need to be prepared.
So I was. Painfully hot in jeans, socks and shoes (my god, the horror!), long sleeved shirt, gloves. I went into the shed ready for whatever I might find there.
I found some awesome things I had no idea we had. My favourite being an old trunk that belonged to…I can’t remember, one of mom’s old relatives who had been in the navy:
It had been all around the world, with those amazing old stamps to prove it. I’d only seen those from old cartoons. Inside was just as cool, some of my grandmother and mother’s old clothes and assorted valuables:
But that first day working through the mess and the old boxes full of our old sports trophies and dad’s papers and his old hard hat for visiting mine sites and Catalina Chamber Orchestra banners and floppy disks (amazing!) and more trunks and bits of metal and wood and rubbish of all kinds, I found nothing living. I found traces of their existence in the beautiful creations of the mud wasps:
Amazing feats of craftsmanship that provide the perfect home for the raising of more wasps built sustainably of insulating mud, just like our old house. But empty, long empty. I wasn’t entirely sad about that. I was instead sad about these forgotten remnants of our earlier lives, these things dad never had time to go through before he died and so full of memories of him. These trunks that mum thought had been lost years ago because dad told her they weren’t in there. All picturesquely coated in a thick layer of dust and dirt that couldn’t hide the fact that we were losing our home for the second time. This one not the dream of my parents and built by them in hope, but an attempt at a secure future paid for by my parents’ endless hours of work and new savings along with my grandparents’ and mine, and regular contributions from my brother Mike. All gone.
Better just then to wonder about the super predator clearly lurking in one of those dark corners. The things or things that had emptied that shed of every insect and spider who in their turn could only dream of such a choice home.
The next day I came to the end, the final few boxes that needed to be emptied. Nothing explained the absences, nothing at all. Until I found a small white globe. An egg. But whose? I had never seen one like it. I didn’t understand until this:
Lizards! Of course! I love them, but I had been imagining monsters (as I do) and never yet thought of them as super predators, removing the biting stinging things from our shed in what could only be a gift. I still jumped when opening a trunk, a gecko scurried into a darker corner. I set it free.
Alongside those few momentous years of our family’s life on this piece of land, generations of geckos had clearly lived and flourished in our shed, their lives parallel to our own but unseen and unknown. Such amazing creatures. They shared this bit of land with us, they eased the burden of this heartbreaking task that was just one of many heartbreaking tasks that come along with packing up a house my parents had long lived in and loved. The last place we shared with my dad.
So in the end this is all about land again. How we live on it and the things we share our land with, that come and go. The way our shed (and ourselves) actually fit into a much bigger ecosystem of life and death that humans for the most part remained unaware of, unthankful for. That a foreclosure disrupts, that recession reveals and development destroys — but never entirely, because like us, many things in the desert can adapt. They represent yet another network that our lives form part of, along with that of human relations to city and landscape and each other, or the destructive webs of capital and land and real estate values that are other stories to be told. My desire is to understand the destruction unleashed by real estate capital, but draw hope and resistance from these other stronger, more fundamental fabrics within which we live….
It’s a long time ago since you wrote this. And this site doesn’t seem to be updated. But just in case you come and take a look, this is a thankyou for this little peek into your life / imagination.
By coincidence I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s “A Book of Migrations” and this reminded me of her description of childhood times exploring the unbuilt areas beyond her family’s home. Places where lizards and snakes lived and vegetation sometimes grew higher than the kids.
I’ve just signed-up to your blog and notice you’re in Salford. We visit old friends in Manchester from time to time. Both retired from their academic teaching jobs so more time for researching and campaigning.
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