Friday, July 13, 2012

Finding Magic in Our Own Back Yard

Magic Tree
It was almost a year ago that I first saw it. Making my way home through a tangle of unexplored back roads, I found myself on a tiny side street near Porter Square in Cambridge. Brick sidewalks, Victorian houses, overgrown yards, overarching tree branches. It was getting dark and I rode right past the mysterious structure just as I caught a glimpse of it out of the corer of my eye. It was like something out of a fairy tale. I told myself that I would return the following day to have a better look. And I tried - but for the life of me, I could not find the street again. I retraced my steps and criss-crossed the little neighbourhood several times, but to no avail. Eventually I gave up, wondering whether my tired mind could have imagined it. ...Until two days ago, when quite by accident I found myself on the same little street again and suddenly there it was: A tiny house, fashioned from a hollowed-out tree trunk. 

Magic Tree
Now that I had more time to examine it, it was even better than I remembered. There was a shingled roof with a weathervane on top. The interior was carved out neatly to form a cozy chamber just large enough to fit a child or an adult in a crouching position. Inside were stacks of children's books, as well as a guest book where visitors left each other messages. There was no indication that the tree house was privately owned; it seemed to be intended for public access.

Tree Cat
And as I stuck my head in, it turned out I was not the only visitor. In the corner sat a small cat. Her mottled brown coat blended in with the inside of the tree and I had not noticed her there in the dark. I was doubly taken aback, because at first glance it appeared the cat was reading. But upon closer examination she was just grooming her paw on top of an open book. Her routine interrupted by my presence, the cat jumped out and began circling the tree in a proprietary manner, making communicative chirping sounds each time she passed me.

Magic Tree
A woman and her grandson walked by and were equally intrigued by the scene. They assumed the cat was mine and that I'd brought her in my bicycle bag. But I explained that the cat was probably the owner of the tree house. It seemed like a reasonable enough conclusion. The boy climbed inside to look at the books and the cat interacted with all of us - jumping in and out of the tree, circling, and chirping.  She did not appear to be disturbed by our presence; it was more like she was trying to talk to us.

Tree Cat
This time around I remembered the location and later did some investigating. Turns out the structure is modeled after Winnie the Pooh's House. It's a book and diary exchange for the neighbourhood children. Created by local furniture artist Mitch Ryerson, the house was carved from the trunk of a silver maple that was knocked down in a winter storm fifteen years ago. Since then it's become a secret local landmark.

The neighbourhood we live in is made up of lots of tiny pocket neighbourhoods that are really their own little worlds. It still amazes me how often I stumble upon new things here, especially of an unusual or mysterious nature. More often than not it happens when I am out on my bike - looking for short cuts, or for a shady route away from the sunny main road. Finding a bit of magic in our own back yard is par of the course when traveling on two wheels.

35 comments:

  1. Soooooooooooo........... What street is it on ? I'd love to visit.

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    1. I don't think the residents would appreciate me publicising the location, so email me if you're interested... or better yet, ride your bike around and find it yourself? : )

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  2. Wow. If I were a kid I would go crazy for it. Heck, I am as an adult.

    It's privately created, publicly usable things like this tree-house that makes a neighborhood a neighborhood. Near me, there are a pair of trees that neighbors decorate for all the holidays and encourage people to interact with. I go out of my way to pass them. Pictures and story here: http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/a-neighborhood-blooms-on-bryant-street/

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    1. Just curious: How do you interact with a tree?

      And how do you encourage people to interact with a tree?

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  3. Well isn't that spiffy! I love the idea. At first I was thinking that it was just a shelter (like for kids waiting for the school bus ). Very cool.

    Those torties will talk your head off. :)

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  4. That's one of the great things about cycling: You can find a "treasure" in some place you've cycled a hundred times before.

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  5. Just a few days ago, I was doing an evening ride around our local bay. There is a section of river that enters the bay and a river path that is used by many riders, walkers and runners. As I rode along I spied a fish jump out of the river and splash back down. Then he did it again. And again. He was going in the same direction I was and was right next to me along the path. He must have jumped 10 times over the length of 50 meters or so.


    I stopped to take a photo and he kept on for two or three more jumps. Then all was quite. He was either training for the Olympic high hurdles in London or was trying to impress a girl friend. It was pretty cool. It seemed to be a 3 pound Mackerel maybe. Good sized and made a real splash.

    I've seen beautiful Blue Herons, flights of Pelicans and other birds on this ride. You just don't get that intimate encounter while in a car, boxed into an artificial environment with the talk radio blaring and so busy trying to get somewhere. I've lived in San Diego for 35 years and am just discovering hidden neighborhoods as I ride with groups on exploratory rides. It's the sense of place that V.S.Naipaul eludes to in his writing that reinforces my well being and connectedness to my place in the world.

    Ride well and be safe out there.

    OKB

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  6. Neat, and I love the fact that the cat appears to be the defacto owner. Kitty looks like it might have tortoise shell markings, and every torty I have know have been very vocal beings.

    Aaron

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  7. I saw a picture of this in your twitter feed and was intrigued. Now that I know the neighborhood, I will be searching for it, bringing one of my boys along!

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  8. This sums up the magic of cycling, delightful unexpected discoveries...

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  9. A friend and I found that same little house, at least ten years ago. A few minutes later we saw a bald man walking down the street wearing a golden-yellow blazer -- with the top of his head spray-painted gold to match (with little trickles running down his forehead). One of the most surreal days of my life.

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  10. That's one of those great little local finds. It makes my day when I run across something like that. A couple years ago I found a lake hidden in the middle of my city right off one of the main roads, but no one knows it's there unless they live in the surrounding neighborhoods. It's really a glorified drainage pond at the top of a local watershed but it has a small dock and a decent-sized island in the middle. It's sprouted a number of "No Trespassing" signs since I first found it, but I still usually see people fishing or walking their dogs when I go there. That first time I went down the blocked off road though, there was no one else around and it was an exhilarating, magical feeling.

    Thanks for sharing this place with us.

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  11. I'm glad you make posts about things like this too. There are many unexpected pleasures that result from riding a bike, especially if you love nature and animals.

    I haven't found any cute little tree houses as of yet, in my area, but have had interesting animal encounters. A little surprising due to being in the middle of the city, although there are still a lot of wooded areas in my neighborhood. These sightings may be related to being out late in the evening (best time to avoid the heat) as well as from being on my bike. Recently a large owl flew out of a tree as I passed, continued in front of me along the street a bit, then up to perch on a branch high on the other side of the street tree facing me. It was breath taking -- a large bird, wings outstretched, flying in front of me! I also see little bunnies hopping about out while on the bike in the evening, and while that may not sound too remarkable, a recent article in the neighborhood paper spoke about how it was common in the past decades to see rabbits in the neighborhood. I guess they are still here, just better at hiding themselves except to those out on a quiet bike ride. I've been seeing possums lately too, which are pretty spooky at first, since they can be mistaken for giant rats if you are not familiar with them. Of course there are a lot of cats out and about too, and I feel I might have started to become somewhat familiar to many of them, since they no longer flee as I ride by. No streams for fish though around here!

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  12. Lovely!

    When I was a young lad I would look out
    from the balcony overlooking my parents
    backyard, and beyond over a large valley.
    The other side was covered with leafy suburbia,
    but amongst the houses was this huge pine tree,
    much taller than the rest. I spent many a weekend
    riding around those backstreets, looking for
    that tree, but never found it.
    As soon as I would get close, it was lost amongst
    the rooftops and smaller trees.

    Now I live on the other side of the world and
    to this day that tree is a mystery.
    I'm glad you found yours.

    John I

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  13. It's wonderful, isn't it, the mosaic of little self-contained worlds that are cloistered away in our own local neighbourhoods, places you'd never find let alone explore if it were not for your bicycle - who goes exploring any more by car? Certainly not down side streets where it might be tricky to manoeuvere or park if you wanted to get out and have a nose around. It's just another of the many reasons a bicycle is the perfect vehicle for discovery.

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  14. How did you know it was a female cat?

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    1. The tortoise shell cats are all female. Very rarely they might be male, but they'd be sterile. Also the proportions of the head and rear end indicate the typical pear shape common to females of several species. Maybe it's had kittens because the undercarriage is quite saggy.

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    2. The kitty was happy to show off her undercarriage : )

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  15. Tortoiseshell cats are almost always female - just like calicos.

    I live right in the same neighborhood and now I am totally inspired to go find this wonderful little structure.

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  16. Absolutely amazing! What a great story. I love finding treasures like that!

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  17. Reminds me of when I was in Bonn a few years ago, on holiday from the UK.

    In a public park, there was a glass fronted cabinet with second hand books. The idea was that people put their unwanted books for others to read and put back.

    The first thing I thought of when I saw it was, if it was in the UK, how long before the cabinet was smashed and the books torn up and strewn all over the park...?

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  18. I don´t know if i´ll call that cat "small" ! Just a excuse to write and tell that I enjoy these and many other entries of your blog. Regards from Vigo! (NW of Spain)

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    1. She was small compared to my cats - who are so large I have a hard time holding them!

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  19. My cat is a torty and she meows non stop, I didn't know it was a characteristic of her type of cat. It is very endearing and strangers always warm to her.

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  20. Did you not happen to look down near the base of the tree trunk and see who lives there?

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    1. I read about that part later, but I think it's under construction at the moment. Need to go back and check now.

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    2. we happened upon it walking in that charming neighbourhood when my daughter was about 4 and fit into the little house perfectly. A few doors north of it I recall that the trees were anthropomorphized....

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  21. Between the shingle roof and the talking cat, it reminds me of something out of a Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki movie. Amazing.

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  22. What a fantastic little slice of life. I think the book idea is completely wonderful. I also approve of the shingles.

    I'd love to make something like that happen here. The local board doesn't seem to approve of loose cats, though. (So Tweaker has to dress up in full roadrace kit to fool 'em.)

    CK

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  23. thats such a generous and lovely 'thing' to share, quite magical too i expect? unexpected and delightful - thank you for sharing it with me ;)

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  24. This is precisely why I like cycling. I see all sorts of things that drivers will never see.

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  25. How can i get in touch with Mitch Ryerson? We may be related. My father was Charles Robert Ryerson,who died in 1947 while my mother was pregnant with me. I have never had any contact with my father's family.

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  26. This kind of magic is the very best part of cycling, isn't it? Since I began riding again, I find myself discovering all sorts of fascinating small treasures I never noticed, in spite of having lived in my current geographic area for nearly two decades.

    Motoring just can't compare. And it's harder to take photos, too.

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