Chapter 4 Sculpture in the Forest: The Creek House
Until the children settle down, we rent the Creek House as a “Secluded Forest Retreat” on HomeAway (aka vrbo.com). Settling down may take awhile, since Nick is a combat medic, a job that moves him all over the globe, and Dani lives a creative life in Brooklyn, New York. They are now the age I was when we built the Creek House. I was architecturally brave, I suppose, but they are geographically braver than I was.
Vacation guests who are artists articulate what they find beautiful about it, and most guests remark that the Creek House is “cool,” both aesthetically and climatically. One artist, a sculptor, quoted Ezra Pound: “I stood still and was a tree amid the wood and knew things unseen before” and left a poem in the guestbook:
Oak branch circles back
To leave a cursive message
Just after first light.
The angled windows spotlight wild bouquets and freestyle ikebana. The morning light, especially, dances across the floor and makes you glad you’re up and alive.
From our rural road, North Rio Vista, east of Sanger, California, a driveway lined with figs and wild honeysuckle winds into a clearing. The house—a sculpture, really–always surprises me, even after 30 years, and people often gasp the first time they come around the corner.
Reactions to the Creek House have ranged from awe to amusement to disdain. On the website Architizer, a forum for architectural discussion, comments about the Lencioni Residence range from descriptive (“like poetry frozen in wood and glass”), to comical (“Hobbit’s nest,” and “que pena…Frodo Bolsón debe de estar de viaje, no se le ve en la foto de su casa,” which, by my rude translation says, “Silly Frodo must be on a journey because he’s not in the picture of his house”), to flattering (“magnificent,” “so beautiful”), to flaming (“holy s**t. tell me this is a joke” and “bad architecture and air pollution are both products of our society and both affect our health”).
My mother, who has a fine sense of architectural style and whose homes have all been tasteful, said, “I don’t think a house needs to be a sculpture,” but I have many photos of her smiling in this space.
Art loves to tell the story of my son’s kindergarten assignment to draw a house. The way Art tells the story, Nico, whose drawings were precise and accurate for a five-year-old, drew a building the shape of an eye with a circular door and a wild swoop projecting from the roof. When the teacher called home concerned that he was wasn’t following directions, he says I invited her for coffee to see for herself the house that one friend calls “The Paisley” and my sister calls “The Eye.” Our Egyptian exchange student said it was the Eye of Horace, a symbol of protection. A group of reading friends familiar with the house because we’ve met monthly since 1991, had seen it on HGTV’s Extreme Homes. “Is it actually named the Wave House?” Susan asked. “I think it’s more of a Mushroom.” Linda calls it a Snail. Friends who lived there during a remodel call it the Hobbit House. Effie Casey from Taliesin calls it a Wooden Shell. Our prosaic names for the different spaces—Creek House, Ranch House, River House, Tree House—are really just for reference.
The November 25, 2012 episode of Extreme Homes features a wide variety of buildings as usual. The bumper music between the Italian makeover and the Lencioni Residence is a pounding boom-unh-boom-boom, opening with blackberry bushes in the foreground and the house half-revealed behind. The enthusiastic voice-over announces: “Now, we’re headed to a house, which, at first glance looks like Noah’s Ark ran aground in Central California!” The camera follows the overlapping curves of the front shingles and rests on a section dappled by sunlight on a patch of yellow lichen (I guess I should do something about that). He continues: “But the beautifully curved wood-shingled roof isn’t just for looks. It’s part of a design plan engineered to help this house stand up to a couple of the state’s natural disasters—earthquakes and floods” (Boom-unh-boom-boom).
It’s an incredibly blue-sky day and the cottonwoods are in full shimmer. The announcer continues: “Dyson’s clients wanted a home with high ceilings and big open spaces.” Cut to the front of the house as the light shines on the lawn and forest. We were out of town when they filmed, so they interviewed Art on the site. “They actually had drawn a plan and had drawn an elevation,” he begins (I drew lots of elevations, but they all looked ridiculous). “They wanted a two-story,” Art tells the camera, “and they came up with an A-frame.” At this point a cool bubble-lens swivels its view from the upstairs bedroom down to the great room below. The voice-over explains the flood plane regulations that require the house to be built up 3 ½ feet from grade. Art uses his hands to explain how he met the challenges of the site requirements. “We started tweaking things and pushing things out a bit—and then I learned that they liked curves.” The music changes to a blue grass dance tune and they capture some artistic shots of light and shadow, a view through the front door and the back windows to the forest. “That’s how the roof evolved from a big point that went up too high to terminating in an arch.” Cut to that shot of the yellow shingle lichen again, beautiful in its own natural way. “The roof, made from red cedarwood shingle is composed of two huge interlocking curves. The upper curve allows for more interior space, while the inverted lower curve provides a visual counterpoint to the arching roof by swinging down to the flood-proof foundation. Plus, the shape of these locked curves is very stable, providing extra support against the shock of an earthquake.” Here, they capture a wonderful evening shot of the deck and the house lit up through the back windows. The lens must be a special wide-angle because, to me, it appears the photographer shoots from deep in the berry brambles. The figs and sycamore leaves frame the shot—it’s just brilliant.
He continues as the camera returns to the interior, showcasing the steel and wood chevrons of the banister: “Inside, the home is not large, but, because the interior is almost entirely one room with 21-foot-high ceiling, it feels like a much bigger space.” Art explains, It’s a great-room in the sense that it has the entry, the dining room, the kitchen, the living space all in one, but it’s a very small great-room.” To illustrate, the camera travels from area to area showing the kitchen and breakfast bar, living room, looking over the sofa to the deck outside, dining room, also focusing on the view to the forest.
The bluegrass music leads out to the deck and they capture the details of the wood slats on the fascia reflected in the glass. “On the second floor is the study loft and a small den,” says the announcer as the camera pans around. This points out to me how flexible that loft space is as it’s been an art studio, nursery, library, playroom, teenage girl’s bedroom, all with a view to the forest. “The two levels have very few internal walls separating them,” he points out. The camera becomes mesmerized with the etched glass under the stairs that lights from behind before describing the “eye-catching balustrade that would allow the homeowner, a blacksmith, to show off his skills.” Art tells the story. “We came up with a design, and I showed it to [Dennis]. He said, ‘when I told you I knew how to weld, I meant I can attach two pieces of metal. I’m not a craftsman.’ As you can see, he really rose to the occasion.”
I’m still pondering the next statement: “The open plan, the high gallery, the curved beams give the building a feeling of a Medieval hall [Medieval hall?], but one well-suited for California’s quake and flood country,” and the last twang of the guitar resonates as a time lapse photo of the sun sets in 80 brief frames. When the suns catches the sliver of a kitchen window and creates a fireball, the photographer lets it over-expose and flood into oblivion, resolving impressively on the Cor-Ten rust wall of the next extreme home.
The sculptural design suggests similes, but resists a label (and presented a quandary for this book’s title—what style am I actually advocating?). Dyson adamantly defies labeling his work. He says, traditionally, many architects or architectural scholars design walls or force designs into categories, but this tendency, “just creates walls and separates us.” Both of my houses fit pretty snugly into the “organic” category, as Art designed it from the inside out to accommodate views or cross-breezes, to interact with the landscape, integrate the home into its surroundings, or to respond organically to our personalities and our needs. For example, the Creek House design derived from a problem—already tall and petite, it had to be built up because of the flood zone.
Mark Hammons, in a 1995 essay in The Architecture of Arthur Dyson calls Dyson’s work “reflexive” as it reflects the setting or emerges organically from it as it reflects and emerges organically from the personalities of the clients—same thing, right? While you might not call all of his work organic in the tradition of Louis Sullivan or Frank Lloyd Wright, all of Art’s work does emerge organically from an authentic source in different ways. Giuliano Chelazzi, Italian architect and leader of the Amici di Frank Lloyd Wright in Italy, in a European book about Dyson’s work calls it meditative: L’Archittetura Meditiva. Chelazzi quotes architect Bruno Zevi in the Italian magazine L’Architettura, who describes Dyson as an “authentic architect [I like the term “authentic architecture”], an animated voice that spreads optimism, a rare outburst in a world suffocated by frustration, by indifference and cynicism, by ecleticism and by rhetoric and grayness.” As a scholar, Chelazzi is analyzing the source and inspiration for this universal organic idea, but he claims that other Italian scholars took Zevi’s words and Dyson’s work as, “a provocation” similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masieri Memorial project in Venice. Chelazzi molifies this conflict with a quote from Renzo Piano, who writes: “my desire to explore unbeaten paths is in perfect accord with my gratitude to tradition…Certainly it is the inheritance of a humanist culture.” Maybe this is “humanist” architecture.
Perhaps “natural architecture” describes the work. A while back, Amazon, in its omniscient wisdom, suggested for me a book entitled In Search of Natural Architecture by David Pearson. When it came in the mail, I started reading it from the back (a habit from reading architectural magazines, where the subjects I’m interested in are usually towards the end). I stopped at the Prince Residence, Corona Del Mar (page 69) in the section on “Healing Architecture” and passed it over to Greg, who was reading the Choral Journal. “Look,” I said, “the shingle pattern’s like our house” (we were living in the Creek House at the time). He started flipping pages from the front. “Did you see this?” he asked casually. In the introduction, just before the first chapter on “Ancestral Archetypes” was a photo of our house. The text reads:
Arthur Dyson’s professional training is grounded in the very roots of organic architecture. He first started as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, then worked for Bruce Goff. Later, he returned to his native California to work for William Gray Purcell of the revered Purcell & Elmslie partnership—George Grant Elsmlie having been the former chief draughtsman to Louis Sullivan.
Since he set up practice in Fresno, in 1969, he has produced a cascade of novel and sophisticated designs. He prefers to describe his work as “reflexive” rather than “organic” as its focus is to try to understand and express the flux of life and its myriad relationships. According to Dyson, the resulting architecture is not only practical in terms of economy and environment, but possesses the vital spark of originality that integrates and exalts the worth of the individual within the surging field of life. The building is an interactive membrane between the dynamic forces seeking expression from within and those coming from outside.
One of his most successful designs for a private house is the Lencioni Residence [the Creek House], completed in 1986 [sic—actually1988] and situated in a forested glade in Sanger, California. It was the rhythm of the site together with the adventurous ideas of the young clients that helped Dyson to create the design’s dramatic sinuous and fluid forms.
When Nico was 22 and going by Nick, visiting the Creek House on leave from the Army, I asked him to draw a house to see what he’d come up with. He sketched the default peaked-roof right-angled structure with symmetrical windows for eyes and the mouth a centered door. Yet, when we were talking about it, he paused, looked up at the curved ceiling and swooped his buff tattooed arm over his head in an arc. “There was that day in kindergarten when Mrs. Varner asked us to draw a house, and I drew it like this.” He repeated the curve over his head.
In the Fresno Bee recently, Donald Munro retold Art’s story: “Lapp’s son depicted a structure shaped like something you’d kick through a pair of goal posts. The teacher scolded him for fooling around.” I received emails and comments from people co-opting this story as an example of how public education discourages creativity and encourages conformity. There might be something to that argument, but Nico was honestly never held back at Centerville School. And while the house is curved and pointed on both ends, I don’t like the description “football-shaped” or “Football House” as a nickname. It is an organic form, neither plastic nor pigskin.
Actually, Harvey Ferrero, who apprenticed with Art under Bruce Goff told me a story similar to Art’s about Goff’s spiral-shaped Bavinger house. It seems one of the Bavinger kids’ teachers had him draw a house; when he drew a facsimile of the Goff design, the teacher’s response was “That’s not a house!” Ferrero laughed and said that was clearly an opportunity for the teacher to come see where the child lived!
When people remark about my unusual house, Art jokes, “It’s really just the first. We’re going to build a whole tract of them, every other one flip-flopped in alternating colors.”
Sometimes he jokes that he came up with the design on Superbowl Sunday—he just couldn’t get footballs out of his mind, hence the shape. It’s a joke!
Of the front door, when we commented that it was reminiscent of a peace sign, Art shrugged and said he could design something more militaristic if we liked.
In this house, corners don’t die into right angles; lines meander and curve and continue the whole length of the house, inside and outside; ideas and conversations are likewise unrestrained. When I spoke to her in 2011, Taliesin sculptor, Heloise Christa praised Dyson for his “feeling for space” which she says is a rare gift and she retold a story about him teaching his granddaughter Haley the concept of spatial relationships by arranging and rearranging chairs in a room.
Nick’s sister Dani, home from her senior year as a theatre major at Santa Clara University, slept back up in the loft where she lived as a little girl. The room has no front wall or aural privacy, but she says she feels cozy there. When just my daughter and I are in the house, we carry on sotto voce conversations between the upstairs and down because there’s no wall to block the sound. When her boyfriend called, she ducked into the bathroom that we tucked into the side attic as an afterthought to Skype in private.
From living here as a child, she remembers playing dress up with her brother or playhouse in a card table barn or under the slide in the yard. Window frogs. Grazing on blackberries.
“You won’t be pleased to hear this,” she said feigning guilt, “But when we were living up at the ranch house and renters lived here, I used to climb up the burm, across the garage roof and up onto the curved roof where it was peaceful and I just floated, close to the sky.” In fact, when her east coast boyfriend visited one summer, one of the first things she did was lead him out onto the balcony off the master bedroom, climbing up from the balcony onto the roof where they talked and sang for hours, cloaked in the summer evening.
Steve Danforth, who organized a group of architectural clients into the Wrightian Association, produced a video magazine called Wrightian OA, funded by the Graham Foundation. The fifth of the series featured a group of Wrightians on a field trip from Los Angeles to tour some of Arthur Dyson’s works.
For the establishing shot, the camera pans a museum exhibit of artifacts of Dyson design such as cardboard models, a plant stand from a church, a chandelier from the Baughman house. Dennis had made an extra balustrade segment for the exhibit, which was held at the Fresno Art Museum in the 90s. Art opens the talk at the Fresno Art Museum with one of his favorite stories. He says clients who know his work will come in and glance about nervously. They insist that they don’t want anything too different; they just don’t want something identical to everyone else’s. He waits for the set-up. “’We really like your work,’ they begin, and pause; at which point, Art cuts them off and assures them, “Don’t say any more. I can judge, just by looking at you, you’re really common people. You’re very average. You wouldn’t want anything different.” The audience laughs, and he smiles. “I think that’s helped a little bit.”
On the video, he interprets several of the homes and they interview Tom and Sue Jacksha, then the group descends on the Lencioni Residence (Creek House). Art explains some of the cost-effective elements of the house, which I explain later in a chapter on feasibility, and he tells some of the stories. “Because it’s a small space,” Art explains, “the walls are perforated and opened to expand the area.”
The cameraman asked us to come into the garage. Art explains the “skyward-directed windows” of the fireproof shop, which Dennis had fabricated out of steel tubes welded together, and glazed with Lexan, which allowed some bending—“not all of them are flat planes,” Art adds. Then they ask us about the design.
“We were surprised and happy,” said Den cautiously. “We pretty much trusted him with design. There were some complicated and trying times, but we thought the end product would be worth it.
The interviewer caught us both in an unguarded response, and we answered almost in unison: “It isn’t like you can go backwards after you see an Art Dyson design.”
They asked what the children thought, how they might be different. Of course, this house is all they had known; they were 3 and 4 years old. “They’re kind of ornery,” Dennis said. I added that they have big imaginations. Earlier on the video, the camera caught Nico dressed as Bernard (the mouse from Rescuers) with his cape and tail.
Art explained that the shingles on north and south were placed, “in varying courses and widths to accentuate the sensuous lines of the house” and explained how the builder chalked out the lines for the shinglers to follow.
The Wrightian tour ends at the Baughman Residence in the rolling hills an hour south, with sun on the boulders, lot of trees, a deck built around tall native oak tree, a Native Indian stone chimney, and enameled metal roof against the woodpeckers.
“One thing I’ve been fortunate,” Art concludes. “I’ve had clients willing to look at alternatives, wealthy—maybe not monetary, but with a wealth of spirit and adventure which I try to show—the impetus and inspiration behind these homes.”
There are three tenets of Art’s designs that make particular sense: Time, light, and sound.
Art suggests that architecture is experienced as, “a time sequence when individuals travel around and through the space.” He points out the obvious, that human beings are kinetic by nature, and as such, alter the perception of scale and the rhythm of a space. When I imagine our house, I don’t imagine it empty and static, but full of people—who’s in it? Greg and me; Greg, me, and the kids; holiday crowds; friends at a concert or a dinner party. In my anticipation of any event, I glide through the house observing the dynamics of flow. As Frank Baughman, whose home is on the cover of The Architecture of Arthur Dyson, says of his house: “The house is exciting, but it’s very livable.”
Art frequently refers to angles of light at different time of day and of the year. He favors angled windows and skylights—this explains the angles on many of his houses (not mine). Without stars and sunsets, and access to the out-of doors, he contends, you don’t know whether the wind is blowing or if the birds are singing, or if it’s raining or if there’s a sunset. “We try to bring those things back into the buildings,” he says. I have described so many prism light moments or moments when the light dances across a room.
The third tenet is sound-sensory. Dyson says that architecture has become significantly more impacted by auditory interference. “With the introduction of energy standards that prevent not only thermal transfer, but the natural sounds of nature,” he says, “we are further disconnected from our biological connections.” In “A Search for the Soul of Architecture,” he writes, “The wind in the trees, the rain, and other echoes of nature provided calming patterns which resonated with the human heart.” Arboreal sounds “harkened to our primordial memories of a safe environment absent of predators.” He laments that the “songs of nature” which once soothed us are today replaced by “the harsh mechanical noises of garbage disposals and air conditioners.” It’s taken some work to convince the county planning department that we don’t need either.
To conclude, Dyson explains that architecture should celebrate nature. “Too many homes are isolated from their natural surroundings—the soaring rooflines are in response to view lines or view corridors,” he explains, not random aesthetic tricks. “Architects try to build the romance around our clients—improve the quality of life for them. Their spirit, their uniqueness really spawned the worlds that you see here.”
The Creek House is like a bird blind. From the kitchen windows, I watched herons gigging for frogs. There used to be a family of dun-colored bobcats that gamboled on the lawn. One time, Dani was home from college, we were talking in the kitchen, and a full-sized deer surprised itself as much as us by bounding from the thicket onto the lawn. An insurance adjuster, one time, sat at the dining room table discussing a fender bender, and a raccoon climbing the tree just out the window behind her slipped. I started smiling, almost laughing in the midst of this serious conversation. She took one photo of the fender and spent the roll on the house and the raccoon.
If Art’s designs are customized for each client: “the appearance of the work is a product of the individual uniqueness of the clients…to fulfill their potential, and to live and work in the most meaningful way,” what impact does the space have on a second owner or someone who rents? Certainly hermit crabs situate themselves into another organic space that was created for another creature, but we are not crabs, or as psychologically malleable.
When we moved to the ranch house, my dear friend Kristine DeOrian (now Walter) moved in, making a clean break from an oppressive job and a malingering ex-husband. Temporary as we knew the move was (she was engaged to Riley Walter by then), we still look back on those times as enchanted. We worked it out so Monday and Wednesday, I would cook and have all four kids for homework and chores, and she would sort out the path of her life (she has since been named Woman of the Year in Fresno, has been instrumental in several political campaigns, hosted of a cable show, and much more); she would reciprocate on Tuesday and Thursday, so I could write. Kris started college as chemistry major, so I often heard all about the kitchen sink experiments at the dinner table. At 6:00 any evening, Dennis arrived at the appropriate house and announced. “Hi, Honeys—I’m home.” He got to play co-op dad, and we’d all eat dinner together four nights a week. Such a life made me fantasize about a compound with my children when they were grown. We’d live back in the Creek House. The one with the biggest family would live in the Ranch House, and we’d build a third house on the south side of the ranch, facing the forest and a view toward the river. Of course, life had different ideas for me.
I met Kris for sushi recently and asked what it was like for her to live in a house designed for me. We are similar in some ways—Dennis said he liked her because she was like me–but, of course, we’re different in many ways. She said liked the way the small living room expands as it merges with the deck. “Upstairs is astonishing; it’s like living in a treehouse.” She remembered the play of light and shadow, calling it “meditative, almost sacred.” It was a good place for her to regroup and poise herself for a conscious refocusing of her life.
Kris’ daughter Sarah DeOrian, visiting when she was 21, said she mostly remembers the setting tucked in the riverbottom forest– searching for bullfrogs and polliwogs, splashing in the creek, grooming Grecian, the old horse we kept on the property. “I loved that I felt totally outside, even when I was inside,” she said. “Because the architecture is so unique, we could play explorer in the house.” She remembers climbing all over the house as if it were a jungle gym, up the burm to the balcony. Still, Sarah is aware on another level how important the move was for reasons unrelated to architecture (but possibly soothed by it), even though she was only a first-grader at the time. “It was time for doing something different. And it was different; maybe since the house was so unlike our old one, that helped—it was a risk [to quit a job, move, remarry], but moving into that house was my mom’s first step for happiness.”
One challenge of the house, Kris says 15 years later, was furnishing it: “It’s not for someone who’s rigid about having a sofa, two overstuffed chairs, and a coffee table. In this house, you need something that can move for the different purposes of the room.” A stylish decorator, she has modular cubes in her current home which she says would work. She found the small cupboards in the kitchen frustrating: “I could never remember what I put in which little cubbie.” She said that for a family, there’s not much privacy. It’s also not for a person with lots of “stuff.” She said it was a challenge to pare down to the essentials, but she said that editing process was healthy for her.
There were a few wonderful renters over the ten years. There was the violinist/nurse with a newborn. Downstairs was nothing but a table, two kitchen chairs and a music stand, upstairs just a bed and a crib. A doctor in transition stayed there a year. Once, Dennis visited him in his office, and there was a photo of the Creek House.
Newly wed and newly hired to teach English as my colleague at Reedley College, poet David Dominguez brought his new wife Alma to live in the Creek House for a year. Alma remarked that even though she was young, in her early 20s, when David went out of town once for a few days, she was never scared. She liked being surrounded by wildlife; she loved listening to the forest. One time she came to the door to say goodbye to David as he left for work, and right behind him on the other side of the fence was a bobcat. “One time we were barbecuing and we heard a howling. Another time, we were watching TV, and a fox walked right up the stairs and came up to the slider like it was no big deal. Elwood the cat was underneath the bench outside: the two just looked at each other, kind of nodded heads, ‘How’s it goin’? Nice night. Yeah—people are inside—humans.’” At their house in the suburbs, they have tried to recreate the forest by planting blackberries on two sides of the yard and fig trees.
We had also been newlyweds in the house. We’d hang a mosquito net and sleep out on the balcony when the weather was balmy. It’s no surprise that Dominguez wrote poems here for his bride. He allowed me to reprint two that originally appeared in Askew literary journal as well as his second collection of poetry The Ghost of Cesar Chavez (C&R Press).
Song for My Beloved
-The Song of Songs 4:1-2
The melting snow collects in the creek
surrounding the house my wife and I are leaving forever.
Cattails are singing, and the moon
slows its trip around the earth to listen.
I don’t like being sentimental,
but tonight, I can’t help it, so I tell her,
“Your hair is like a flock of goats.”
My wife stretches her limbs on the blanket,
and I know she wants more.
Yerba mansa growing along the water’s edge
blinds the willow looking for a place to root.
“I don’t want to move,” she says.
She asks impossible questions: “Will we be happy?”
I’m watching the current ripple over
pebbles lining the creek bed.
I wish the moon was a handful of bones that
the owl in the oak could read:
two hoots mean “no,” and one hoot means “yes.”
“Tell me about my mouth,” she says, bending her wrist.
“Your teeth are like a flock of ewes.”
I splash water onto her face and look downstream
where broken willow bounces along
the mud-caked bank.
David explained what it was like to leave: “My 86-year-old aunt, when she goes into a room and begins to paint, she feels like somebody special is with her. She’s talking about ghosts. She’s talking about her mother. She’s talking about her father. She’s talking about the monks that she sees at night. She says they are with her. When she starts to paint, she feels as if she’s in a secluded room where nothing can touch her. When she’s done painting and she closes the door, she says every single time she feels she’s lost a part of herself in the room. That’s what it was like living here, except it wasn’t just one room, it was all 5 acres.
At night, my wife and I open the French doors,
slip into bed, and let the maple trees saturate the room.
Once, as the balcony filled with stars,
my beloved told me about her day:
how she saw a vixen and its kits reaching into a fig,
eat until plump, and skitter down a fence post,
and when the troop was safe,
the mother stared at my wife, its pupils warm in the light.
I can’t say, “We won’t miss it here,”
but the ranch will never be ours,
something my tenant heart forgets
when bullfrogs in the swamp begin croaking-
the rise and fall of a song soothing
as crickets grinding their legs under the leaves.
Greg and I went to the Creek House for dinner last night with the grandkids and their mom, who passed Japanese udon soup and a cucumber salad over the high kitchen counter. Greg slid the wine glasses off the overhead stemware rack as if he lived here (he had, and the crystal is ours). I sat with my back to the nighttime windows facing the balustrade Dennis had built, the arc of ceiling curving towards me. We listened to stories of little league, reading awards, and plans for the end of the school year. The space wrapped comfortably around our small and festive group.