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Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 7.1 (2005) 61-71

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Thinking in Circles

A circle is a necessity. Otherwise you would see no one. We each have our circle.
–Gertrude Stein, "A Circular Play"

"Oh my God," the man says. He is about 70 and balanced on one foot in our doorway, trying to remove his left shoe while staring across the round room. He teeters a little, leans back against a wall, and smiles. "Will you just look at that?" Releasing his foot, he is oblivious of everything except the view through an arc of south-facing windows, "If I lived here," he whispers, "I'd never get anything done. I'd just watch the woods."

He is at our house to see and, we hope, to buy Beverly's art. For two weekends every October, we turn our tiny, cedar-sided yurt into a gallery, hanging about a dozen paintings on the walls, mounting several more on small easels here and there, perching others against boxes on the kitchen counter or against the credenza on the living room floor. She is a painter of landscapes and still lifes, mostly in oil, the work informed as much by her early training in geology as by her later study of Impressionist styles and her spiritual practice.

These six days in mid-autumn, during the countywide Art Harvest Open Studio Tour, our home is taken over by the rich colors, forms, and textures of her work. And we open our isolated, normally tranquil place to all comers. That can be a deeply unsettling experience. We have only 615 square feet of circular space to work with, much of it glass, so it feels as crowded as the lobby of a concert hall at intermission. We bake banana bread and muffins, and I sit at the dining room table with an emptied tackle box to collect checks, a receipt book, and a price list. [End Page 61]

The room's footprint is precarious. There are obstacles everywhere. And the art, you would think, is hard to avoid. But this man, enraptured by the view, has woven his way over to our south-facing wall, which is nearly all glass, to look across the valley and into the Eola Hills.

"If you ever want to sell it, I'll buy this house," he says.

Beverly and I look at each other. During the tour, we have seen and heard this several times every hour. It is not a serious offer, we know that, but it feels strange now because—remarkable as it is, much as we love living here—we are talking again about selling our home and moving.

We are moving to the Oregon coast. We need to be near water and feel open, wild space around us.

After 11 years of living together in the woods of rural western Oregon, we feel utterly enclosed by our 20 acres of oak, maple, wild cherry, and Douglas fir. The forest is always trying to close in further, too, relentless in its efforts to reclaim what has been cleared. If we have been away for a couple of weeks, we return to find things around the house a little tighter, vines sprawling closer to the house, grasses looming, tree limbs heavier and nearer, the few carefully nurtured flowers consumed by encroaching deer. Even when we are at home and our two aged cats are theoretically on the job, mice colonize the storage shed, nesting in boxes that contain old computer monitors or copies of now defunct magazines that published my poetry in the 1970s. Frogs take over the small pond Beverly built for her water plants, their mating calls keeping us awake all spring. The work of maintaining the house and land seems endless.

The land is hard on this hillside, too rocky for the gardening Beverly loves, full of boulders and stones and rubble slathered over thick pillars of basalt. A few years ago, when we built a small enclosed gazebo for her to use as her art studio, Beverly prepared the site by...


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