Monday, March 2, 2009


Dalene and I met in graduate school in Vermont, both studying natural resources. One of the big topics of discussion and debate among colleagues related to the concept of ecological restoration and land management. When resource managers "restore" a site, what are they restoring it to? Do you design the restoration simply to improve ecosystem function, or do you pick a moment in time - a snapshot of the past - to restore to. In Vermont, restoration might mean reclaiming pasture from overgrown forest - cutting back to the stonewalls that once marked boundaries and loosely kept sheep and livestock penned in. Restoration might mean creating age and species diversity in a forest to begin to approximate the healthy, uneven-aged forest of the area. If one really wanted to push it, restoration might bring us back 14,000 years to a glacially-scoured landscape being repopulated by species following warming temperatures and chasing the ice back to the poles. Restoration is both scientific and arbitrary at the same time.

Like resource managers, historic preservationists must define restoration. Every layer of wallpaper, every addition, every moved window, kitchen improvement, and floor finish is part of the historic fabric of the structure. The 1790 12 over 12 windows and the 1960's wallpaper are all a part of the house's history. What do we keep? What do we trash? If we were truly restoring the farm to 1790, I'd have to build an outhouse. The chimney mass would have to be rebuilt and the little hearth upstairs, long gone, that the children used to stay warm by, would have to be recreated.

The truth is, our restored landscape is going to be part wilderness, part 1850's sheep pasture, and part 2009 retreat. The restored house will have indoor plumbing, a modern refrigerator, 200 year old hardware and flooring, hand blown windows, and with luck, high speed internet. The landscape - human and natural - cannot be restored to a specific time - it cannot help but reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly of its history.

Like the land and the house, our healing, our grieving, has to be designed to embrace and incorporate our history. We cannot roll back the clock, pick a moment in time, and restore ourselves to when we were naive enough to take our son's safe arrival for granted. We wouldn't want to go back for too long to the painful, shocking, unreality of the days immediately after Baker died. But we need some of that to make it real - like keeping a hideous scrap of wallpaper in the back of your cabinets where you can see it. Our personal restoration then becomes a melange of our individual pasts, our early carefree days as a couple, the excitement and hope that we had as we waited for our sweet Baker to arrive, the unspeakable suffering that we have endured having lost him, the bond between us that has been cemented, and Baker's little brother that is on his way. That is our landscape history. That is the fabric of our collective building. It is our story, and it is the way that we incorporate our dear baby into our lives.


Dalene said...

What a beautiful way of describing how we are incorporating our boy into
our history. I'll have to ruminate on that for a while.

Lani said...

thank you chris for commenting on our blog and for writing a new post on yours. its been wonderful for us to write as a team and when i discovered your blog and saw you both doing the same, i felt a connection to you guys.
this was beautifully written. I think of you 2 often and how you are doing with this new pregnancy and the coming birthday of your beautiful first born son Baker.
your restoring project sounds wonderful. thanks so much for this.

Cara said...

"But we need some of that to make it real - like keeping a hideous scrap of wallpaper in the back of your cabinets where you can see it."

Oh - wow did I resonate with this line. Such a powerful way of showing how our past and future will always be wrapped around the moments we had our child.

Thinking of you - and, so you know I will be out of town Thurs - Mon. We'll connect when I get back.