Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tallagsen Lane

Another post inspired by Little Heathens. Fam, any corrections?

I lived in a dozen houses growing up, but when I think of my childhood, what first comes to mind is often our house on Tallagsen Lane, in Poulsbo, Washington. Here’s how you get to our house from Poulsbo’s quaint, little downtown with its souvenir Viking hats and tourist-trap bakery: Go up the steep hill away from the water. Pass either the high school and elementary school or our church, depending on which way you go. Then travel back down a steep hill. On either side will be thick green woods. My image of these woods looks to me today a bit dark and perhaps menacing. But I don’t think we ever saw them that way at the time.

When the road curves sharply to your left, turn right onto a dirt road. Follow the road past an old farm house, with a few horses out to pasture. Pass the house of some Seattle yuppies. Pass a large open meadow. Then the road will begin to climb, and the woods will close in thick on both sides. In fact, if you were to stand in the middle of the road and look straight up, you’d see only small patches of cloudy blue sky.

Within a few hundred yards, you’ll come to a small clearing. There you can see the sky, though the sun is positioned to shine on this little spot only a few hours a day and, statistically speaking, those hours are likely to be overcast. And in that clearing is our house. I remember it as big and rambling, though it probably wasn’t. Brown and green, just like the woods around it. A narrow band of lawn encircles it, and my mother has planted flowers in the window box, hoping there will be enough sun to nourish them.

We lived in that house from when I was in fifth grade and until I started high school, but we never owned the house. Our arrival occurred at the nadir of my parents’ financial lives and marked the beginning a new career path for my father.

The house sat on X acres of wild forest. If you hopped the fence along our back yard, you were on Indian Reservation--miles of more forest. This was ideal for my dad, who is the just the kind of person to love walking out one’s door and through empty forests. It was also ideal for my brothers. I don’t know all the things they did in the woods. But even for me—the unadventurous, overresponsible bookworm—the forest was enchanting.

We kids set up house in one spot where a few fallen trees intersected. Thick moss grew three or four inches deep on the trees’ bark. We pulled it off in big, thick slabs and used it for carpeting and bedding in our house. Just where the forest met the meadow down the road was a dilapidated old barn. Rotting lumber had fallen from the walls and roof and littered the floor, so striped light always filtered in. Our parents told us not the play there, so we did so much less than we would have otherwise. The meadow was a source of long grass and dandelions.

Our town was covered with blackberry bushes. They grew in huge, mounding jumbles along every roadside and pathway and scattered throughout our forest. We picked them, and Mom made them into jelly. I can remember the taste of a big, overripe blackberry warmed by the sun, and the taste of a small, tight blackberry. Blackberries must have been a treat when we first arrived, but now I can only remember feeling towards them the way you might feel about oatmeal every day for breakfast: ready for a change. To this day, I cannot appreciate a good blackberry jelly.

We never grew out of appreciating huckleberries. Huckleberries grew throughout our property too, but the bushes were more thinly spread and bore fewer berries. And the berries were so small! The little raspberry-colored berries were smaller than peas and had wonderful tartness. We never once had enough to make jelly. Occasionally, we were sent out to find enough to put in muffins. But you could pop half a dozen huckleberries in your mouth at once, so filling a little bucket was a challenge. Those huckleberry muffins, when we managed to get them, were delicious.

The inlets of water that zig-zag in and out of the shoreline around Puget Sound, give the area a very moderate climate. It never gets very hot and it never gets very cold. Our house had neither central heating nor central air conditioning. I believe few houses did. So we heated the house with a wood burning stove. I supposed other people bought cords of cut wood. But my dad and brothers made ours. Dad would cut down a tree from our property and chop it into lengths. The boys were constantly splitting and hauling.

One Thanksgiving, a storm had knocked out the power. We ended up cooking our Thanksgiving turkey over that wood-burning stove and declaring it the most delicious turkey we had ever had. In retrospect, my parents deserve kudos for never cracking to let on to us kids for a moment that a Thanksgiving without power was at all an inconvenience. They made those days in the dim sunlight feel like an adventure.

One of our favorite forms of entertainment was watching raccoons. My parents would put bowls of our table scraps out on the back porch after dinner. When the sun set, we turned on the outside porch light and turned off the inside lights and sat to wait for the raccoons to arrive. When they did, we’d watch their deft little hands and funny little faces, unseen from inside the dark house.


  1. I always thought it was TallINGson Lane. But what do I know? I couldn't read at that point! My most vivid memories of that house include: Climbing the tall tree right outside the front door then calling for Dad to come get me down to which he replied "you got up there, you can get down" and went back inside. I was mortified but I did eventually get down and claim a victory. Being attacked by bees that had built a hive inside one of the hollow logs where I stored my play dishes. Being totally scared of that barn down the road and the viscous owl I was, for some reason, convinced lived there (nasty stories from brother's perhaps?). And my friend Lacy who lived through the woods and how scary it was to have to run home through those trees all alone at night. We used to walk together halfway and then turn and run screaming to our respective homes - because if either of us got eaten by a bear we'd hear the end of the screaming and know.
    I do remember the raccoons. I don't remember the berries there as much as I do at the next house. I remember being scared of the Indians with feathered head-dresses that I believed lived just on the other side of that fence. I was scared of a lot of things! That was really a pretty spooky place!

  2. You are pretty right on about most of it. The only picky little comment I have is that the window flower box was at the Candy Loop house. No comments on the chicken and rabbit raising adventures?

  3. Tha Tallagson house sat on 2 1/2 wooded acres - too wooded. There were a lot of small fir trees just behind the house and when I got permision to cut them, it made the whole yard seem lighter and more airy. Near the end of our tenure, the owner decided to have all the big trees cut ($$$), and I was dumfounded at how much damage logging does. Dragging out the trees with a bulldozer dug deeply into the soil, and mixed the slash (cut off branches and needles) deep into the Earth. The cleanup was overwhelming and we never did get it looking good.
    The land behind the Tallagson house belonged to the Pope & Talbott Lumber Co. They owned their woods (as opposed to companies who log on public land and have no responsibility for it) and did a good job of maintaining it. They logged each section about once in 30 years, and logged that tract shortly after we moved to Candy Loop. The Candy Loop house was in an enclave in the Suquamish Indian Reservation. Our property was in the middle of the loop, so none of it bordered on Indian land, but we drove through Indian land to go to town.
    Oh, and there was a well-behaved little barn owl that lived in the barn below the Tallagson Lane house. He was always up there in the dark rafters during the day, trying to get some sleep in spite of curious little ones (your brothers) wanting to see him swivel his head all the way around.
    I loved living there, but a couple of things bothered me. 1. the owner of the house took it on himself to tear out a bearing wall. He always claimed it wasn't a bearing wall, but it got so that when you walked out of the master bedroom (the door of which was over that x-wall) you could feel the floor sagging and bouncing. I measued it with a string before we moved out and the ceiling sagged almost 4 inches where that wall should have been. The other thing that bothered me was that our neighbors occasionally saw a bear in those woods. I never saw it, but I always had a fear it would find my children when I wasn't around to protect them.

  4. Thanks, Angela. Your wonderful imagery has helped crystallize some of my earliest memories. I remember swimming in the neighbor's pond in the brief summertime. I also remember a little swampy, wooded area near the dirt road approaching the house that I think was on that same neighbor's land. I remember hunting for bullfrogs with my brothers there. Does that sound right? I was five years old at the most, so it might be wildly distorted.

  5. Why have you not written a novel yet? You have the NW down to a T.
    I look forward to future installments!