On the Edge of the Woods Excerpt
October 22, 1993
Continued the survey today, without Ralph. Saw a woman on the Shapiro
property, down in the woods, standing with her hands in the pockets
of her jacket, her face tilted up, staring up at the tops of the
trees, her long black hair curling and tangled down her back. Striking.
I fumbled for the transit and caught her in my sight. I felt like
a voyeur. She turned her face to me, black-Irish complexion, that
creamy, slightly flushed pure skin, dark brows-her eyes were the
thing I can't put out of my mind. Blazing, alert.
She nodded in greeting and I felt like she had turned me to stone.
The Shapiro house has been sold. They put the "sold"
sign up on the property today. I want to punch a hole in the wall.
Met my new neighbor today, the one who scooped me on the Shapiro
property. She's the woman I saw there in the woods several months
ago. Tess brought her in for lunch. I was torn between an unreasonable
resentment and an overwhelming interest in her. I wanted to be with
her, but I kept saying horrible things to her. I don't think she
likes me much.
In the strange bed in the mountain lodge, I woke from
a dream. It had the emotional quality of an oracle, deep significance,
like a premonition of falling in love. Later that morning, when
I saw the house for the first time, I thought I knew what the dream
"Now this one is really special. Just wait till you see it."
Uh-oh. I sneaked Russ a look of alarm over the front seat of Iona's
We passed between two stone pillars which marked the entrance of
the private drive off the main road. I gazed out my window in awe
as we entered an avenue of immense trees, incense cedar and sugar
pine, great straight trunks thrusting straight up through the shadowy
canopy of green into the sky. The trees gave way to a meadow where
the drive ended in a leisurely circle. Down in a cleft of the meadow
stood a stout white house with a little garden in the front, a fence
of pickets surrounding it like an untidy ribbon on a package. There
was a curious animation about the place - I could imagine fairies
and elves making their homes in the garden and woods around the
"Is that it?" Russ, who was sitting in the back seat,
sounded severely disappointed.
"No, no, no - that's the neighbor's place," Iona assured
him. "A much smaller property."
"It seems familiar to me," I said.
"But it couldn't be. I've never been here before."
"Deja vu," said Iona portentously.
"It's not the sort of house you would mistake for another,"
said Russ. "It's rather an odd-looking thing, isn't it?"
"It's a little white barn," I said. "I like the
dormer windows. But where is the house we've come to see?"
"Just wait till you see how close it is," Iona said.
"You won't believe how secluded it feels."
"So the two houses share a driveway?" My brother Russ
was a contractor, and he had that critical eye, which was why I
had asked him to accompany me on a property-hunting expedition in
the Sierra. Now I wondered if that had been such a great idea -
he couldn't find a thing right with any of the houses we had seen.
"The two houses share the access," said Iona in her breezy
Realtor's voice. "It's actually a county road, which is lucky,
because they maintain the road in the winter. But otherwise it's
a completely private drive."
We drove to the end of the meadow and turned off into a parking
area designated by a log lying between the gravel and the woods.
Parked in front of the white house was a rusty old International,
a big pickup truck, and a tiny yellow sports car. If that was the
neighbor's house, where was the house we had come to see? There
was no real estate sign. All I could see were trees.
We climbed out of the car, stretching our bodies and breathing
deeply of the cold sharp air, so clean and intoxicating, layered
with the spice of pine and cedar, the sweetly decaying soil, and
the winds blowing down from the high Sierra.
"Damn, it's quiet here," said Russ.
"Yes, isn't it peaceful?" Iona hesitated, took a deep
breath. "Now, this one is just the craziest thing you've ever
seen. Folks around here still call it The Apple Ranch - you'll see
the remnants of the orchards in the back - it was once quite a large
estate. The house is really not in the best condition, but maybe
you could do something with it, Stacy. At such a low price, I do
think it will move quickly, once the papers are in order, and that
should only be a matter of days - "
"The papers - ?" said Russ.
"The lady who owns the place is very old, and recently she
had to go into a nursing home," Iona explained. "And there's
been some delay with the paperwork, so actually the property hasn't
even been listed yet. You're lucky to be seeing it before anyone