There’s a one-room shop in New York City that features dozens of cubbies, like dioramas, of perfect miniature rooms, complete to the last detail. Doll house furnishings unlike any you’ve ever seen before – a rolled-up newspaper, headlines and print readable, measuring half an inch. A wooden tray, the size of your pinky nail, containing a folded napkin, half a dozen chocolate chip cookies and a pitcher of milk.
It’s easy to spend an hour wandering around that quiet little store admiring its precisely wrought wares. Tiny houses charm you and always have. Airstreams. Houseboats. Vintage, single-wide trailers like the kind your grandmother lived in when you were growing up. One-room studio apartments with miniature appliances, a miniature fireplace, like one you once lived in.
You’ve always wanted a miniature house for yourself. Once you once spent a couple of hours at a marina on the Mississippi, pretending to be in the market for a houseboat so you could check out the ones that were for sale. So perfect, all of them, with their built-in drawers and appliances and cupboards and beds and tables and chairs.
When you were little, you and your sisters used to make elaborate houses out of big cardboard boxes, hay bales, an abandoned chicken coop, a blanket thrown over a card table. Every square inch counted in those houses, and no space went to waste.
Why, then, given this love of miniaturization, do you keep having one particular dream?
In this dream, you’re in a house, a house that you live in. You like the house but you don’t love it, maybe because there’s somehow not quite enough room in it.
Then, in the dream, you suddenly discover that there’s a whole part of the house that you never knew about. The new part is usually circular, built in a ring around the outside of the house you’ve been living in. It’s made of wood, and very dusty, and the furniture in it –it comes fully furnished– is covered with white sheets. It’s been closed up for a long time.
You walk around opening door after door, peering into room after room. Balconies and hallways. Windows. High ceilings. So much room!
Whenever you have this dream, you wake up restless, half happy and half frustrated. Where is all that room? Where is the whole hidden enormous house that’s somewhere, somehow, part of the house you already live in?
When you were a kid you wanted a house like the one Batman lived in, with secret compartments and bookcases that revolved at a touch of a button to reveal a whole new wing of the mansion, including the Bat Cave where the Bat Car waited.
Last week you were at your shack in the Green Mountains with a big list of things to do, tasks involving a shovel, a spade, a pitchfork, a hatchet, an axe, a scythe and a wheelbarrow.
At under 200 square feet, the shack is tiny. It began life as a pile of labeled wood with instructions that you bought off eBay, kind of like a giant Lincoln Log kit. Over four days, one sunny November years ago, you and your friends framed it up on a smoothed and leveled patch of gravel.
The shack sits in a small clearing surrounded by towering pines, next to a sunny slope set amongst ravines and bluffs and woods and creeks. That’s it up there at the top of this page. It’s more faded now. If you don’t do something to the wood soon it will keep fading more and more until it’s a silvery color.
Inside it smells like pine and earth, like concentration of woods.
You built the shack thinking that it was the beginning of a future real house. The first step in a long dream of life in Vermont.
Last week you constructed an indoor sink out of a jug and a bucket and a cart, and the whole arrangement was so pleasing that you ended up washing your hands and brushing your teeth much more than usual, just to use the new sink.
In the tiny pitched-roof sleeping loft, an air mattress spread with a quilt is a bed. At night you can turn out the light and lie by the window sipping whiskey and looking out at the stars through the pine branches.
There’s a heater at the shack, and a couch, and many books. There’s a miniature refrigerator and a toaster and a well with a pump. There’s an outhouse. There’s a tent for guests, not that you’ve had any. There’s peanut butter and Jim Beam. There’s soap and a toothbrush and towels. There’s a table with a pen and paper.
There’s a hammock hung between two pines. It’s possible to spend half an hour watching an inchworm make its way across the entire, enormous-to-an-inchworm width of it.
Is the inchworm brave? Dumb? Is it acting purely on instinct and, if so, is it braver or dumber than a human being who tries to plot out its life from start to finish? Does it know where it’s going? Does it know it’s going anywhere? Is it going somewhere, or is movement itself the biological destiny of an inchworm? Does an inchworm stop inching to sleep, or rest, or take a short nap?
These are some of the questions you wondered about as you sat in the hammock last week, watching the inchworm. Early on in the watching you decided that no matter what, you wouldn’t interfere with the inchworm. Neither by helping nor hindering would you influence the outcome of this journey, whatever that journey was.
The entire time you watched the inchworm, it never stopped moving, or trying to move, even when it reached a particularly deep fold in the fabric of the hammock. When that happened, it stretched itself out as far as possible and then flung as much of its body as it could over the abyss.
When you returned to the city you showed your youthful companion a tiny video you took of the inchworm, inching, and before three seconds went by she said, “Honestly? I’ve always really admired inchworms,” and you had to agree.
At some point you lay back in the hammock and looked straight up, into the crowns of the white pines and the blue sky beyond. You heard nothing but birds and crickets and bees and the faint drone of an invisible airplane.
Suddenly you realized that the shack isn’t a shack. It isn’t the beginning of a much bigger future house. It’s not the start of a dream; it’s a miniature house, complete in itself.
Why did this never occur to you before?
All you had to do, in order to turn the shack into the miniature house you’ve always wanted, was see it in a new way. Your whole life you’ve dreamed of a miniature house, and all this time you already had one.
It comes to you then, looking up at those trees, that there’s so much space in your miniature house. And on the hammock. So much space in the trees, arching toward the sky, and so much space in the sky.
So many rooms in everything, and everyone.
i share your longing for miniature spaces, but what a perfect realization that last line is.
I loved where you went with this, and finished reading it with a huge smile. Thank you.
I love the look of this little cabin!! It looks fabulous. My type of place. I have long dreamed of a tiny place in the woods. Loved this one and the beautiful imagery.
Summer’s gotten the best of me, my friends. All I want to do is a) lie on my porch swing reading, b) lie on a beach reading, or c) lie in the hammock at the little cabin reading.
Nicole, can’t wait to see photos of your new place!