Archives for posts with tag: Tom Stockton

First impression

When choosing a new mailbox, what do you consider? Is it big enough to hold the voluminous amounts of bills that arrive on a monotonous basis? Does it have a red flag to pull upright to signal the letter carrier (this is the gender-neutral term now, but I admit I miss “mailman”) that you have an outgoing letter? Does it have a separate compartment for a small package, magazines or bulky catalogs? Is your mail so important (state secret important) that it requires a lock with a key?

These are the decisions that must be made when you get a notice from the post office that your mailbox “needs attention.” In all fairness, the post office was correct: the old mailbox at Howlets was listing to starboard and reeled drunkenly on its post when the sticky flap door was jerked open. The previous owner’s name was on the side of the box in large reflective peel-and-stick letters that had been battered by storms and bleached by the sun. It’s time had past.

The old mailbox had to go, but replaced with what? Mailboxes are usually placed at the end of the driveway or walkway and are the first thing you see when entering a property. First time guests look for the street number. A mailbox is the first impression formed by visitors to your house. What does your mailbox say about you? When discussing all of these considerations with Heather, one of the owners of Howlets, she just asked that the mailbox be utilitarian and distinctive and put the final decision in my hands. A search and destroy mission ensued for the perfect Zen balance, form and function. Searching on the internet for mailboxes was a lesson in the copious amounts of choices we have as Americans. A few of the choices that were scrupulously considered but eventually rejected are shown below.

Special delivery

What message does this send?

In thinking about mailboxes and the current electronic age, I wondered about the future of the existence of mailboxes at all. Will mailboxes have the same demise as the hand written thank you note written on your personalized, engraved, cream-colored Crane’s stationery? Most thank you notes now come in the form of an email — efficient, immediate and admittedly sometimes clever. The time it takes to hand write a thank you note is sadly not an efficient use of time in our harried lives. Writing in your best Palmer method script, injecting just the correct amount of thanks without sounding effusive, finding the recipients’ street address, buying the stamp, licking the envelope (yuk) and taking it to the post office (or raising the red flag on your mailbox, if you have one), all take way too much time and effort. But they sure are nice to receive. Wish I could say the same for bills, either paper or electronic.

At Grey Gardens, our mailbox choice was made easier by the fact that we had a stone wall in which to embed it. We wanted to make the mailbox disappear in the wall and make a non-statement. Only our mailman knows where it is.

Disappearing act

Click on any photo to enlarge


Laying of the trans-Atlantic cable

The work at Howlets is moving forward, alternating between lightning speed and a snail’s pace. The carpenters have re-worked the master bedroom entry and closets, creating a much better flow and more closet space, and the upstairs bathroom is outfitted with a perfect new double-sink vanity and new softly veined grey Carrera marble tile. However, the digging up of the front yard — to install a new septic system and bring new electric service to the house — is proving epic. The ledge upon which the house sits is unforgiving and requires drilling and even blasting to make headway. In order to blast, surveys of the houses within 250 feet must be conducted, to ensure that no harm is done. All are feeling like we are midway through the 12 labors of Hercules, complete with the odors of the Augean stables.

"Come closer my dear, the better to see you"

As a diversion from that drama, and to borrow again from Greek mythology, I thought I’d recount my own personal version of Sisyphus’s task. Rather than roll a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, I clip wisteria vine with almost the same effect. When my partner and I first considered purchasing our home Grey Gardens, as we call it, the wisteria vine on the pergola had already firmly wrapped itself around the electric meter and pulled it completely off the building.  The vine was initiating an assault on the gutters and downspouts. Buying the house anyway (why not take on a gargantuan renovation to spice life up a bit?), we knew our first and greatest task would be taming the wisteria beast.

Woody vices

Appropriately called “the destroyer of castles,” wisteria will dig its tender tendrils into any crevice, eventually become a woody vice and pull down anything in its path. Aggressive seems a quaint term when used to describe this invader. When researching the care of wisteria, the experts recommend trimming it twice a year, once severely in the winter (cutting each branch back to just three buds from the main trunk) and then again in the summer to remove the long “whippy things” that seem to appear overnight. We have found this prune-twice-a-year advice wildly tame. If you sit still, this vine will wrap itself around your throat in the time it takes to have a glass of wine at sunset or read the morning paper. I just finished clipping the seemingly benign soft curling tendrils from the downspouts. I am sure they would have pulled them off the house by bedtime if I had not been vigilant.

Tendril awaits an unsuspecting victim

All that being said, this wisteria graces the porch beautifully. Our stone porch with pergola faces the south; the shade the vine provides in summer is a welcome relief from the hot sun. In the winter, with all the foliage fallen, the sun beams in the dining room and kitchen windows. The sculptural nature of the vines in contrast with the stone pillars on the pergola never ceases to catch the eye. Wisteria has its brief but oh so glorious bloom in May, when festoons of flowers cascade down. There are two varieties of Wisteria here, a purple version and a pink one. They intertwine unsegregated for a “I feel like I am in Tuscany” experience.

The advice literature also describes cutting the roots back in order to encourage blooming. We have not had to do this yet, but in a sadistic way we are looking forward to the task. This is a plant that thrives on abuse. Do you fight the urge to kick the cat or yell at loved ones after a bad day? Simply grab the garden tools and cut, hack, slash, sever, trim, dig, snip, clip, prune. The wisteria vine loves your heaped on abuse. It even thanks you for it and gives you flowers. Dr. Phil could not come up with a better remedy for anger management.

Purple and pink festoons