17. The Room of Requirement: The Fourth Incarnation

In 2000, Peter and Andrea Regan bought a home on Sparkes Road in Sebastopol California. Neighbors say the dilapidated farmhouse was not much to look at. Cramped and claustrophobic, the Regans gutted the place and tripled it in size.

And then, there was the matter of the falling down chicken coop. Built of milled ship timbers, or perhaps from trees hauled out of the Mendocino or Stumptown woods, it hadn’t held chickens in years and was destined to be torn down.

But Peter Regan, through some infusion of resource and energy, did more than keep it alive.  He shored it up on new footings.  He had it reclad in recovered boards.  He added skylights and track lighting and a honey colored floor.  It became a playroom, a ping pong room, a secret retreat for his three growing daughters.

The natural tendency is for things to degrade until they become dust.  But what of the counterposing force?  That thing that creates and is being, well, it’s life itself.  And to foster life where there should very well be none at all – why that’s heroic.

It sounds so simple.

But what really occurs in that strange alchemy that we pass off as resurrection?

The Boat

As far as this story goes, the boat’s journey began on the back porch of Arlo Guthrie’s farmhouse in Massachusetts. It had sat there for a lot of years. I don’t know how Arlo came to have it or what his plans were. Apparently he doesn’t really like the water.

His friend Jack, though, loved boats. He once took the thing out on Arlo’s pond that was hardly bigger than a small room. And I guess Arlo said Jack could have it.

So Jack drove the thing from Massachusetts to Colorado on a flatbed trailer and the boat pretty much sat upside down on someone’s property for a lot of years and then it was driven down to Palm Springs where it sat upside down for a lot more years. Jack may have floated it in a swimming pool just to see what it was like.

Eventually the boat came to Tomales Bay where it weathered untended to for more than a decade. The gunnels rotted out as well some of the sidings. It had once been a lovely Penguin Dinghy much like a boat that Jack had once owned that had been swept away in the great New York hurricane of 1953.

Just before Thanksgiving my boat building friend Brett was driving down the 1 toward Bolinas when he spied a prickly pear cactus adorned with fruit. He pulled over, got his tongs and gloves and set to gleaning a bag of fruit. He was interrupted, though, by a winsome woman, a complete stranger, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.

We need help, she said. We need to save Jack’s boat. She suggested that it was in some sort of imminent danger and that she needed assistance.

Well, I’ve worked on boats, Brett offered. He looked around at the neighboring docks on the bay. Where is it? he asked. I can come over and see what I can do.

The woman looked at him incredulously. The boat’s not here, she said. It’s in Sausalito.

Okay, Brett said. Give me Jack’s phone number and I can call him and I can see what I can do.

The woman became very unnerved. You can’t call Jack! she exclaimed. Everyone wants to talk with Jack. Jack calls you!

So she took Brett’s number and told him to wait ten minutes and the call would arrive.

Which it did. And by the next day Brett was in a Sausalito boat yard listening to a day full of boat yarns and traveling history and loading the boat onto a trailer hitch and towing it to Bolinas. And a few days later he was at our house standing outside the chicken house with a sack of apples in each hand, staring in reverie, wondering what our plans were for the chicken house.

Our friend Evan Nichols the writer had christened it the Room of Requirement. Everyone who stepped inside was possessed by a different overpowering vision. For Mazie, it was the ping pong hang out room. I saw a cider pressing and cheesemaking facility. Evan saw a writers retreat room. His wife Amy saw a yoga room. Anne Harley envisioned a singing studio. The vultures have found it quite useful as a dinner plate.

And Brett saw a boat restoration house.

The room is one and all of these things.

And that’s how last Monday Jack pulled up in his three quarter ton truck pulling the boat. And that’s how Arlo Guthrie’s penguin dinghy came to sit inside our chicken house. And why I will spend a better part of my winter sanding and planing and painting wood.

Because if you do things right, all of this, every bit, is required.