Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SHADOWS END - how I found a home and how my home earned its name

Shadows End – How my cottage got its name, why I kept it when all the reasons for the name vanished and why that matters to anyone else.

I had always wanted a little cottage so I could garden and plant and order things the way I wished them to be.  When I finally took the plunge and purchased a home it took a lot of persuading. I am a pretty inertia riddled guy. I do not run to change by any measure. To get me to actually buy a home took the combined resources of my family and friends. My dear friend, Sue had urged me to come out with her to look at a small cottage she had found in Dixieland, one of Lakeland’s historic districts. Well, I had to admit it was quite charming. A classic cottage with some French influences like a tall barrel vaulted porch and semi hipped roof adding a little elegance. Inside it had all the things I wanted, a fireplace, wooden floors, built in bookshelves, etc.  
The point is I bought the place. Since I am enamored of all things English I decided my cottage had to have a name. I scanned through all the classics names I could remember, most were too cliché or inappropriate. I considered dove cottage due to a trio (formerly quartette- but that is a tragedy for another story) of doves that hang out in my back yard.

Finally, one day, after a long morning gardening, I was walking to a local restaurant for lunch. I noticed how cool it was under the trees. The alley running past my house was lined with huge old oaks. It emptied into a large parking area also packed with giant oak trees. Walking back home, I realized that it was like passing through a shaded tunnel and only when you reached my house did the sun break through and allow you to see your shadow.

That’s when it came to me “Shadows End” Well that was the summer of 2001. I spend many days and nights walking through that oak glen. It was cool and dark and comforting to be under so many grand old trees. Then came 2004 and the hurricanes. No the storms did not destroy the oaks. One old and sick old man succumbed to the winds and lost major branches and one hollow camphor tree collapsed. But that was all, dozens of healthy trees remained in my block. They were strong and well branched, not pruned into the long singular sticks the power company loves to line our streets with. So like all things natural they were able to deal with natural things like hurricanes pretty well.

But hurricanes were not the only things to hit Dixieland that year. Also came fear and following that came the tree services. I say services, but mostly they were just untrained men with a truck and a chain saw. It started out slow, with just a few oaks falling down in thundering comment on the power of men’s machinery. Then because some insurance company called them a hazard, they began to fall like wheat before the scythe.

In one horrible day 11 huge oaks were felled in the parking area. A grassy spot where no one ever parked and no one parks even yet. It went from a shaded glen to a gutted ruin in one day. Finally by that winter there seemed to be very little reason to call my cottage shadows end anymore. The shadows were gone, and the shade, and the oxygen, and the birds, and ironically the protection from windstorms. In a great blaze or irony the next summer 2 houses in the block lost their roofs to summer windstorms. But ironic revenge was a passing thing; the trees were gone – forever. I mourned.

A tiny remnant of the oaks remained scattered about – limbs no longer touching and swaying in unison. The highway of the squirrels was gone, the sanctuary of the dove and the playground of fairies was in ruin. I was blessed to have one of the few trees left sitting right on my property edge. The confusion over ownership may have saved the old man. He is a great tree. He has been much hacked at and one limb has been sorely butchered. The many clumsy prunings have reduced it to a great swaying lever than threatens to wrench loose and fall on my workshop. But he remains and I love him and cherish the gifts I receive. Unlike the trees on my land, I never named the old oak. It seems presumptuous of me and so he remains aloof from the pet names. I am sure he has a name, one of his own choosing and not ours. I can only assume one day the grand old man will whisper it to me as I work beneath his shade. It was probably because of that tree that I decided to stick with the name Shadows End, despite the loss of so much shade.

Then in spring 2002, I went out one morning to have tea. I sat in the chair and was turning it around to avoid the morning glare, when low – there was no glare. There was no morning glare because my backyard was becoming embraced by the gently mottled shade of the many trees I had planted since moving in. Deidre the maple was a sapling from the first tree my mother planted in the home I grew up in. She had grown magically tall and still kept the sweeping curves she had developed in her youth. Jack, the drake elm was shooting up straight and tall and they had both began to touch outer limbs with Myrtle the crepe myrtle and the old man. A gently lacey canopy was forming over my back yard. It bode ill for my sun loving flowers, but oh it was a great feeling. Like a big green hug the shade of those trees made me feel safe and covered and cool. Cool is a lovely thing on a thick summer afternoon in Florida.

Well, despite all intentions I have wandered in my story. Let me return. So, the heedless, reckless hand of man destroyed the mighty oak glen that once covered my little part of the world. It remains a sad thin memory of its former glory. No one plants trees but me so far, but hope remains. In the meantime I have the shade of my own little forest about me and I revel in it. Ironically, I originally called my home Shadows End, because it was the only place around where you could see your shadow – the shade of the trees ended here. Now, it has earned its name in another guise. It is Shadows End, because on a sunny day your shadow follows you all about the neighborhood. Until, you reach home. Then on the edge of my patchwork homestead, as you smell the rosemary and hear the fountain, you enter the gate and then – Shadows End.
Sometimes simple living is about the simplest things like sun and shadow, growth and rest, living and dying.  We have to take them all in their cycles as the wheel turns about us.


  1. This was so beautiful and sad too. I quite often need to drive Lakeland Hills Rd to go to Sam's but anymore it's almost too sad to do. The road is to be widened and many of the houses too close to the road have been bought and demolished. But the houses are not the only victims, there were once many many great trees lining the road that are now gone. I'd be on the verge of tears many times that I drive by during the active logging, seeing so many broken and torn trunks and boughs. I remember most of those trees from when I lived closed to the road and drove past them for middle and High school. But now they're gone. I very sad to hear what happened to your trees as well, but I'm very glad to hear of their return. ^^\

  2. Yes, even in Lakeland - a city that usually does a good job "planting" trees we needlessly destroy so so many.


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