We meet as friends in emptiness at Innermost House. Time moves in a circle to enclose us. But that circle is enclosed by something else it took me years to see.
We have left Innermost House twice, the first time four years ago this autumn. That last night the house was all packed away and empty, but for only the three porch chairs we brought inside.
We had a guest that evening, visiting from the plains of the upper middle west, that low land of broad horizons and big skies. He had looked forward a long time to his visit, and we to receiving him. When he sat down he looked around at the emptiness in silence and finally said, "All these lines!"
It took a plains-dweller in an empty house to see it, but ever since that night I have enjoyed more consciously the lines of Innermost House.
The house is a monochrome of browns and black and white. Everywhere I look, light and dark are meeting. And everywhere they meet in a straight line. I helped most every day during the months of finishing the house, and there is not a line I cannot still feel in my hands.
In the walls the windows are so simple—so nearly the “wind-eyes” of their early namesake and nothing more—that I see in them what I am distracted from seeing in other windows, that they are simply lines forming a box around a hole in the wall. And the doors: simple posts and stiles over standing planks of wood.
I look at the posts on the hearth wall, and the mantle that crosses them, and then the beam that crosses them above to support the roof. I turn opposite the hearth and see a bookcase formed by simple uprights of wood, divided horizontally by six simple lines of shelves.
Above the bookshelves a simple barge board runs the whole depth of the house, and just behind it run the square joists that support the loft platform of broad boards that form the loft floor.
From there the lines rise to the ceiling and its complex of lines. The ridge beam forms a spine the length of the house from east to west, flaring its rafters north and south like ribs of some great leviathan. I look down and even the floor boards beneath my feet are plainly just lengths of wooden board.
The study and the kitchen are, in their way, the most densely linear rooms of all. They are just simple shelves, cabinets, and cases—no color, no elaboration at all. Everywhere just lines.
Lines, lines, lines! Do I live in a such a woodland that it takes a plainsman to see the forest for these trees? All these lines!
It is an innermost house in which I live. The house has nothing you could call a "style." The lines are of the structure, and the house is all structure. What is structure but the bones beneath the flesh of things? Perhaps structure is the form through which we have our being.
I have heard my husband say that structure is to architecture as necessity is to everything: the food we eat, the things we read, the way we spend our time. Where structure is visible in a building, architecture is speaking the language of necessity, and necessity is the language of the Innermost Life.
The pot of food over the coals is its own kind of structure—my structure, the food I need to feed the structure of what I am. All our guests can recognize necessity in this plain food, prepared in one iron pot over the fire.
The fire itself—our only source of light and heat—is a kind of structure, a fire in the mind without which I do not feel fully human, and guests can sense that it too is necessary. In the chill of the advancing autumn, you can feel its necessity.
The books that seem so remote from obvious use—guests have sometimes remarked on their austere inapproachability—you would have to need to read them to read them at all! Yet they belong to the kind of reading we do because it makes the difference, not of pleasure but of being—of understanding what life means and why it is worth living. For me it is a difference of survival in the soul.
It is strange to think that the Conversation that is the spirit of the house, moving forever round in circles, exists in some inseparable relationship to lines. It is as though the two were met in the house, and now live in one married union.
Everything about Innermost House, from the structure that is visible upon its surfaces, to what we drink and eat and read, from the things we do to the words we speak to the silence that we live amidst, all bear the mark of beautiful necessity.
It is the first thing I see now, even before I know what it means. I feel the spirit always, enclosed by time. But now I see it between the lines.