“It’s my birthday and I want it,” I say to my husband as I hang over the garden gate, drooling over the clapboard blue/gray cottage, with a For Sale sign. He stares at me, “Where did that come from?” He asks. I cannot answer because I do not know. I take a flyer describing the cottage and we check into our hotel. I immediately call the realtor and make an appointment for the next morning.
Many years ago I discovered the Monterey Peninsula from the windows of a tour bus. It was a March afternoon and I had left my two- year-old and four-month-old with a baby sitter, in freezing Minneapolis, to join my husband at a convention in San Francisco. I was delirious with the freedom to eat chocolate in bed for breakfast and to take all the tours I wished.
My first tour was an all day visit to the Peninsula. We drove down Highway 1 alongside the ocean cliffs, through the artichoke fields, stopping at wineries for wine tasting. I gazed at it all and listened to the commentary. I enjoyed what I saw and heard, but when we turned off Highway 1 onto Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by–the-Sea, I felt my heart turn over and I fell in love, like the poet Robinson Jeffers did. He wrote on his first visit to the area in 1914, “When the stagecoach topped the hill from Monterey and we looked down through pines and sea fog on Carmel Bay, it was evident that we had come without knowing it to our inevitable place.”
What I saw on my first trip, was a white crescent shaped sand beach, with surf breaking on the rocks. I loved the quaint cottages, bursting with flowers and hanging baskets. I saw giant pines and live oaks whose branches twisted and turned and created an urban forest. The height of buildings is restricted, so if viewed from the surrounding hills or even an airplane, there is no sign of civilization, only the forest. I noticed the cottages were all named with not a street number in sight. The name plaque that hung on the gate of the cottage I coveted was decorated with a painting of the house and the three Monterey pines that stood in the handkerchief sized front garden. It was called Susan’s Cottage.
“Was this my inevitable place?” I wondered, as we unpacked for our weekend stay in Carmel in February 2001. I remembered a previous trip when we went to open houses and talked about perhaps buying a place, renting it out and then retiring to it. At that time we could not afford to buy anything and just enjoyed thinking of what may be, someday.
The next morning my husband and I walked across the street to the cottage, opened the ivy-covered gate and greeted the realtor who stood at the yellow door. We walked up the stone path among the red and pink azaleas blooming under the three pines. A blue window box held a riotous color of petunia blossoms and pots of red carnations stood at the door.
As we stepped in we both gave deep sighs of wonder at what we saw. The living room had a row of stenciled flowers running above the white walls. Two red love seats formed an L. A blue carpet covered the wooden floors in front of them and a brightly, decorated chest stood on it. The yellow stone of the fireplace was a rich contrast to the primary colors decorating the house. French doors opened onto a stone patio and the back garden with the twisted branches of the live oaks. I imagined I saw fairies and gnomes flitting between the canopies of leaves.
I knew I would enjoy sitting on the love seat in the kitchen watching the sun rise, as I savored my tea. The kitchen and the bedroom, with stenciled blue and yellow houses on the walls enchanted us, but when we walked up the staircase and onto the landing we both fell in love again, not with each other, but with the cottage.
The master bedroom was the length of the house. A white four-poster bed stood in the center under four skylights. A painted quilt of butterflies, birds and dragonflies in yellows, blues and purples covered the bed. There were windows on all four sides and the wooden floors shone in the sunlight. We learned that a painter built the house in 1926 and that this room was his studio.
Although I was never interested in building and decorating houses, I have always felt attracted to certain spaces. I remember a room in the hills of Assisi with its small windows overlooking the gardens; the thick soft rug on the stone floors and the dark stonewalls. In an earlier life it was a monastery where pilgrims were welcomed as they trekked across the hills. I felt that welcome and their presence in the breeze that ruffled the curtains.
I loved the room in Oregon with its loft sleeping space and the sound of the sea outside the windows. I think what I feel in the spaces that I love is the energy, the history and the very air around it. I usually want to live there for a short time, but then move on after my stay.
This cottage felt different. My husband is used to me changing hotel rooms if the first one does not appeal. He is used to me saying that I want to stay longer, in some beautiful room, house or town. So I think he thought that was what would happen in Carmel.
However this cottage captivated both of us. He was especially thrilled by the back garden that had three huge live oaks with branches that curled and circled the sky above the ground. I think he must have pictured himself sitting on the blue cushioned white rockers on the stone patio reading and drinking wine.
On that February day in 2001 we walked back to the hotel talking about how we could make it happen. Although we knew we had the money for it he was still hesitant. I think he felt this purchase meant he was closer to retirement and he was not ready for that. I felt it was meant to be especially when the realtor told us that it had nearly been sold. A woman saw it and was ready to buy it but when she returned with her husband he had wanted something larger than a 1000 square foot cottage. I also felt that we had parked in front of that cottage for a reason. It was meant to be ours.
I write this sitting in the blue house bedroom. My husband sits outside in the sun reading a library book. We wait for a friend who will come through the garden gate of Ann’s cottage and knock on the yellow door. I, like Jeffers have found my inevitable place.