At one point or another in each of our lives, we find—if we’re lucky—a place that suits our soul. It might be just a park bench, or maybe a city or town, or a house, or even a room. The latter was my good fortune because for seventeen years: I had the Pine Room all to myself.
I was a college counselor, teacher, and coach at Landon, a boys school in the suburbs of Washington. I had drawn a lucky straw and was given an apartment on the second floor of a lovely old farmhouse, one of the original buildings on the school’s seventy-acre campus. Except for an occasional meeting or event downstairs, I had the place to myself: two bedrooms, two baths, a small but sufficient upstairs kitchen, a lovely porch that overlooked playing fields from which I could survey my domain at tree-top level, and the Pine Room.
The Pine Room was my study, my library, my safehaven, my cozy spot. In summer, it was always a cool retreat; the pine ceiling, paneled walls, and plank floor took the sting out of all those hot, humid Washington days. But it was in winter that the room really came into its own. Warmed by a generous fireplace, on cold evenings the Pine Room glowed with contentment. By day, there was ample natural light, but at night, the lamplight was perfect. I could sit and read or watch tv or stare into the fire, letting my thoughts drift away like smoke up the chimney. As the saying goes, I was snug as a bug in a rug.
I was aware of, and thankful for, my good fortune, but now, looking back on those years, I understand that something else was happening. After the tumult and disappointment that comes with divorce, I was healing, starting over. School life suited me: I could walk to work with my dog. I liked my job, my students, and my faculty friends and colleagues. I was surrounded by playing fields and green space. Maybe most importantly, I had evenings to myself and I found the solitude I needed to begin again. I knew I couldn’t just turn the page and go on as if nothing had happened; I needed time to find another starting line, another place to stand.
And perhaps that was the most precious gift of the Pine Room. I took pride in its dusty clutter, its comfortable charm, its cozy grace. For the first time in many years, I felt at home. After all the strum und drang of family, career, and mid-life, I began to feel as if, in John McPhee’s luminous phrase, I had finally “come into my own country.”
There came a day when it was time to leave the farmhouse and the Pine Room. I wasn’t unhappy; I was just ready for change. Although I didn’t know exactly where the next steps would lead, I trusted the process enough to know that I needed to move on, to fly the nest. Then, in yet another turn of good fortune, I discovered a lovely little town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and an historic house I could actually afford. And that was enough to give me the shove I needed.
Nearly a decade later, I’ve come to realize that the Pine Room was the womb that birthed me. Strangely enough, my new (old) home in Chestertown reminds me of the Pine Room: its crooked quirks and cluttered charm have become the next iteration of home for me. While I miss the Pine Room and all it offered, I don’t rue my decision to leave. When the time came, there was no alternative. I made the leap and maybe someday, I’ll understand why I landed here.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.