Monday, November 9, 2015

Mystery Solved!

by Shari Randall

Life presents us with big mysteries and small mysteries. The big mysteries (Why are we here? Who built the giant heads on Easter Island? Where do all those missing socks in the dryer go?) are the ones we have to live with. In time, a brilliant archeologist or philosopher may give us the answers to these big questions, but we can live with these mysteries because they don’t impact our every day life. Well, sometimes the missing socks mystery does, but we just buy more socks. Some mysteries can be managed just fine without a definite solution.

The smaller mysteries are the ones that we can sometimes clear up ourselves. My friend Donna heard a strange rapping sound behind the wall in her bedroom. Upon investigation, it turned out a woodpecker had gotten in through a hole in the siding (and thank goodness her handyman was able to get the woodpecker out again!)

When I moved into my home on the New England shore, I couldn’t figure out why the head of the bed in the master bedroom was pushed up against the large picture window in the front of the room.  

Sure, the window overlooks the water, but the view is hard to admire when sleeping with my head against the windowsill. And when I say head of the bed, I mean the mattress. This beach house bedroom is pretty barebones; the bed is a mattress and box spring – no headboard or footboard.

We decided to leave the bed where it was; we had plenty of other household tasks to worry about. Besides, the sound of the waves that played softly outside the window was restful.

A few nights later, light peeking around the edges of the blinds woke me up. I rolled onto my stomach and pulled the blinds aside.

Photo taken with cell phone.
The moon had risen and had spilled a shimmering silver path directly across the water to our front door. At least it looked that way. I’ve lived near a city for so long that seeing the sky without light pollution was a revelation. Without ambient city light, the sky and the sea were a perfect black velvet backdrop to the moon, bigger and clearer than I’ve ever seen at home in the suburbs of northern Virginia.

A few nights later my husband and I settled into bed, lying on our stomachs, heads propped on our pillows, looking out at the stars. The constellation Orion, belt glittering, filled our window. Then just before dawn a few days later, my husband woke me to see the planets Venus and Jupiter, larger and brighter than either of us had ever seen them before, shining as deep pink and gold sunlight streaked the horizon. The sight was so wonderful that I didn't even mind the early wake up call.

Finally, the placement of the bed by the window made sense. Mystery solved! Our east facing window was a perfect spot for stargazing.

Seeing the stars that are usually obscured by the light pollution of my home in the suburbs also cleared up a literary mystery. Wendell Berry wrote a poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” about the solace he found in the natural world. Now that I had observed the beauty hidden by the light, his lines suddenly made sense:

“And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.”

Have you solved any mysteries – small or big - at your house?


  1. What a wonderful mystery to solve, Shari! We are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have contemplated living on the water. The mystery we've discovered is how people expect top dollar for a house that needs a new septic field, new roof, replacement of two of three heat pumps, new exterior decks, and upgrading electric and plumbing to get it up to code?

    Location, location, location might rule, but without the essentials we still aren't buying. I'm back to square one after five months. I'm so glad you found such a wonderful mystery! Love the picture.

  2. Your night viewing sounds wonderful, Shari. If I didn't remember from my childhood in Pennsylvania the clear view of zillions of stars I wouldn't believe that you could actually see more than a few twinkling lights in the night sky. My husband and I once traveled across the South Pacific by ship, and my main goal was to be able to see the stars clearly. The lights from the ship and the trailing smoke from the engines blocked a clear view. Very disappointing. I've got to find a place with a clear view. There are probably so few left. I'm so glad that you found one--and at your back door.

  3. Cape Cod in the frozen dead of winter, the night sky a dome above me filled with stars and planets. You'll have a new hobby all winter long!

    I'm fascinated by the cycle of high and low tides, and how the spring and fall equinoxes affect them.

  4. For three years running we came back to our place in Savannah to find itsy mummified baby alligators in our garage. One year, we found one in the house. We have a lagoon (fancy name for pond to drive up the cost of property) out back but we’ve never had alligators in there. Plus, from what I knew of alligator life history, it didn’t make sense because these guys were only five or six inches long from snout to tail and wouldn't be traveling on their own.

    Then last spring I captured a green anole that had snuck in the house, and it dawned on me that a mummified green anole and a mummified alligator would look a lot alike. The mummified “alligators” no longer had pride of place on Jan’s desk and promptly hit the garbage can.

    ~ Jim

  5. Sometimes, especially on cold, still nights, I love to go to my side yard and look at the stars.

    Erma Bombeck presented a theory on the sock-in-the-dryer mystery years ago.

    She proposed that socks are living things, in the midst of a lifecycle that, like insects and butterflies, that undergo metamorphoses into forms that are very dissimilar in appearance. At the proper time in their lifespan, which varies sock by sock, they migrate to the front hall closet and become wire coat hangars.

  6. Shari, how nice to get such a clear view of the stars. I live in the country, so if I want to go outside at night, I can see them, as long as it's behind the barn where my son installed an outside security light. However, as Grace Topping mentioned, there are places I've camped in Pennsylvania that has the most amazing star viewing. For me, what I enjoy watching is the moon coming up from my living room.

    Mysteries solved? I know there have been a lot of little ones, but what comes to mind is when my furnace went haywire with a horrible racket one night. I immediately shut it down and called my son, who lives next door. He came over and took the front off and discovered a milk snake wrapped around the fan belt. Quite dead, of course. The day before the weather had warmed up enough to activate it, I guess, and when it got a little cooler, it made for the only warm spot which was my furnace. There's only a crawl space under my kitchen and at that time places small critters could get in. Since then I've had a new basement wall put
    in eliminating the gaps. Before that it wasn't too uncommon to find a snake in my basement which is very old. Fortunately, I'm not afraid of snakes, at least not the ones I find around my place.

  7. Oh, E.B., you've hit on one of my guilty pleasures - real estate lingo! We saw one that promised a "tiny treasure ready for your creative touch" - it was a falling down shack with broken windows! I wish you luck with your hunt. Thank goodness the house we are in was winterized and has storm windows. We looked at one that was renting for the winter, had no insulation, storm windows, and electric heat. Yowza, those heating bills.

  8. Grace, I, too, remember those star filled skies from my childhood. I hope someday you can visit Arizona - the skies there are absolutely full of stars. Magical!

  9. Hi Margaret,
    I'm learning about those rhythms of tide (mainly from that low tide smell! Downside of being near the water!) I've always considered myself a city girl, but now I'm watching the skies instead of listening to weather reports. The old timers at the shore say that Nature will often - but not always - let you know what is coming if you pay attention.

  10. Jim, LOL! I can just picture Jan doing that!
    I had to go look up anoles - they are kind of cute and definitely look like baby alligators!

  11. Oh, KM, how I adore Erma Bombeck. Thank you for sharing - how had I forgotten that?

  12. Oh, Gloria, I would have DIED seeing that snake! Speaking of furnaces, mine has been making a bit of a racket….can your son come over? :)

  13. What a glorious post, and the photo is outstanding. Being a Mainer though, I have to warn you, the sun will come up at 4:30 AM. Maine greets the day first. This wasn't a mystery, but a wonderful glimpse into the past. When I bought my very first house, in South Florida no less, it had central air, but when it had been finished in 1951 it had air conditioners built into the walls. Now, those things are large, and unsightly, so I had them taken out. When the workers pulled the units out they found that each one was surrounded by Miami Herald newspapers. Best of all, I was able to smooth most of them out and I was able to read them. It was a wonderful way to get a flavor of the house and the time it was built. Especially since the papers were from Memorial Day (MacArthur was speaking at Bayfront Park) and the Fourth of July. The ads were just as fascinating as the news.

    I did always wonder why the house was so sturdy. Much more so than other So. Florida houses. There was so much rebar in the walls that I could not get a cell signal and my friends who were in law enforcement would leave their radios on the picture window sill to get a signal. One summer afternoon a limo pulled up and a very, very, very old one-legged man got out. He wondered if I would let him see the house. He had built it and lived in it until he sold it in the 1980s to the people I bought from. Of course, I was happy to show him around. Through him I discovered that the house was designed by an architect friend of his, Alfred Browning Parker, and that it was so sturdy because the owner had lost his house to a hurricane in 1945 and he didn't care what he had to do, he was not losing another!

    Mystery solved.

  14. Kait, I love it! Sounds like your house had personality plus!