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Building Eden - Traci Musick-Shaffer

We build our Eden—plank by plank, stone by stone—plotting, designing, hammering, lifting, digging, and planting our private, peaceful paradise together.

But that isn’t how it began.

It took years of toiling in solitary Hells before two hearts would collide and the construction would begin.

Is this what the winds of time intend?

Maybe it’s the rough ground of uncertainties that pave the path to paradise. This desire to know summons me.

Seven houses and three, four, or five apartments… What is it that constitutes home?

Today, I’m living in my seventh house. At least, I think I am.

Can I really count my childhood home as my house?

I mean, I didn’t choose to live in the small village located in southern Ohio right along the Ohio River. That decision was made long before I arrived into the world. Here, I was raised by my parents along with three other siblings. Woodview Acres, a street consisting of some thirteen houses in the early 1970s, only slightly characterized my neighborhood. At its core, this rural setting manifested more woods than acreage. Back then, the street seemed broad and long in my limited childhood eyes. As I walked daily to and from the bus stop located at the end of the street, my little girl legs thought it was an endless journey—a mountainous hike.

But none of that mattered so much as the turmoil. It was the simmering, festering turbulence I dreaded. Each day as I exited the bus and headed up the street to the end of the cul-de-sac, I wondered what I would confront in the doorway of a dis-eased environment. At that time, the household in which I lived was a tumultuous one. “Dysfunctional” before we ever had the label. Yes, it was a hotbed of parental screaming matches, dented walls, and the occasional broken window. Years of warring parents took their toll on my sensitive, middle child soul.

So, would this domicile count as mine? It seemed more theirs—my parents’ battleground. All right, I’ll delete that residence from the list.

Next, I moved in with my father once my parents’ divorce proceedings began. Willowvale Square was a condominium complex a few miles down the road from my childhood address. My mother in the midst of her divorce unrest had kicked me out. I was nineteen and in my second year of college. “There’s the door,” she had shouted in exasperation to my know-it-all self.

I had no other place to go. But, my dad living on his own for the first time opened his door. Here, my first taste of domesticity began. Cooking, cleaning, ironing his dress shirts became my new normal while I attended college. This only lasted about a year. My father didn’t like “being alone.” He explained at the time that he was “built to be a husband.” So, he married with quick speed, post-divorce. Once again, I went searching for belonging.

And then another door opened.

Could I count where my grandparents lived as my house? Here, I found myself still wading in muddy waters on Greenup Avenue in Raceland, Kentucky. This was my mother’s childhood home, and it became a peaceful respite during the last couple of years I finished college. My faithfully abiding grandparents took me in when I had nowhere else to go.

So, I wonder: what comprises “home”?

Is it a location? A place that becomes an address on envelopes, documents, and applications of the universe? Or is it a point of greater reference? A sort of North Star?

I guess those early years of life could be summed up in Wordsworth’s description, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.”

And in the next phase, I wonder about marriage.

Does uniting in holy matrimony make a home?

Lakewood Village was where I settled my first marital roots. But it would be as doomed to failure as its original intended use as a ski resort in eastern Kentucky. (Whose idea was it to build a ski resort in Kentucky? This region is geographically unforgiving for such a silly notion!) My marriage lasted a bit longer than the resort, but both were ruinous ventures from the start. Algonquin Avenue, Heritage Heights Road, and other small smatterings of apartments in-between. My life moved, shifted, and shimmied numerous times to count.

So, why even try?

Poor life choices have sent me packing and abandoning personal possessions along the way. Where did I leave my grandmother’s homemade quilt? Or my high school photo album? Oh, right. I left those items in failed marriage number one. What about that lovely antique bed I used to polish once-a-week in high school? I took such pride in my great-aunt’s bed. “Don’t touch my bed,” resounded as a teenage mantra to anyone who entered my bedroom.

Sadly, it, too, got left behind in failed marriages numbers two and three because marrying the same man twice seemed like a delectable declaration at that time. Like the Kentucky ski resort, I, reveled in making doomed decisions—one after the other.

Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost,” unless you’re travelling shotgun with me. Like a character in a B-movie, I have worn the tread off my running shoes over the years. When would I ever stop the marathon of bad decisions?

And when would I finally find home?

The marathon was a long haul. Years of tears, sweat, arranging for movers, boxing my belongings, then unboxing belongings, sending out change of address notices, I lived life as a sort of treadmill—perpetually in motion.

Eventually, my running days would come to a screeching halt. The body could only take so much pounding across life’s course.

At age forty-one, my heart decided it was time to settle down. In a strange twist, my nomadic lifestyle brought me full-circle. I returned to my hometown. But, this time I arrived at a new territory—to a place called Shaffer Farms. Here I learned it was time to quit the incessant movement. What was it about life that had me circumnavigate to where I initially started?

A coincidental message in late May of 2011 created curiosity within me. It stirred movement and created a desire that found me driving back out Solida Road in southern Ohio. This was the road of childhood, and now it was the road propelling me to a new destination.

I arrived back at the place where I grew from awkward, disheveled girl into the still insecure skin of my forty-one-year-old-self. Out of teenage habit, I ended up on my old street, Woodview Acres. But this time it looked eerily different. Why was it so small in my adult eyes? Wasn’t this road the longest walk? A daily hike of epic proportions? Where was the distance now? Time stalled on this new but familiar path. Now, it measured itself in years.

As I navigated my car around the cul-de-sac, I looked at the white, brick house that was once theirs and not mine. There exuded no feelings of sentiment. No sense of belonging. No blip on life’s radar. In fact, it stared back with sadness and despair. Or was that my own state of affairs? Nevertheless, the doleful reflection compelled me forward—to drive on.

Two miles northeast of Woodview Acres, I turned my car onto a gravel road. “Is this the road I need?” I thought to myself. “Am I in the right place? These were the directions he gave me. Right?” I looked at my phone to double-check the address.

It’s a funny thing about destiny: When one believes she is lost; experience navigates her right where she is meant to be.

Forging ahead, I followed the gravel drive meandering in S-shape fashion up a gentle hill. As I arrived at the peak, a lone log cabin stood eyeing me. It seemed to follow my car as I slowly approached. Sparse of any womanly decoration, the cabin stared ahead looking lonely in its isolation. Nothing fancy. Just a log house in its rustic elements. As I opened the car door with slight hesitation, I stepped out into a new reality. Some strange sensation washed over me from head to toes. Standing in the midst of a tree-lined embrace, I saw and felt a warmth that I had never experienced. A sort of heartbeat thumped for the first time in the depths of my being.

What was this strange occurrence? What had I stepped into?

With pounding anticipation, I entered the house built by a high school classmate who I’ve since learned can build anything and everything. In detail, he pointed out specifics of construction. Explained how long it took to build, and I noticed the gleam of pride in his explanation. This was his work of art. Through building, he prayed in the only way he knew how—with tools in his hands.

Before leaving that day, I stood on the wrap-around porch of the log cabin. I looked over the hill into the valley below. Something caught my attention. It was a sort of silent sound. I leaned in closer to figure out the unfamiliar reverberation. What was it? A call? A ripple in the air? A message intended just for me? The elms, hickories, oaks, ash, and buckeye trees were speaking to me. Through their lifted branches, my eyes darted upward. Wafting along the gentle breeze of rustling leaves, I heard the calling. On the front porch of life, I felt a strange stirring in my soul—a tumulting of heartbeat fluttering. It whispered, “settle here, plant your roots, and grow.”

On that day in May of 2011, I chose to begin my own building process.

As my love and I stood on a downed tree and held hands for the first time, I knew I would never leave. I heard and answered the call. Intuitive and swift, our lives had collided like swerving birds in flight.

Since then I have come to learn much about life, living, giving, sharing, and loving. For the first time, I heard beneath the shuttering of trees what it means to breathe, to build, and to belong.

Standing in the front yard at Shaffer Farms, my former classmate and new love explained his building choices. He explained that a home should be a fortress against extreme weather. Before building his log house, he held a compass in the palm of his hand to ensure it would face directly South. This ensured proper sunlight spilled—as it should—onto the front of the house. He continued to clarify that a garage built on the east protected a house from the buffets, blows, and storms that would arise.

And so he built.

And then I arrived.

In my own way, I, too, held a compass and followed suit.

Life finally began. And all the incessant moving around halted. I quit running. The treadmill stopped. I planted roots. I quieted my anxieties and fears. My love continued to build and add to our home with his tools, and I began to build with mine—constructing with words.


Making peace with the past occurs in strange ways.

I opened a notebook dated 1991. In a college writing course, I had made a list of thirty items I wanted to accomplish in life. It was the compilation of a brainstorming activity. “Become a writer,” my twenty-one-year-old-self wrote. At that time, I wanted to be Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver, mixed with a pinch of Ray Bradbury’s madness maddened. To be a powerful, magnificent writing force all rolled up into one. But what happened to that dream? Why—twenty years later—was I not doing that? Was it because up until that point I was home-less? Had the winds of time not sifted out life’s silty sediments? Had I not settled into the skin of life—into myself?

Because what is it that constitutes home?

In the nine years that my love and I have lived together on Shaffer Farms, our surroundings have unfolded organically. Trees have formed a tighter and warmer embrace. And together, we have grown in steadfast earnestness. Our children have since moved on to construct their own worlds. Serenity Garden, filled with life’s blooms, has been built in the backyard—equipped with a functioning outhouse. And the once barn-in-the-making has been completed. What started as a log house sitting on a gentle hill, has evolved into a walkway that leads straight to home.

Today, I ponder how each living soul must arrive, grow, seek, and return. Through intentional love and dedication, I know all must build and create their own Eden. To weed out the past. To plant seeds of devotion and appreciation. In my paradise, stands a fortress protecting two loving hearts against life’s changing weathers. Together each day, our Eden continues to grow as its own sort of structurally sound love story. It’s a stronghold against life’s obstacles, challenges, and hardships. As a house faces south, our Eden envelopes Love’s warm rays—dissolving the shadows of the past. For now, we see that light conquers darkness.

Though it took forty-one years to learn, I now know home consists of designing and assembling a love story—from beginning to ever-after. Placing the planks of exposition to roofing the resolution, home creates the narrative of fulfillment and purpose. It involves letting go of the past and staying focused on the present. What I now understand to be true is that home isn’t where I’ve lived, nor the addresses I’ve accumulated, not what I’ve done, nor what has been done to me. Home is connecting to my one true source, knowing that I’m part of my beloved, and, in turn, linking to this unlimited power called Love.

It is a doorway that belongs to him and me.

Through the continual sowing, watering, and nurturing of our Love, we ensure that this—our story, our home of belonging—continues to grow, blossom, and thrive. It is how we build Eden--plank by plank, stone by stone—plotting, designing, hammering, lifting, digging, and planting our private, peaceful paradise. Together, we are home.

Today, as I stand on the front porch of log cabin living, I “breathe it all in and love it all out.” With the proper tools of intention in hand and heart, each day I find new ways to construct the present and revel in its magnificent beauty. As the past fades into a blurry background, all limitations slowly dissolve. No more muddying of present moments.

I stand in awe of limitless spirit which brings into focus this picture-perfect view.

All the while…

the whistling wind wafting through the trees whispers…

“Well done, my child. Welcome home.”


Traci L. Musick-Shaffer is a twenty-seven year teaching veteran who lives and works in the tristate area of Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. She earned a BA from Marshall University in Huntington, W.V., and a MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Her writing has appeared in Fourth and Sycamore, Mock Turtle Zine, and Turnpike Magazine. She is featured in recent editions of Rubbertop Review, The Finger Literary Journal, and For Women Who Roar. Currently, she teaches in southern Ohio where she prefers her log cabin country living with her husband, David, and border collie, Holly.


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