Chrysalis & Catharsis

by Heather Rae

In three days, my right love and I will walk down the aisle of an historic church overlooking Damariscotta Lake, and we will take our marriage vows. This marriage is a chrysalis of joy, love, passion and unequivocal devotion.
We met at a bookstore cafe in the early spring. He was speaking loudly to someone (a wind developer, it turned out) about gasoline taxes. I interrupted, from several feet away, with a snappy comment about putting the taxes to good use, like renewable energy initiatives. (A smartass with nice legs, so he says, he thought.)
He, it turned out, was a registered Republican and a relatively recent convert to all things sustainable. He was figuring out how to tighten up his drafty house, built in 1775 by one of George Washington’s captains, and how to reduce its electric load. My fiance’s enlightenment, his change of consciousness, came on a horse packing trip through the Shoshone Wilderness outside of Yellowstone, on the trails ridden by Jim Bridger. That was why he was headed to the sustainable energy expo where I was working a booth that day.
In getting to the alter, and making room for this wild and crazy romance, I have had to release myself from the hands-on renovations of the house, yet (somehow without my interventions!) the renovation progresses. Someone else finished gutting the kitchen walls to the studs. The downstairs bathroom is gone, walls and all.
Added on to the house renovation, we’ve been cleaning out the Captain’s house of 30 years of collectible stuff. This activity is a catharsis for a new beginning.
Seasons march on and winter cannot be put on hold; there was a dusting of snow on the ground this morning. I had arranged for Main Street Fuel to install the new Monitor heater. (They filled the new tank in the basement with K1 and then handed me the bill upside down; we all had a good laugh at that…it’s $833. Hahaha! Yikes.) The Monitor has dutifully held the temperature at 50 degrees in a room that is, essentially open to the outside: a leaky window that barely held off the north winds has been removed, framed out and the hole covered with OSB; Typar applied to the exterior is the only barrier over holes drilled through the sheathing in the seventies for blown-in cellulose insulation.
Sunday, I cleaned up after the electrician who rewired the kitchen and removed some more lathe and plaster. Monday morning, Charlie Huntington’s crew was back, spraying closed-cell foam between the 4″ kitchen wall studs. This morning, on my way to have my wedding ring cleaned, I checked in on the house and called Charlie about foaming in the window cavities. I turned off the Monitor.
In three days, I will wriggle into a little Nicole Miller number and slip on a pair of delicate, strappy sandals. Hiding the telltale signs of manual labor may prove impossible. The knuckles on my right hand, my demolition hand, have grown too large for my mother’s engagement ring. The bruises on my legs and that strange wound on my rear (a nail?) may not heal, nor the finger scrape from the wood burning stove. The fingernails will be short.
I find these house projects physically exacting but cathartic…cleansing, simplifying. Simpler living, lower planetary impact, those are expressions of beauty, as beautiful as the chrysalis into which I will wed.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

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