A safety place

A wall inside my garret, July 2007

A wall inside my garret, July 2007

“It is strange how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn’t thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering.  It’s a safety place. Everyone must have one, although I never heard a man tell of it.”John Steinbeck

Nine years ago when we first moved to Virginia from northern California, I was terribly homesick for the west coast, and had not yet discovered much to love about our new location.  That would change within a year, but the first few months were difficult.  On the plus side, I loved our home with its large, wooded (and partly overgrown) lot, detached spare garage, and abundant closets.  The house contained a few lighted, floored attic spaces tucked beneath the rafters, a feature I’ve always loved in houses.

The door to one of these spaces was located inside a walk-in closet that I turned into a craft storage area.  Finding that this particular attic space was large enough for a desk and chair, a bookcase, and several storage files and drawers, I decided to convert it to my own personal hideaway.  I covered the walls and rafters with favorite photos, sayings and mementos, many of which were reminders of the home I missed.  I filled it with old paperbacks and stationery, and put a rug on the plywood floor.  (I featured another photo of my little attic nest in this post.)

That tiny garret is a place such as Steinbeck describes above.  I go there to think, prowl among books and old ephemera, or just sit in the quiet and reflect on whatever it was that drove me into the space I jokingly call my “inner sanctum.” (It’s especially wonderful to go in there when I can hear the rain falling directly above me.)  That small room, unfinished and without heat or air conditioning, is one of my favorite things about our York home.  If we ever decide to move, I’ll be sad to leave it behind.

Do you have a favorite retreat where you go to be alone with your thoughts?  Or a place you have decorated with significant trinkets, saying or photos?  If so, I hope you will make some time to enjoy an uninterrupted visit there soon.  If you don’t yet have such a place, I highly recommend finding one, outdoors or indoors, where you feel safe and removed from day-to-day distractions.   Happy daydreaming!

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia! It’s such a privilege to be invited into your special space! I am trying to decide if, or which, of my spaces might be the one that I hold for that purpose. In some ways, I think it’s my bedroom. That room is decorated solely for my pleasure. Even my office is now (in part) decorated for efficiency and Zoom-type meetings.
    My bedroom even has one of those comfortable hanging chairs, almost an egg shape, to encourage me to escape to read in the quiet. As a bonus, I like to sleep on my porch in summer, so my “bedroom” is a place to escape to when I’m awake.
    How is your personal refuge in your new home? Is it starting to feel like that amazing hideaway in York?

    • Susan, I love those hanging chairs! I got Matt a freestanding version for the patio, where the hammock-like chair hangs from a large hook. You comments about sleeping on the porch reminded me of the “sleeping porch” in my grandmother’s home; apparently these were fairly common in Southern homes of bygone eras. I don’t think my new home can ever be what the York home was, and to some extent, will always be, if only in my mind. The new home has many advantages the York home doesn’t have, and the entire home could be considered my personal refuge, since I had only myself to please when putting it together (Matt is very agreeable with everything). But the cozy feeling I used to have in that York garret was mostly related to the fact that Jeff was in the adjacent bedroom, sleeping, symbolically standing between me and the world. That’s something the new home will never have.

      • Julia, Jeff between you and the world is certainly a powerful image!
        I have been thinking a little about spaces this week, and remembered the attic space where Digory and Polly started out, decorated with old bottles to make it look more piratey. I just love such spaces “between” places!

        • Yes, I do too. When my Mama first saw our York home, we managed (despite her being mostly in a wheelchair by then) to help her tour all these little spaces. To my surprise (she was always a very practical sort) she loved them as much as I did. She said “I never saw a house with so many nooks and crannies!” 😀

          • I’m finding your Mama’s words to be a fun compliment!
            I just finished writing to you about my opinion on sleeping porches and realize that a porch is a kind of in-between space where we all seem to love to spend time. On my porch, I have a window and door to the house, and a door and windows to the world!

            • Yes, the porch is sort of like what we used to call the vestibule in church. If the church vestibule is a midpoint between the outer world and the sanctuary, then the porch is the vestibule between the home and the outdoors, with some of the best of both.

  2. Chris

    Very nice, Julia.
    Wishing you and Matt a nice holiday weekend!
    Seems like July came so quickly; and seems different this year. 🤔😷

    • Chris, it certainly is different. My life since Jeff died has been one long slog at getting used to things being different than the years before, and now, different than even just one year before! If Covid does nothing else, I hope it helps us realize how much we all took for granted.

  3. Susan

    This is lovely! In my childhood home there was a small built-in bookcase next to the fireplace in our living room. The placement of the couch created a little square space. We had a huge throw pillow. That little square with the pillow became on of my cozy reading spots, especially in the winter when I could see snow falling outside the big picture window. (I love your classic-looking desk!)

    • Susan, just reading about your little retreat makes me want to go there! Maybe I’ll conjure it up in my imagination during the next snowy winter…

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