While Wendy was reading a Victorian novel the other day, she told me about an interesting note that explains the purpose of a hermitage. During the eighteenth century, it became trendy for wealthy landowners to return to more primitive, natural landscapes, often applying a touch of medieval gothic. This led to mock hermitages. A hermitage is just what it sounds like -- a place where a hermit or monk lives. So a landowner would try to impress aristocrats by constructing a little building in a remote area on the grounds, kind of like a mother-in-law apartment nowadays. To make them as realistic as possible, landowners hired people to inhabit these faux hermitages as full-time hermits, under the condition that they live in monkish austerity and not cut their hair or nails. These mercenary hermits didn't always work out so well, so the landowners began using wax hermits.
Hermitages haven't really caught on here on the west coast. The closest thing I've seen to it is in a documentary called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It features a homeless bohemian musician who befriends wild parrots living in San Francisco. The guy camps out in a little run-down mother-in-law cottage on Telegraph Hill where he scrounges for food, makes sweetly mediocre music, and hangs out with his parrot friends. There's a great scene in which a couple who are buying the property talk about what a valuable asset this parrot guy is to the community, and they get weepy as they tell the camera that they'll let the bird guy continue to live there indefinitely because he's so cherished. It turns out that these new owners define "indefinitely" as around three months, as we learn that the guest cottage will be renovated so that it can be rented out, and the bird man needs to find a new place to live. (He solves his homelessness problem by marrying the woman making the documentary.)
I can do better than those greedy yuppies.
If the housing market in Seattle ever recovers, I could sell the current house and move out to a country estate on, say, ten acres. The main house would have a big porch, solar panels, and an indoor raquetball court, and we'd have an artesian well and a wild garden that surrounds a little cottage. Of course, we need to find someone to live in this bucolic mother-in-law apartment. The most obvious choice is my mother-in-law, but I think I'd prefer soaking myself in gasoline and doing a fire walk on hot coals. So who else? Here are some possibilities:
Minette and Andy - This could work out pretty well, but they'd probably insist on paying rent, which would throw off the arrangement. I just don't get the sense that I could control them. Besides, you really just need the one hermit.
Botched - Botched Experiment is looking for a better job. He could grow his hair out, grovel in mud, and do cancer research. Unfortunately, I think he's a little too chatty to be a hermit.
Glen - Here we go. Glen could continue to work on his dissertation while living in the cottage. If he had nothing to do but his research, he'd probably wrap it up within the next 10-12 years. Plus, I think we could find a Russian woman or two to mistreat him. It could work. Besides, Glen's used to being underpaid.
Dug - At first I didn't even consider Dug because he can be so irascible. But isn't that exactly what you need in this situation? Who wants a pleasant hermit living out in the wood shed? The problem is that despite his grouchiness, people really like Dug, so our hermitage would be a more popular hang-out spot than our home. We can't have that.
Mark - Mark is divorced, so he has enough time on his hands to be an active hermit when he isn't flying. But he doesn't sit still very well, he would leave animal carcasses on the grounds, and I think he'd have a tough time with the long fingernails.
Robert - Robert could definitely let his hair and nails grow out. This arrangement would qualify well for his ideal community in which people barter poetry for chicken feed. Plus, he's half native American, so when the boys ask a particularly difficult question, we could say something like, "I don't know -- go ask the Indian out in the back."
Unless someone has a better idea, I may just end up putting a wax hermit in the cottage.