The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Walking on this old floor
is similar to a ship at sea

Rachael Conlin Levy
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Built in 1918, the house showed its age through cracked plaster and rotten wood, sagging porch and wobbly brick despite any care and attention it may or may not have received over the generations it remained in one family. By the time the last surviving member sold the house to me and my husband, the most curious form of entropy lay hidden in its cantilevered northwest corner where bedroom floor had bent and bowed under time and its own unsupported weight.

Walking on the floor felt as if one were on a ship deck at sea, and it posed our first opportunity to use the second law of thermodynamics as inspiration and guide in a home remodel.

Entropy–from the Greek word meaning transformation or evolution–was first used by the German physicist Rudolf Clausius in 1855 to describe how the transformation of energy introduces chaos and decay. Entropy’s certainty and elemental nature gave Albert Einstein the confidence to write that “it is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced will never be overthrown.”

Today scientists study the entropic forces within systems as various as city and soccer team. They research what happens to energy and its byproduct at sizes ranging from cellular to universal.

“It often goes ignored that without a continuous supply of energy and resources … there can be no ideas, no innovation, no growth, and no evolution,” wrote the physicist Geoffrey West in “Scale.” “Energy is primary. It underlies the transformation and operation of everything, and no system is without consequences.”

The floor required action filled with ramification. Money, time, structural consideration, asbestos test, city permit, dump-run and decisions about new flooring options were reviewed and revisited as we worked. How would we respond?

In the end, we decided to continuing walking on wood that undulates like waves, allowing the floor to remain as evidence of the house’s age and poor engineering. The sagging corner will be shored up with an exterior post as we aim to slow time, not reverse it. With that decision made and the last nail pulled, we danced.

 

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For thirty minutes the empty house echoed with sounds of a family moving together in unfamiliar ways. What first was enthusiastic chaos–the stomp of boot, slap of hand, laughter at our shared awkwardness, toss of a sweatshirt suddenly too hot to wear–soon settled into joyful and rhythmic order as we learned song and step. Afterward, as I turned back to lock the door, I saw the old floor held new evidence of the second law of thermodynamics in action–a circle of boot scuffs.

 

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