Pungent scents of bay laurels and the rustling of rattlesnake grass, parched dirt and pine sap. The distant screech of a red tail hawk and primal caw of the raven, nighttime chirps of the cicada and distant yips of coyotes arguing with sleepless dogs on distant ridges.
Memories of my first days and months on the land, crazy with the quiet and a stranger to the stillness, hungry for some sort of new me to emerge from the wreckage of a life spent in places I didn’t belong, with people who didn’t understand me or have any interest in understanding themselves. A woman from the land brought me here. Opened the door to a whole new way of knowing people, knowing place, knowing the time-out-of-time that exists in every moment if you shut up and sit still.
My first child born under an oak tree in the middle of a temperate February night. The candlelight visits of neighbors who sat comfortably in the silence with me. Sitting at the old wooden table centered by the glow of a kerosene lamp and marveling at the sheer amount of space between us and the nearest human being. November morning runs following game trails, crisscrossing steep ravines and clambering up moss covered rocks, jumping seasonal streams that lead to secret waterfalls, my mother-in-law’s wolf-dog and I taking turns leading the way through oak forests and dead grass meadows until we ran out of steam. A primeval tandem of beast and human.
Making cowboy coffee on the Wedgewood stove. Chasing the bear out of the front seat of the car. Travis cutting the throat of the deer that had been mauled by a mountain lion our dog had scared off before it could be claimed and consumed. Sunsets perched on top of the Rise (as it was called), drinking in the panorama of deep redwood canyons to the north and rolling hills dotted with homesteads to the south. Countless blessed moments walking up and down that road that lead to and from the home place, whose windows glowed a candlelight orange in the shadowy evening and whose sagging roof and weather-worn timbers kept us cool on hot summer days.
A prayer of thanks for the people I love. The people who also call this place home, even though they may not live here anymore. The people who’ve woven themselves irreversibly into the story of my own life, and without whose presence things wouldn’t be remotely the same. Children I met upon my arrival now adults with families, elders now becoming elderly. Death visits from time to time, as do births and marriages and divorces and all the other things we see fit to put ourselves through.
A prayer for the land I love. It browns and bakes in the summer heat while distant ridges burn and nearby valleys fill with smoke. 30 miles away as the crow flies, the forests I run to for sanctuary and comfort are now roaring with flames. No time for one last visit. Redwood cathedrals stand sentry as they always do and hopefully always will, and I nestle myself amongst their immense shaggy trunks, listening to the burble of the creek and giving thanks that I am here.
Distance comes. Community disperses. Age or work or family or sickness or fortune take us away from each other. And I occupy a liminal space, alone in my metal box, hopscotching from place to place, not quite belonging in any of them but feeling at home when I slide the door closed and climb onto my bed.