Saturday, July 11, 2009

It wasn't Thoreau's birthday

I thought it was though, that hot summer afternoon as the Greyhound bus wound its way up over precarious mountain roads and at the edge of sheer cliffs. I waited for the redwoods, and was surprised that they were--brown, really. But so huge, so tall. The driver pointed out osprey nests. I ate a little container of yogurt and conversed with my boyfriend. Or whined. Or fought. My memory, actually, is that our nerves were strained, I was tired, and the start of a migraine beat at my left temple.

We stopped in a small town, about an hour from our destination. The hills around were dry, golden, dusty. Some sad looking children poked at a dead bat they'd found. Where on earth was I going? I thought, staring at the children, at the leathery, beautiful, sad wings of the little bat.

The bus pulled into the town we'd found, at last, on a map of the state back when we were considering journeys and we were closing up the house outside London and I was destroying the start of a novel I'd written and wondering where the year, the wonderful year of writing and freedom had gone.

The streets were bare, dust blew from the north. The friend who was supposed to meet us wasn't there. Well, the bus was, after all, over an hour late. And she did eventually show up.

But what stunned me as I stepped out onto the sidewalk, head hurting, mouth dry, was the message.

I suppose I should backtrack here and assure my readers that I am usually sane. But now and again through my life I have heard voices--internal and external. And I have seen things that apparently other people do not. So, at this moment, as I stepped onto the sidewalk of the ugly and dry and uninteresting little town, as I looked at boarded up buildings, as I wondered how long my head would ache...a voice within said "This is where you are supposed to be".

Of course I figured I was indeed not as sane as I've just assured you I was. What I thought was "great, fighting with the boyfriend, migraine, bus late...and now I am going into a major mental breakdown or something. Great".

And the quiet, patient, still voice within just said again "This is where you are supposed to be".

I took it on advisement.

We were supposed to be traveling further north after a weekend with the friend. I would work at a library, my boyfriend would write a thesis, we would live happily ever after.

So my friend arrived, and we went to the place she'd bought by the river, where there were two little extra cabins, and she kindly showed us to the one nearest the river. It being July the river was a tiny trickle over a lot of grey rock, and my friend apologized, assuring me that when she'd moved there, in November, the river had been right up to the fence. Hard to believe.

And within three days I knew I had to stay.

I've fallen in love a number of times in my life, and hope to continue to do so. I've fallen in love with men and women, with dead poets, with buildings, with dogs and cats, and with the color of the sky on a summer night. That year--indeed, that day, some three days after my arrival and two after Thoreau's real birthday (my friend the librarian was good at fact checking)--I fell in love with a landscape. I fell in love with the scent of river water running over mossy stones and with the dust that covered my sandals. I fell in love with the plants I didn't recognize, and with the white egrets. I fell in love with the way the light hits the hills, the way the sunlight filters through evergreens, the way poison oak gleams. I fell in love with the gnarled hands of lumbermill workers and the crazy stories the old timers shared with me.

This love is ever renewing. So I got a job as a motel maid, and I broke up with my boyfriend, and I fell in love, and I fell in love, and I fell in love. Sometimes with people. And my children were born, and there were as many twists and turns to my life story as you can imagine. Someday I might share a few.

But every year, on the 11th of July, at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I pause and think about the day I stood on the pavement with my head pounding and a voice in my mind and a sense of craziness.

There is no way I could even begin to say how glad I am, how thankful, how purely delighted, how lucky.

Thoreau would have approved.

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Blogger Lori Witzel said...

I felt the same way when I traveled from New York City to the Texas Hill Country, and see what happened?


8:56 AM, July 12, 2009  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Aha, you are a New Yorker by birth? I would never have imagined.

Someday someone needs to write about the whole falling in love with place/landscape thing. I sometimes wonder if perhaps it comes from cellular or genetic memory: this seems right, this looks right because somewhere a zillion years ago an ancestor gazed at some trick of light on water and was pleased.

12:49 PM, July 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I nominate you to write that book or thesis or whatever. :-)

7:28 PM, July 12, 2009  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Yep -- born in Brooklyn NY, raised in the southernmost tip of the Hudson River Valley, moved to a suburb of Phoenix when I was about 15, went to college in Flagstaff, and after starving for a year in Phoenix post-graduation went to NYC for a round of the Grad School of Hard Knocks. Which was fun, but I missed the west. I fell in with a bunch of bluegrass musicians who lived in Comfort, Texas, went to visit them, fell in love with the Hill Country, moved and haven't looked back.


4:45 AM, July 13, 2009  

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