My blood comes from the mountains of West Virginia.
I came of age in the heart of a city in the Great Lakes Rust Belt. I grew up watching its traffic and its creeks and rivers, walking along the lakeshore. And I spent time in the forests of Connecticut, when my aunt fostered me for a time.
As a very young woman, I fled happily to California, to the coast. Golden sunsets and steel guitars. California held me and raised me to adulthood. Adulthood I and II, as Mary Catherine Bateson puts it. Now here I am walking into the next phase of life in this desert.
When I was a young woman the ocean captured me. I didn’t want to leave it. I don’t want to leave it, in fact. That, says the desert-dweller.
I can stand here, looking over fields of Joshua Trees and junipers, across railroad tracks, and far across the eastern edge of the San Gabriels and I can feel the sea breeze.
I can drive a few miles up the mountain and, on a very clear day, see a flash of sun on the Pacific Ocean.
I don’t hate the desert. I rather love it.
The desert has been speaking to me for over 30 years. If I can sit very still, I can hear it whisper a message.
The wind in the creosote is dreamlike, but very real. The underbrush rustles. The forthright calls of the ravens speak to me. Shadows shift with the wind. The dark mountains that surround; those pine trees standing up there on the ridge face me like sentinels. The night birds call all through the summer. Did you know you can hear the desert wind through a Joshua Tree’s tough, spiky leaves?
When I garden, with the sun on my back, I hear the voice of this land. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I don’t care. It’s not crazy. You come out here and stay a while and see what you hear.
So where does my heart belong?
I can’t seem to get that clear.
When my marriage ended I thought I’d leave the desert as soon as the papers were signed and I did the paperwork that made me sole owner of this property. I was poised to do something with this land and this house and then move on.
I couldn’t. The younger kids needed to be here.
Almost four years have passed and I’m still not clear. The kids are older, even the youngest. I could begin making plans. At least one of those kids would relocate with me.
I’ve made a list. Reasons to stay; reasons to go. But those are not what’s in the heart of me. Those are simply some reasons in my head.
Here’s what overwhelms me, even more than the high desert night sky, which is pretty damn overwhelming. I turn to go and I don’t seem to be able to do it.
I think there are traces of a life I need to walk away from entirely that swirl around me in this desert.
I’m not sure I can do the walking on while I still live in this desert. I didn’t choose this desert; I followed my ex into this place and stayed after he left.
People have told me “embrace it and make it yours.” I’m not sure why, but that always makes me cringe a little. Maybe I don’t want to.
I think there may be too many ghosts of the kind I don’t want to embrace around here.
I need a ghost-broom to chase them away so that I can think with a clear, uncluttered mind.
Meanwhile, I’ll make a break for it, up north, next week with one of my daughters. Let’s see how that feels.