Home, Re-visited

Back home. It’s hard being here and even though the open space and clear skies should give me a sense of freedom, I feel like I’m suffocating. Even the stars feel oppressive…the passage of time is killing me. As I grow older and change, home grows older and changes. More importantly, so do the people who make this town my own. The threads that tie me here are breaking…I’ve only a few strings left and I wonder, what will happen to me then? Once everyone is gone, will I have a home to return to? Will I ever want to return?

There’s a lonely sound outside of my bedroom window, the hum of traffic going by on the freeway. It’s late and the town is quiet, so the whine of tires on pavement echo across the fields, invading my sleep. When I was little, the sound was an idea of escape. An escape from pain, shame, loneliness… I wondered where these people were going so late at night and if maybe they had room for one little girl’s quest for adventure.

Late night stops for bathroom breaks and coffee, someone smoking a cigarette or two…the smell of diesel and dirt, that first cold gulp of air after exiting the warmth of the car, cheese sandwiches and potato chips, boots covered in the melting, dirty snow of winter. Passing towns lit by eerie orange street lamps and the occasional window of someone still awake (Were they imagining places far away?). Making up the lyrics to Neil Diamond songs and humming along with the melody (love on the rocks, throw me a beer, stay for a while and I’ll whisper in your ear…mmmmm, mmmmmm). Puffing hot breath close to the window and watching the fogginess fade away (sometimes drawing a flower in it first), resting my forehead on the cold glass and pretending it was a giant ice-cube. My face sticking to the vinyl seats and the sleep that comes from feeling the car’s tires beating a rhythm on the road…bump, bump, skip, bump, over and over again.

It’s odd that I never imagined reaching a destination. My fantasy only went as far as the travelling. I’ve been re-visiting the idea again, only now as a grown up; running away from this place, from my life, and heading out on an epic road trip across the desert and over the mountains and through the plains…to end up where? The Mississippi and beyond? Maybe I would just keep going. Drive to the end of the continent and hop on a slow boat to anywhere. I’d never stop. And that’s a scary thought.

Sometimes late at night (like now), when the creeping subconscious thoughts pull their way out of deep, dark caves in my mind, I think about running away. But I never do it. It’s just one of those deep, dark thoughts that are better left inside of caves. And so, I turn over and fall back to sleep (eventually), waking up without really remembering any scary ideas…until the next peculiar night when my imaginings resurface and then I wonder, when will I stop doing this to myself? I can’t pretend to run away, I can’t hide from my problems. It’s better in the long run to face them, right?

But it’s hard for me now, being here, back home…knowing that my mom is so sick and not knowing how much time is left and whether she’s going to survive…she’s the only one who really knows me and loves me despite my irrational ideas and strange life choices. Coming to grips with finality is difficult. So, my little girl thoughts of adventures on the road are giving me comfort tonight. And maybe once all the threads have been cut in this tiny high-desert town, I won’t come back. Maybe I will get in the car and keep driving and won’t stop…until I’ve eaten the cheese sandwich, figured out all the lyrics to “Love on the Rocks”, and drawn flowers on a foggy window.

Gratitude in Three Walks

As part of a writing class assignment, I was told to go on three 20-minute walks and then blog about the experience. As per the instructor’s instructions, each walk was to be a bit different…one was located in a place known, one was located in a place unknown, and one walk was to be taken in nature.

I live my life to observe. It’s a singular activity that allows me to find beauty in the world and teaches me to be grateful. A dragonfly resting on my screen door gives me joy. I appreciate its stillness. An old woman pushing a shopping cart, alone in Safeway makes me sad. Her loneliness inspires me to greet her with a smile. Being stuck behind slow walkers causes irritation. Their leisurely stroll teaches me patience. It’s with this mind-set that I set out on a walking adventure – an opportunity to observe, learn more of life’s lessons, and reflect.

Downtown is filled with older buildings that tell the story of an old railroad town. Walking on First Street, the rusty brick buildings and little shops transport me to a time of dirt roads and long dresses. I imagine a sunny street filled with dusty horses and people running to make the San Francisco train. I hear the engine’s whistle and conductor’s shout, “All Aboard!” in the distance. I feel at home here, even when surrounded by the slow moving dinner crowd, which is why I chose my familiar walk for class to be on First Street.

There’s an old Victorian house on the corner of 2nd Street and McLeod that has some of the old-fashioned charm found in Livermore. Steps lead up to a small porch with chairs meant for relaxing on a warm summer day. A large picture window overlooks the yard, filled with rose bushes. The gabled trim around the windows remind me of my grandmother’s doily covered kitchen table. It’s everything I would like in a house. Passing by here on my walk, I am filled with longing for a place to call my own. The two dogs playing in the grass make it feel like home.

Walking through town, I notice the unique qualities it has to offer. Independent shops selling wooden furniture, Western wear, and musical instruments co-exist with more established chains selling pizza, ice cream, and sandwiches. Fountains located at the intersection of North and First Street offer a cool mist when the wind blows in the right direction, which is what I craved on this hot afternoon. People are busy walking to restaurants and yelling at friends across the street, “Hey Tony, order me a pint of Pale Ale,” I heard as I walked by the First Street Ale House. There’s a relaxed feeling in the air.

I thought of summer nights in town with the evening market on Thursdays and live bands on The Bankhead lawn on Fridays. There is always an activity available for willing participants, from evening wine tastings at Blacksmith Square to tango dancing at It’s All About Dancing. Our little town is not pretentious like other towns in the area, with high end shops, valet parking, and expensive restaurants. It’s a unique place where one can sip a locally made glass of wine and stroll through town, listening to salsa music without feeling underdressed. It has an authentic quality lacking in other suburban areas. Perhaps its authenticity comes from the bones of the buildings which survived the depression and welcomed the age of the atom. This place has changed over the years, but still claims the unique charms of small town America. I have great respect for its adaptability and retaining sense of individuality.

While my walk in in downtown had an air of authenticity, my walk in the unfamiliar neighboring city felt generic and uncomfortable – at first. Walking there, I found myself in hell, alone in the heat, heading down a tree lined street with cars whizzing by. I could have been walking in any suburban area with high brick walls and a multitude of office buildings. I felt a growing sense of unease. Was I walking in the right direction?

While heading toward my destination, the grocery store, I encountered a fuzzy brown squirrel. It hopped across the sidewalk and scampered up a tree, chattering noisily at me, attempting to shoo me away from its home. I looked up, feeling its beady eyes glaring at me from its green leafed perch and stuck out my tongue. Take that, squirrel!

I passed a colony of small, grey birds with fuzzy feathers, jumping in-between the branches of a purple flowered rosemary shrub, chirping and flapping their wings. For a moment I imagined being a bird, soaring above the town, feeling the wind on my face. I smiled. I relaxed. The spicy, woody scent of rosemary was soothing. The sound of whirring cars became white noise – I climbed inside its rhythm, walking along until I reached my destination. My generic walk transformed into meditation. I was happy.

Being in nature is where I feel most at ease. For my nature walk, I travelled on a makeshift trail in a lonely field by my house with my two dogs, Chance (a Black Lab) and Ipo (a Golden Retriever). They love visiting the field, off their leashes, where they have an opportunity to stretch their legs, chase rabbits, and sniff the smells not found in their backyard domain.

There’s a gentle stream that meanders through the field, and where the water pools, it creates a lagoon of sorts. As I walked closer to the lagoon, I observed ducks and geese competing for prime nesting spots among the tall grass. The earthy scent of the stream and the plants that grow there took me back to being a girl in Utah, running in the rain with shoes off and hair whipping in the wind.

I began to feel sentimental, remembering my childhood dreams and adventures, so far away from the grown up monotony I now live. Being outside brings me closer to the unexpected, happy explorations I had as a child, with a taste of freedom and secret treasures.

The sun set a few minutes prior to our walk, leaving the horizon a mix of orange-red and fading pink that trailed out into the purple-blue sky. I felt my heart catch in its beauty. Dusk is my favorite time of day. It feels magical, like all of the universe’s mysteries are unfolding with each star’s appearance.

Walking along the trail, hearing the crunch of hard dirt and rocks under my feet, I wondered if this uninhabited place looked the same two hundred years ago. With my back to civilization, I gazed into the past. I imagined living back in the days without technology and modern medicine, securing a homestead. My imagination had come alive. The inspiration behind my childhood adventures resurfaced. I felt free.

I watched Chance chase Ipo through the field. They ran further and further away from me. I saw him stop, tongue hanging out, with his chest heaving deep breaths. “Hey Bud, come on back,” I called to him. He trotted over slowly, stopping to sniff and then urinate on a scrubby bush. He gave me a sniff, while Ipo circled around us (the chase given up, she followed behind him). I bent down to give him a kiss on his head. “Love you, buddy,” I whispered. The sky grew dark. Our adventure was done. The day was gone.

Heading home I thought that each of these walks contained their own individual lessons. I found uniqueness in an overlooked, familiar place. I learned to respect its identity. I found peace in an unfamiliar area. I learned that smells and sounds have the power to eliminate my fear of the unknown. I reclaimed childhood adventures in nature. I learned that inspiration and freedom are always with me. Taking the time to quietly observe the world reveals the lessons I need to reach contentment. Each of these walks offered opportunities to learn and to be grateful for life. I am happy that I took the time to notice.