I'm sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, looking out over a sunbaked and drought-goldened valley of grass. A hot wind blows, dead leaves dance at my feet, and a very dusty Edmund just sauntered off after lying on my foot for a few minutes. There are crows calling, the occasional squeak of dusty wheels on Fynn's latest lego creation, and the faint sound of an engine passing somewhere over the hill.
When I booked this campsite, the site photo included a lapping lake at the foot of what would be our domain. A lake that started shrinking 10 years ago, and hasn't really stopped. The horizontal lines undulating across the hills in front of me mark the shrinking of the years, and young trees mix with the rotting stark remains of the ones that were lost when this area was flooded in the late 70's, creating the 5th largest reservoir in California. It's astonishingly low now, having lost something like 60' of depth, emptying many fingers of it, and pretty much puddling others. The boats still come though, the houseboats huddle where they can, and the rangers smile wide.
I'm looking for those smiles, while struggling with my own. We've covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks, and a lot of emotional territory in the last few months. Time that's filled many corners, and thinned out others. Some wells good, other wells dry. I miss my Mom. I miss my family, my community, my friends. I miss the knowing, the depending, the sense of regularity and solidity that comes from a semi-ordered life. It comes from the approaching 2-year anniversary of this venture, and from spending 3 weeks with my sister and 5 with my Mom. From falling into communities, and then pulling out of them again. From not communicating enough, and not carving out enough family-based routines for ourselves and our kids. Things we Do as a family, no matter where we are. Exercises, end-of-day highs/lows, reading together, schooling together … the bits of routine that mostly fall by the wayside when we're in someone else's territory.
It also comes from being this far in, and feeling no closer to our end goal. No cob classes taken yet, no leads on location or property or final anything … I'm an awful lot closer to the buzzard who is currently circling above me than I am to the ground squirrel whose burrow I can see four entrances to from where I'm sitting. I love both. Crave both. And the two are rather at odds.
I had a long conversation with my sis this morning (sitting on the floor of the bathroom, so my phone could be plugged into the only outlet in this hookup-less campground) and she was talking about hesitating to take on another weekly commitment when I suddenly realized how this trip has basically made me commitment-free, and how utterly delicious that is. It's the golden flip side of no fixed address or community. My own little conundrum. The grass is always greener, blah blah blah …
So what Did happen in the last 7 weeks or however long it's been, and how did we get from Chicago to the foothills of the Sierra Madre?
We spent one – two – three! Weeks at my sister's place, having all kinds of fun and doing all sorts of projects. And playing with piles of perfect kittens, watching with deep amusement as our two cats fled from them in terror. The City Museum was devoured (a must for anyone who can walk or crawl), a dumpster filled, painting and sorting and organizing and roofing done, as well as some very fun demolition of a furnace and some ductwork. Interspersed with tea and conversation and delicious meals and nephew wrangling. All good, every bit of it. More, please.
Then a week of time with my fam at the same house we had last year in Indiana, swimming and gaming and talking and puzzling. Mom participated often, with her eyes, sometimes her voice, and sometimes her hands. She chopped and diced and set tables and put together puzzle pieces, watched her grandkids avidly, and watched Dad when she wasn't doing any of the above. That love runs so deep and strong you could calm a storm with it. I think they do, actually. It's what's there, what they've built, and it's carrying them through a constantly changing landscape that looks like it's heading into ever deeper canyons, but the ride is still smooth. Some ripples, but no rapids. It's a braid of love, acceptance, and God, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
After our time together we hopped on up to Ken and Tina's (retracing last year's steps again) and followed up on all the progress they'd made on what we started last year, and it was awesome to see. I did a bit more compulsive garage tidying (I truly can't help myself, the list of ones I've ravaged continues to grow) and in the process unearthed a dress that Tina's Mom wore in the 60's, promptly borrowing it for the wedding in CA that was on our radar for August.
Then we hiked up to Chicago and parked at first in Tina's folks' driveway, having missed them entirely in last year's visit there. We did a wee bit of work removing old solar panels and putting up a new mail post, but mostly hung out with my folks, celebrated a 10-year-old, and caught up with friends. I did a few days of Mom-care, filling in most of one week while her regular caregiver was away, and a few days the following week. Coming in off an unpredictable life, it was a remarkably serene and ordered change. We went through photo albums, took walks in the park, shopped and cooked, and once or twice lapsed into uncontrolled and mutual giggling that was a chunk of pure gold that's still warming my heart. Balm, that was. She watched, I worked ... she followed, I directed. She enjoyed, I looked for ways to connect, and worried a wee bit on the side. Not all that different from the mothering she gave me, I don't think.
We moved to my folk's driveway for the next 4 weeks, and spent half of it working on restoring an old playset/treehouse at the Kaisers to working order again. Growth and storms had rendered it unsafe, skewed and bashed in by falling branches, and rotting in places. It was a great learning experience, and one with a very satisfying result. I hear there's been a tent pitched on the upper deck since then, so it's solid enough I guess!
Winding down our time there included visiting lots of friends, painting some skylights, putting in a new radiator and building a fan shroud for Matilda (thanks Tim and Rebecca!) and getting to see That's Weird Grandma (thanks Su!), which was a hoot ... Michael wanted to join the cast on the spot, I think. There were many meals out, picnics on the back porch, and even a day at the lake going kayaking with Dad, while Mom watched on shore and was reassured constantly that he was coming back. Sometimes hard to be fully present and enjoying, with the flutter of the flag that reads Last? shadowing your back. Onward. Is there any other option?
Extricating ourselves was unbelievably hard, and if it weren't for Michael's “Let's Go Now!” I'd still be sniveling at the end of the driveway.
We pushed off for the dunes of IN for a few days of R&R, starting to sort out feelings and trajectories and plans. We were down to 3 weeks till the wedding in San Fran, but needed to catch our breath first. We also had a couple visitors who made the trek there to see us, enjoying 3 lovely days with Marie and Carpenter and Auzlo, whose visit we managed to keep a secret from Fynn until he ran into them in front of the campground office. Truly speechless for once :). Mike also came down and kept us lovely company for a few days, bringing music and musings and injections of confidence into wedding outfit choices (platform heels, yes, lovely ones indeed.).
The day after Mike left, we headed out … Westward Ho!
(to be continued ...)