Wednesday morning, I knelt on the backyard grass of our home in Shasta County and placed my hands on the earth. Below my fingertips and palms, I felt that little piece of land breathing, as though I was resting on a giant being, a creature simultaneously the nature of the place and also a separate entity. Tears and saliva dripped off my face as I sobbed out my goodbye, watering a ground that received it as a compassionate witness and then a moment later I was up again, packing boxes into the back of my little Toyota Tacoma. In went my wooden dollhouse, boxes of old journals and letters, pieces of childhood I just couldn’t send to the dump. Then Fern and I walked up to a corner of the orchard and stood in silence, hand in hand. A rooster cried, a ram bleated, mourning doves cooed from each direction. After a poignant moment I crouched down next to her and placed my hand on the ground again. It’s time to say goodbye to this place we love and we will hold hope in our hearts that we can return some day. Her face crumpled and she said Mommy, I feel sad. I held her close and said I do too and even though it hurts, it’s also ok. It means that we have big hearts that know how to love really well. She sighed and simply said Yes.
Dry eyed, we climbed into my truck, and she started up with a purr. Driving down the gravel road, rather than feeling bereft, I felt more connection, more love, to this little corner of Nor Cal than perhaps ever before.
A few days before leaving, I was sitting in the garage with a dusty box on my lap, lost in the ghosts of old photographs. Our young neighbor across the road (who hopes to buy the property and I hope he does too) walked over with a pet squirrel on his shoulder, followed by a dog and a cat. The five of us stood chatting for a while and I finally brought up the subject of Whateveritis, to let him know he might experience its presence. His eyes lit up in recognition and he replied Well let me tell you, its not just your house. It’s this whole area. We’ve felt something in and around our place too.
We discussed our various theories, the history of a land abused, the various native tribes, the rivers of quartz running below the soil from north to south. We agreed that Whateveritis, it isn’t evil, but it definitely can get upset. That’s why I want to steward this land he said, it wants to be nurtured and taken care of. I have a clear vision of what it wants me to do. We smiled at each other and I said Me too. I do too.
He walked back across the road, calling out over his shoulder No matter what happens, you’re always welcome here, always welcome to stay on my land. Life gets moving on and we’re all getting older and I believe in family.
On our drive home, I told Fern that when I said goodbye to the land, when I placed my hands on it, for a moment I felt like little Mae in Totoro, when she first meets the great fuzzy forest spirit by falling down his hole and landing on his belly. Fern laughed and then asked to watch the movie on the computer, cradling it on her lap in the bucket seat of the truck.
I thought of Miyazaki, and the elements of Shinto (the collection of ancient Japanese indigenous beliefs) that he incorporates into all of his films, especially that of the Kami.
Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in the religion of Shinto. They are elements in nature, animals, creationary forces in the universe, as well as spirits of the revered deceased. In Shinto, Kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of Musubi, the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be “hidden” from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own, shinkai (the world of the Kami). To be in harmony with the awe inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi [the way of the Kami]. – Wikipedia
I think perhaps, at the end of it all, I finally have a clear understanding of that lurking presence that terrified me so in childhood. Something deep inside me relaxes to know that the Other that I experienced there, both the “good” and the “bad”, are one and the same.
We spent a lot of time at Vulture Flats this trip, basking in the rambunctiousness of mid-spring. Our activity there essentially consisted of slow strolls up and down the beds of sand stone, pausing every two feet or so to enjoy a gray hairstreak on a wild onion, the startling giantness that is the bullfrog tadpole, the whistling of the kildeer. Our first morning there, I felt reception rise up from the sandpapery shore of the creek, like the hand of a friendly child, saying I’m here you know. You can always be here. Come back to this place. Forever if you can.
We can, and we will.
All photos taken at Vulture Flats, of course.