It is hard to do this, but there was a time where the Girl was still…was still….when the Boy was young and dreamed of playing second base for the Yankees in pinstripes and cleats instead of calmly, mannishly informing me if the worst came to the worst he would just join the military, when Billy hadn’t had a stroke, when he wasn’t drinking. There was a time, out in California, that both my children were writing homework assignments at picnic tables overlooking a canyon lake, that Billy tenderly folded me into his huge brown work-jacket, shielding me from the rain and wind, putting his hand behind my head as if he was putting a barrier between me and the world. We had been collecting wood for the campfire, camped up in the Bidwell Canyon Campground, overlooking the lake. The campground is up high and in winter it catches all the wind and rain and bad weather. It is also quite quite beautiful, wild turkey and deer roam freely, the houseboats bob bravely on the water and the light is soft and gentle.
We had decided to give the Highway 101 a break, get some space, I actually got to decide where we went, I wanted desperately to see the old America, the Gold Rush towns, the wild wild west. I was chasing an America that had long gone and existed only in movies and books. I was chasing the spirit of days gone by, the ghost of the dust and the boots and the ponies and the mines, with their desperate men and determined women, eeking a living from washing clothes or feeding people on the pioneer trails. I devoured books about Crazy Horse, tales from the Trail of Tears, the quest for a new land, for space, for peace, to settle somewhere else rang a note with me that was true. Beastie became a pioneer wagon, hitch ‘er up, git her done, get out there and head for the highways and byways, singing songs that are not even partially true about how this land was made for me and you, and that we are free to roam as we please, will ‘o the wills, so much jetsam and flotsom on the foam, tumbleweed on the road, motes in a sunbeam, waves on an ocean of humanity as we tumble towards death or destruction, birth and disaster, dusk to dawn and dusk again as rains fall heavy and winds blow at our faces, cast adrift, desperate for reason, for a rhyme, for a nod from another that says, “I see you brother”, “I gotchu sister,” to see and know and be all this and besides open our eyes to the collective sigh of relief when it is all over. Because like it or most often not, it does all end. The lakes and the roads, the trails and the towns, the love and the passion, the devotion and the pain, the groans of new life coming and barely breathed it life a-leaving. All to the tune of some mother faintly crying, panting weeping wailing for what she has lost and can never have again, desolate, desperate, alone and bitterly alive. Most bitterly alive, knowing this is it: this is all we are and all we will ever be. That this look, this supper, this cool drink of water today, right here and now, is the sum of it. That that door opening announcing “I’m home” one day will open no more, and leave us gaping, gasping grasping to hold onto the gossamer substance of a dream that decays in increments, by half life, reducing in clarity until it is but the ghost of happiness, the spirit of love, and we press ourselves into the illusion, the impression, the shadow of past hopes, then the street light blinks out and the shadows disappear and we are left with nothing but the knowledge we loved! We loved, and that will never be enough..
Bob is knowingly waiting on his harpoon, whining that he would give it all gladly if our lives could be like that. If our lives could be spiders in the freezing showers, and picnic table school, wood gathering and fire making, on the road, on the highway, heading for a new town, for a new camp, for a different place, moving moving: would we go to Chico, would we head to Modesto, would we go to the east where the Gold Rush towns tumble out of place in my memory, grocery stores with covered wagons on brown paper bags, and cows staring into my window sticking long tongues out at me searching for a morsel of kindness. Wild turkey letting me sneak up alongside them, offering corn tortillas left over from a giant pot of bean chilli I cooked in my dutch oven over a good fire, my country boy scaring them away by laughing at the ridiculousness of a city girl getting close enough just to pull the feathers from one when he had spent hours stalking the sly, nervous birds, hunting them a road to nowhere. I told him he was too anxious, too noisy, and I’m glad Colin and his flock had escaped his arrows. Colin clucked at me nervously gobbling, his women making sounds about how Colin was a gone-na for sure taking food from a human, like that…what was he thinking… Little Half Bucky, the young Buck, nosing at me begging for a scrap, the children sitting in the middle of all this and what’s more, happy. Happy and safe and together. I thought I had a clue about loss. I thought I had already lost everything that I was going to. I hadn’t even started to learn what I was going to lose. Not even started.