How do I carry the weight of their stories? I used to ask this question of myself every lunch and every drive home. One of my students was kind enough to tell me one day that he thought God gave me the gift of a huge heart. The trouble is that I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth; my heart, in fact, is very small and analytic to a fault. I don’t know how to absorb the pain some days, and I hold my breath for a quiet moment to pass on the burden to God himself. He can handle it, not me. When prayer is not enough, my commute home usually is.
I had thirty minutes to drive through beauty like this.
I drove this stretch of the interstate years and years ago when I was driving away from my past and inching toward my future. That journal is in the bowels of my storage, but I clearly remember wondering how I had managed to survive five years in the Midwest where one only gets a glimpse of sky through thick foliage. Here, where the sky stretched for an eternity and the stars glistened, my head could clear.
My co-workers often wondered why I lived out here, and I admit it was hard to adjust living forty miles from conveniences and having to catch mice every couple months, but in the end it was probably best. We had our reasons, even if no one else cared what they were, and now we have our stories. When we rented the homestead, I remember telling my mother-in-law that doing so would give our daughter a different kind of education. It did. Our oldest child will remember processing the deer my husband killed in the ravine behind our house; the bear that sat on our porch to munch on our apples; the alder bugs that infested our walls in the Winter; the Miller Moths that plagued us in the Spring; the cows and horses and antelope; the cowboys; the white, one-room school house we passed each morning; the original post office with the rifle holes in the security windows; the merry-go-round where the pioneer children and Apache children used to play, and where we took our Christmas picture. We will remember sand plum molasses; eating rabbits; shooting parties with USAFA cadets; how all the floors sloped; apple sauce, apple cider, and apple pie; Thanksgiving and other dinners with my husband’s classmates; that view from the living room–I couldn’t get enough; how the refrigerator, dishwasher, and disposal quit within days of each other; how the plumbing backed up and the well went dry during the drought; how dust coated everything no matter what you did; the squirrels chasing each other in the bathroom walls and pinging off the copper pipes; that afternoon when we heard the squirrel’s cache of acorns spill down the inside corner of our bedroom; and chopping wood all that second winter so that I wouldn’t get cold. My co-workers would complain that I missed work when it snowed on the ranch but not in town; they ridiculed my dirty car; they whispered that I thought I was too good to live in town; and they made other snide remarks that had a way of reaching me eventually, but they’ll never understand how the ranch house was an important part of our family’s chapter.
Some evenings I would drive 20 mph when I could have driven 40 mph on our country road, just to drink it all in. I’d try to imprint a particular beauty in my mind’s eye because some day, I knew, I wouldn’t have this. I will miss the mountains, the snow, the antelope, the dust. I will miss the West with a romantic yearning Swede from Peace Like a River understands. I also miss the redwoods; the stinking, changing of the tide; the thick, thick morning fog and the deep-throated moan of the fog horn; fresh, fresh, fresh fish n’ chips and clam chowder enjoyed while watching the boats slide into the docks; cold, hard, gray, pebbly beaches; and the massive horizon on the Pacific Ocean where I grew up. It’s OK to miss these textures, smells, shapes, and sounds that have become a part of my fabric. I will find beauty in my new home, little bits of nature to overwhelm and impress me, and places to enjoy immensely.