We abandoned our part-time jobs as baristas, bar maids, hostesses, vegetable farmers, fry cooks, landscapers, nannies, lifeguards, and retail specialists. We left behind our full-time jobs as painters and sculptors, poets and essayists, puppeteers and circus performers. We left town for a country of prairie grass and junipers, of oceans lapping deserts, of great islands of sand and sunset. We took our children, wrapped to our backs, cuddled in wagons and wheelbarrows, walking at our sides. We left our cars in the streets with the windows rolled down and the keys in the ignition. We left our credit cards and tip money, our rolls of cash and bank accounts; we left our designer jeans, red lipsticks, and shaving creams that smelled of cinnamon and shoe leather and lavender; we left our student loans and master’s degrees. We carried dried beans, loaves of bread, books as old as grandmothers. We packed knives and wooden bowls, blocks of butter and bottles of virgin olive oil. We carried hatchets and spades wrapped in burlap.
Our hair grew long and our children dirty as we walked. Our hands grew strong and our fingernails hardened. We found forests of fir with moss floors where we lay our heads and our babes to sleep. We listened to the owls cry in the night and held each other in a different way, from a different fear—a fear that felt necessary and fleeting. Our children curled into us and sighed in their sleep and we dreamed of great mountains with rushing streams filled with fish. We dreamed of the untethered ocean, strong like a god. We dreamed of a home somewhere deep in the earth, thick with mud and grass, with vegetation, where we lived women and men in collusion, green as earth. Round and happy with need.
We had read Thoreau and the Nearing’s; we had read A Sand County Almanac and Silent Spring along with “Howl” and Wendell Berry. We believed in homesteading and self-sufficiency and wood cabins with saunas beside the pond or the stream or the lake. We longed for gardens and chickens and farms with apple orchards. We wanted our children to live freely of the land and we knew it would be hard, but we believed in a better life, as though we might be separate from the rest of the world, free from the need to belong. We believed we could change from the body out, and that sweat and muscle would bloom and bear the fruit of our labor.
We stood in clearings and watched deer; we cried out at the sight of geese flocking home overhead; we lay at night under the blistering stars of a deeper sky and listened to the wolves howl. We learned the names of trees and flowers and birds and mushrooms. We pointed out the constellations we had never been able to see before and taught our children the old myths because history felt necessary, story vital.
We built cabins in the sides of mountains, barns in the valleys, and stood in the bluffs beside the sea, filled with the sound of the waves as they crashed and shoaled, filled with the distance of the horizon, the sky lipping there. Swallows built their nests in our barns and we welcomed them. Our children grew strong and wild romping through the fir forests, the birch groves and rivers that coiled through the land as they made their way to the sea. Fear left us as we stood in pastures beside sheep, on the tips of mountains looking out letting the world beyond us come in, move through us, form us as it saw fit. We let the weather dictate our lives, the sun our sleeping habits and when we returned to making art, writing stories, puppeteering and drama, we felt content with mediocrity, we were lazy with our craft, our sentences floundered and burst, letters fled the page, women stood on stage and forgot their lines and no one cared. Paintings looked like replicas of the depicted and sculptures stood lifeless in the fields.
|Maurice De Vlaminck|
Soon our children grew up and left us for the cities, the wars, the marketplace. We grew old alone, together. We walked to the sea and listened to her song when our eyes no longer worked. We lay down on the moss of the fir forest and waited for the owls to cry out, for the sound of the wolves howling, full with longing. We climbed the mountainside and sat among the wild sheep; they nuzzled our furry chins and dry lips and curled up at our sides. We held them. We felt the night drop like a shadow and when we slept we dreamed of our children, full and round like the moon, sleeping in tiny rooms in the city, driving cars and riding subways, sitting in cubicles dressed up in neck ties and heels, sipping cocktails with cherries and lime wedges after eight-hour days, kissing and making babies and filling their bank accounts with numbers under a smoggy sky, filled with angst and love and hope and dreams of their own.