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This farm was the place where I first encountered the knowledge that I could create freedom for myself. Partially because of that, it holds an untouchable place in my heart; the smell of the dirt road, and the cool air of morning, and the many pinpricks of stars in the sky, will always remind me of the existence of possibility.

I should not be surprised to find so many memories waiting for me here. I walk into the house that I shared with my ex-boyfriend. My old house has been updated: someone since my time has removed the mural that someone before my time had painted on the clawfoot tub; the striped carpet that my dog used to occasionally eat is gone; the kitchen has been dismantled and moved into a smaller space. But some things have not changed: the magnificent homemade woodstove is still suspended from the ceiling; wisteria continues to wrap its way towards the porch.

I used to write on the steps of this porch, watching the farm world pass slowly along.

I used to write on the steps of this porch, watching the farm world pass slowly along.

Distinct moments come back to me: a memorable meal made with winter chard, the mad dash in the cold morning air to get the fire going again, the first time I felt an earthquake. Even as it is reclaimed by nature, and is no longer useable, the tree house reminds me of the first night this man and I spent together; it was there, in the midst of those wild branches.

There is poison oak everywhere, running up tree trunks and standing freely, lush and tempting and green, but also a reminder of the day I chased my dog through it, back and forth, back and forth, as he proudly carried a squealing baby deer in his mouth. By the time I caught him, and the deer pounced away unharmed, I’d already been so exposed to the oil that I realized in short order that I’m severely allergic; the doctor prescribed steroids and I’ve been terrified of it ever since.

Poison oak: my earthly nemesis.

Poison oak: my earthly nemesis.

And the curved driveway reminds me of the first argument that I had with the man who I did not yet know was prone to yelling, the argument so blown out of proportion that I think of it with sorrow now, sad for the young woman I was. I’d like to reach back in time, pull back her hair, and lean in close, whispering in her ear the things she did not know to expect.

Still, there is nothing bittersweet for me about being at the farm. I have a deep affection for this land, for this freedom and possibility, which I feel acutely whenever I am here; I walk with gratitude along the rows of lettuce and nasturtiums. It feels like I am reminiscing someone else’s life, in a way, for how much I know now to be different about the world I inhabit. I thought I knew everything. I knew some things. I know less, and I know more, now.

The road where I learned to become a runner; it is peaceful and meditative.

The road where I learned to become a runner; it is peaceful and meditative.

These nights, I wake up around 3:00, 3:30, my mind full of thoughts, ideas, and wonderings. I lay awake for an hour or so, letting my mind work through itself, and then return to slumber. I think about these next steps of mine: the job I have accepted and the enthusiasm from so many people about the fact that I am joining their staff; the place I am renting and what it will be like to live in an actual house by myself; the furniture I need to buy and the cross-country move I have yet to plan. I do not know if I have made a good decision. I think about all that I am leaving behind, and I feel the weight of that sitting upon me, heavy and sacred. It is sometimes hard to breathe.

Awake in the darkness, I listen to the river, which curves around the farm. Even now, in a drought year when the water level is low, the river itself is strong and constant. It is the same sound I heard when I was 23, in love with a night when I lay on my back and watched 34 shooting stars streak across the sky. It is the same sound that sunk into me the summer I lived in a tent perched almost precariously at its bank, as if the echoes of rushing water could absorb me.

A few days ago, I walked down to the river and found it deserted, though it was late in the afternoon, though the sky was still a deep and clear blue, though the sun was still high, though dinner was more than an hour away. I was surprised that I was alone, though of course I was surely accompanied by thousands of the unseen creatures that truly rule the earth. They did not make themselves known to me.

I placed my hat, towel, dress, and book on a rock, and walked into the water. As I did, the temperature moved from a startling chill to something that cradled me without boundaries. I encountered no resistance; the water was wholly my own. I did not feel self conscious in the slightest when I slipped out of my swimsuit, and instead focused only on the fine awareness of my skin, catching the sensation of the water swirling around me, algae waving me along. It was so familiar that the thought occurred to me that – yes, this is how we are supposed to exist. If someone had suddenly appeared on the rocky banks of my river – as I had taken to calling it in my mind, aware that it could not be possessed yet feeling it as a part of me – I might have been startled, but I would not have felt embarrassed. What was I doing, that was not supposed to be done? I had not a single apology within me; it is beautiful to be naked and swimming.

My deserted river, which is not mine.

My deserted river, which is not mine.

I noticed a hawk overhead, with wings spread so wide he might have touched the curve of this earth. There was nothing calling to the creature, no urgent message to receive or deliver, no task to complete at the cost of the moment in which he flew with limitless freedom and grace. I realized that I cannot know whether he may carry worries. I am small, as all people are, in our way.

After a time, wondering what he could see, treasuring the time alone and yet also desiring to share the experience, I set my feet upon the river’s uneven, slippery ground and walked to the rock where I had left my things. Instead of claiming my possessions and rushing off, I laid down, letting the sun do its drying work. The water evaporated quickly; no longer wet, my skin remained particularly alert.

Many rocks for drying, for climbing, for resting...

Many rocks for drying, for climbing, for resting…

And so I am soothed when I listen to the sound of this river on these nights when my mind is restless, when my heart is in many places. It is comforting to know that my life will never stop it. I am not so large; it will rush on, pouring over itself, indifferent to me. Regardless of my actions or my life, whether the decisions I am making now will strengthen me or tear me apart, this river will always find those who will swoon over it, who will take advantage of it, who will be fearful of it, who will dive into it. May they each find a moment in which to be naked and alive and thrilled to have such sweetness as cooling waters on a brilliant summer day.

I am a part of this earth only temporarily; I like knowing that it will continue long past me. Like my house on this land, like my night in a forgotten treehouse and the meals I made in a kitchen that no longer exists, my past matters for the story I created for myself, and really, not a thing more.

And for every one of my temporary days, however many there are, I will carry this river with me, as I carry this land, remembering the possibilities I cannot yet know.

My river rock heart.

My river rock heart.

2 comments on “History and the river

  1. Danielle Miles says:

    A really beautiful piece.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    1. Anna says:

      Thanks, Danielle.

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