Tuesday, August 19, 2008

California Dreaming

I grew up in the foothills of Northern California and have always had mixed feelings about the place. It is a small town and I grew up in a small house on 2 acres surrounded by oaks, manzanita, deer and silence. It had a way of making me feel claustrophobic at times.

We lived three miles out of town on a dirt road, surrounded by hundreds of crickets who'd chirp all night long. (I only noticed when city folk would mention how loud they were). We could walk all night if we wanted to, just by the light of a full moon and we spent our summers plunging into the satisfying waters of the Yuba River.

Yet, I often found myself dreaming of the long, flat, wide, straight streets of cities - the seemingly straightforward, uncomplicated, matter-of-fact, predetermined benefits of man-made environments. In my hometown, trees and mountains which at times gave me a sense of protection and warmth, at other times made me feel trapped and isolated. The natural, unkempt surroundings of the forest both filled my heart with delight and caused me frustration.

I am here again in my childhood home with my husband and children. We are visiting my mother and brother who still live here. As with each visit, I sit in the same rooms and walk along the same paths as I did as a child. I notice that the trees have grown and that many things have changed.

Yet, what surprises me the most is not the way things are different from when I was a child. What surprises me is the way in which my own childhood memories are slowly being reshaped through the eyes of my own children. The way I remember my days as a child slowly begins to interweave itself with the daily romps and giggles of my children. It is as if I am seeing my world from a brand new vantage point.

Isn't that me sitting in the sandbox under the swaying oak trees letting sand flow through my outstretched palms? Am I not the one collecting moss and branches to create miniature worlds of my own making?

I sit on the back deck, breathe in the dry, familiar air and watch my children dart back and forth across the front yard. I find myself reliving my past through their laughter and overwhelming joy. Magically I slowly forget those things which aggravated me as a child and instead realize that I am savoring the bits which brought me satisfaction and happiness. I know there are downsides to growing up out here in the countryside, yet I easily push them aside as I witness the utter joy on my children's faces as they dedicate themselves to nothing but pure, unadulterated play from morning until night.

Our world seems so simple here. We step back just far enough to see things with a clarity that I fail to grasp when at home (where we rarely take the breaks we so desperately need to let our soul dangle). At home there is always a long list of "duties" which ultimately encapsulates me even more than the tall oaks and wide mountains ever did (and, ironically, are traps of my own making).

Despite the solid sidewalks and expansive streets of our city, it is out here in the wilds of Northern California that I find myself able to breathe again. It is here that I let down my guard just long enough to realize that I haven't been longing for wide city streets at all. In fact, I have been in awe of how high the trees have grown and how tall the mountains seem to have become ever since we drove down that dirt road of my childhood .