Saturday, May 25, 2013

3:45 PM
Going back home can be a funny thing. At first glance it can seem like nothing has changed, as if the world you left behind has remained frozen in time, Sleeping Beauty-like, while only you have moved out and moved on. But the longer you stay and the more you look around, the changes start to emerge, some so slowly and subtly that you can’t even be sure that things haven’t always been this way, others jumping out at you, distorting the field of your memory in an almost uncomfortable way. And then the next time you come home, you start to look for those things that are different: the new homes popping out of the hillside, the new restaurants come and gone, the light that now illuminates the hilltop cross…

Backyard River Play
I grew up in a small foothill town that borders the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in California.  My childhood home sits alongside the Tule River, just inside the Sequoia National Monument. To call it an oasis would not be too strong a word. To get here you drive through the maze of silicon valley, across the hot, dusty heartland of the valley, through towns bordering on the miserable, and then with a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, and a few twists and turns of the road you find yourself in a sheltered canyon, surrounded by oak trees and granite boulders, with a cold, clear river at your feet. It is quiet and peaceful and slow here. You get here after a rush of working-packing-driving, and then you arrive and your breath calms, and your to do list vanishes, and entire days are spent playing by the river, reading on the patio, and otherwise stepping back in time.

It is not always easy to adjust to this place, to this pace - to be okay with encountering a rattlesnake or a cow on a run, or to be able to fall asleep to the deafening songs of cicadas. I remember noticing this acutely when I brought friends home from college. Often the children of privilege, their eyes would grow wider and they would grow quieter as we drove farther away from the Bay Area and closer to my home. They would grow visibly uncomfortable as we drove through the sparsely populated “downtown” of my hometown, and past the run-down homes at the end of the street. They would raise their eyebrows at the cows grazing the hillside and the rancher waving at us from his truck, cowboy hat on, border collie in the back (because in my hometown people still wave when they drive by – that is just what they do). But when they had arrived - when they had swum in the river, hiked in the hills, and run and biked on the trails, most would finally start to relax and their perspective would shift and they would begin to enjoy themselves on their visit to rural America.  As a friend once said, as we paused to admire the view of the river and valley on a hike up a wildflower-covered hillside, “I understand you so much better now – it all makes sense”.

Because that is the truth of it - so much of who we are is where we come from. Maybe you don’t love where you came from and so the entire momentum of your life has been towards escaping and creating something different. Maybe where you came from makes so much sense to you that you have built a replica of it for yourself and your children. In my case, I know that my upbringing and the place that I was raised have deeply impacted who I am as a person, and the value that I place on different aspects of life. Growing up here pushed me to both want more from my life (an education, a good job, opportunity) and less (I place an extremely low value on the accumulation of material goods). It has made me a strong advocate for the value of nature and wild places, and the need to live in a way that minimizes our impact on the planet. It has made me want to live a life of adventure, from my first exploratory wanderings up the river as a child, to taking trips around the world as an adult. It has made me want to raise my children to have a deep and organic connection to the natural world, and to give them the freedom of space and time to allow their bodies and imaginations to grow strong.

My daughter, who has been to amazing places throughout her little life, counts this one as her favorite in the world. Seeing her wandering barefoot, adventuring down the river, and harvesting flowers and other bounty from the garden with her dirty little paws, I see that she is growing up to be a strong, confident and self-sufficient girl. With these experiences in her arsenal, I know she is less likely to scream if she encounters a spider or look to be rescued by a prince as she navigates a long and complicated life.

My son is toughening the soft pads of his little feet as he clambers around the rocks here, becoming more boy and less baby every time I turn around. He too, jumped in the river today, his torso pinkened by the cold, his eyes wide with accomplishment. He is running free here, testing the length of the tether between him and the grownups. He is the one finding the limit of his independence, coming back to check in, and then running off again on some new adventure, toy clutched in hand, a dog or two at his heels.

You can run for miles with views like this
These pilgrimages home for a few days each year are deeply cleansing for my soul. I am not usually a mellow and meditative person, but to have this place that I can come to and completely divorce myself from the rat race of normal life is so healing. I am especially grateful to have this time on the eve of starting a new, bigger job that will likely stretch me in many ways, not the least of which will be my ability to stay sane. To share with my kids the joy of jumping into a freezing river, of scrambling up and then sliding down rocks, and getting strong, tough and dirty in the way that only playing all day outside in nature can make you is amazing. I am so blessed to be able to enjoy it with my husband who values these experiences as much as I do, and with my parents who are ageless, and whose energy and love for me and my children is boundless.  Being here is the greatest gift I can imagine giving my children, my family, and myself. Thank you to my family for everything.

IMG 1396 from MommyTasker on Vimeo.

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