This evening as we were leaving work my spouse said he hoped we could go by the land and see how it was.
The evening was beautiful and sunny. The light was perfect spring. We knew that the land would be greening up after the winter. It was an inviting thought to go by home.
I eagerly agreed. It had been several weeks since we were by and I thought it would be good to check on the land. We headed right rather than left as we departed campus. It did not dawn on me that we were going a different way than we have gone the past past few months until it registered with me that we were doing something normal. We were driving the route we used from 1998 until that fateful June day last summer when our lives were taken up in smoke and ash.
I looked out the car window and savored the taste of driving the old way. The route goes through a park and along the railroad. There is a railroad crossing where trains can stack up so long that my spouse once fell asleep waiting for the chance to cross the track and was awakened 45 minutes later by the bell of the train track guard arm rising. We drove past the school taking time to remember that the school speed-zone had been changed and made shorter on our side. It still seems new although it has been several years. We drove past the house with the big furry white dog behind the fence and past the golf course. We drove past the deer crossing sign that now has “no fire crossing” graffiti on it. We rounded the curve to the right as the highway pealed off to the left to lead travelers to the Interstate. Our course took us away from the Interstate and toward home.
Nine tenths of a mile later we turned right onto our road and headed uphill. Sophie popped up over the back of the seat whimpering. She reminded me that when she had been gone from the house for a while it was her right and privilege to stand in the lap of the passenger and hang her head out the window as we go up the road at 10 miles an hour. I let her come up comforted by old habits knowing that what she was looking for was not there.
When we drove up my spouse pulled over to the side of the road to park. I looked at the driveway and said, “We can go in the driveway, someone has been here with machinery and it is not such a mess.” I suppose if we had come round the bend and turned directly into the driveway I would have been a bit seasick with disorientation. Making the stop and then the decision to pull into the driveway parsed out the actions so that they were distinct.
We got out of the car and walked around a bit. The hill above the hole where our dead house lived is starting to be green. The hydroseed on the steep embankment that leads to the road below the driveway was not yet growing but there were native sedge plants pushing up with green authority. It was thrilling to see them. I prowled around the edges of the driveway looking at my former gardens. Three plants made it through the fire and the winter. My yarrow is growing and I have two red hot pokers growing. The leaves are nibbled down to the top of the root bed because the deer are hungry coming through a winter with no grass or browse because it all burned away last summer. Still, I could see them and I knew they were alive. I will have to take markers out there and try to figure out a way to build the new house while protecting those three plants. They need to be protected. They need to be able to welcome us home at the end of the summer when the house is finished.
We have embarked on a new stage in the land’s post-fire evolution. The first few months transformed from black ash to bare ground and then to rivers as the fall monsoons came. When winter came everything was covered in white snow. It was as if the land said to us, “Who me? Not me. I am just fine and normal under here.” Today things looked a lot less messy than they have. I don’t know what it was but the disjointed, disorganization of the soil and rocks seemed less disorganized. The boundary lines that were revealed by the fire seemed less constraining here in the spring even though they sit just as close as they did in the fall. The dirt that forms the walls of the foundation hole seemed sturdier and less was sloughing off.
The land looks like a place where something is happening, not like it was someone’s victim. The deep roots protected by winter are yielding the tender shoots of spring. The seasons turn. The next turning of a season brings us to summer. It is the season when our house died. It is a season I want to hold back because of its sad associations. It is a season I want to welcome because it promises continuation of my garden and construction of our home.
It was good to go visit our land today. Like Sophie, as we drove up the hill to our driveway I looked for the house knowing it was not there. The old house is not there and the new house is not there. The spirit of the old house is there and the dream of the new is there too.
A photo of my Red Hot Pokers a few days before the fire. If the deer don’t eat them completely they could look like this again in a few months time.