Our topic this week at Literary Traces is Elements. It inspired another when-we-were-young sort of story…
It is morning, and we escape.
Out of our neighborhood that is only slightly less sketchy than the next street over, where the gas station attendant was shot to death last week.
Away from the loquat trees and the boy next door, who shuffled heavily and carelessly through my little garden to spray ant poison all over his house and the herbs I was growing for tea.
Out of the city, out of the walls and doors and artificial light of every day.
Away from the ceaseless grating whirr of Carlos’ blender. What does he blend all day?
It doesn’t matter. Today, we are free.
This is the precious day of the week when your “weekend” day overlaps with mine, the day we set out early and expect to come home late. It’s just us these days, and we take our ritual cleansing very seriously as we set out into the wild.
At first, we thought we would go to a different place each time, finding strange paths to get lost on…breathing in the forest one week, salty sea air the next. But, it didn’t work that way. You see, we found a home. It was the place where we really lived together after a week of going through the motions of our city life routine, of punching time clocks and making the bed, paying bills and folding laundry.
I don’t remember the exact moment it became ours. It happened so organically we didn’t even notice we had forsaken every other wild place on the planet for this one glorious creek.
And so this morning, we escape. We go home.
You know, there was this boy I used to come here with. Before you. We would climb together and he didn’t know about the creek or at least never thought it was worth taking the time away from Little Yosemite to explore. It was different, the climbing thing. I was always trying to get somewhere. I had a goal and I would accomplish it and then I would go home. The elements were all there to be conquered or tolerated.
And then you brought me to the creek and we had no goal except to have no goal. We didn’t try to get anywhere. And the elements were all there to bask and bathe in, to give ourselves up to entirely.
We roll up our pants and step right in, shoes and all. It’s what we do every time, so we can be ready for anything. The chill of the water can be shocking, but we know that within an hour, the sun will be searing any exposed flesh and we will be glad of having some part of ourselves in the water. This is not a place to swim. It’s shallow, just up to our knees at the highest, and full of creatures tiny and not so tiny. We always enter at the same shady spot and just follow the green snake of the creek up, up, up, and although it is the same path each time, it always feels new.
There are boulders to scramble on and places where the trail meets the creek and follows alongside for a while. If we’re going to encounter any other humans, this is where it happens, but most of the time it is our own kingdom.
Perhaps this is why we always come back. Here, we feel like the only two people left on earth. It is you and I, the hot, dry air, sometimes heady with sulfur, the fiery intensity of California sun in high Summer, the solid rock beneath our feet and our backs when we sprawl out for a post-meal rest, and the water that cools our baked skin and provides a glassy surface for skipping stones.
Senses buzzing, this kingdom of ours glittering in such crystal clear focus…
The everyday drifts apart and the gunshots, sticky loquat and Carlos’ blender are many thousands of miles away.
Eventually, we come back to the place we call home but isn’t home, a little dazed and drunk with thirst and hunger and happiness, ready to fast forward to the next day when your weekend overlaps with my weekend, when we can once again wash away all the stuff in between that gets in the way of living.
Golly, what babies we were. Wow.