We came to this land in June of this year, in the midst of a heatwave. We thought we could make a home from the dust but we left after less than two weeks, frustrated. Our plans foiled. Maybe it wasn’t time yet. Maybe we wimped out.
And so we left. For two months we traveled between Oregon and Redding, hopping between generous friends and family, trying not to burden, yet knowing five teenagers, three dogs and four cats is bound be be a burden regardless of our efforts at invisibility.
I don’t know what I thought I would find when I came back here. That the trees which stood hundreds of years before would have regrown their roots? That fallen needles would have replaced the soot and ash left behind by the forest fire that ripped through here just a few years ago? Few trees of decent size remain where giants once stood. A little bunch hovers over my father-in-laws grave, loyal and protective of the one who’d nurtured their roots in life, as well as in death.
I don’t know if I thought it would all be easy, starting over with nothing but soil and a shovel. I mean, we had just gotten our Alaska homestead halfway livable when we fled south in pursuit of another project. Maybe I’ve gone soft. Maybe I’m tired. Either way, the first few days here I wallowed in depression and angst over all that lay before us. I cried in the small space of the motorhome while my teens stared and wondered what to do. The thick red dust, ashes, burned remnants of a quality of life that once thrived here, but now seemed impossible to regain. And the heat, the excruciatingly thick, hard-to-breathe heat that lay over the place. It was too much for our skin. Our eyelids sweated. Our shoulders burned. We didn’t want to do it. Again.
And so we began to search for a rental house. It took very few inquiries to discover what we’d suspected all along. Nobody wants to rent to a family with six teenagers, four dogs, three cats and zero rental history. Oddly, if you own your home and don’t own credit cards, it’s somehow viewed as a bad thing. There’s something backwards in that.
And so we dug our fingers into the land once again. Some things are meant to be. I’m apparently meant to have an outhouse.
Six quarters, for three minutes of public shower is pretty steep when there are eight of us, so we put together an old canvas shower stall we brought with us from Alaska, bought a cheap solar shower bag and strung it up with a piece of yellow nylon rope, tied off to a branch. We have found nearby resources for hauling water in five gallon jugs. (read as: we fill our jugs at the local campgrounds when the host is away) We leveled a spot for the motorhome where the old cabin used to be. We set up a camp complete with barbecue and a tree stump table. And Billy hung the door on the outhouse we built when we were here in June. Camp setup: complete.
We take walks. Luke whips the other boys at poker while Anthony asks me again if I’m certain it’s illegal to gamble professionally at fourteen. We metal detect old fallen down cabins so deep in the woods we wonder if anyone else knows they exist. We read…a lot. We search for arrowheads in the dried creek bed where water once flowed high on the banks. We ride bikes down steep hills (I see an ER visit in my future). Billy proved that the bigger the boy, the bigger the fort. And on days when the heat overtakes us, we hit the water park in Redding, we drive up to Lassen National Park and dip our bodies into the cool lake or we throw a line in the water at Hat Creek campground up Hwy 44 where Anthony caught his first trout.
Tonight as the sun set I watched my boys, all four of them, wrestling and chasing each other between the trees where my husband played as a boy. “Get off grandpa’s grave,” I yelled as Billy and Anthony rolled around near the gravesite, coating themselves in thick dust and memories.
And then I remembered…that’s exactly what we came here to do. We just wandered a bit before we found the right path.