My youngest son’s favorite book was, and maybe still is The Lorax. I suppose the worn copy is still in his childhood room, in his father’s home. I wish I had it here now to pull off the shelf and reread.
I remember it as a painfully dark book.
And I have no explanation for that fact, considering.
I have written before about how I grew up on concrete and asphalt. The nature of the desert is far too hard on the knees for baseball or cartwheels. It wasn’t until I began running mornings, here, that I really connected with nature as an integral fact of life – more than snapshot memories of weekend excursions, like trips to Knott’s Berry Farm:
I remember a dungeon-like, castle-like grey, stone arch with sharp iron grates that looked poised to drop. I held my breath every time we walked through.
I wonder how many times “every time” is. Isn’t that the odd thing with memories?
Still, stepping into the bowl of any small boat conjures the stench of sea salt and fish blood from a singular fishing trip in the Atlantic. I feel my shoulders rise, just rubbing against the edges of this memory.
I have sensual, but inaccurate memories: The green and brown shadows of Robbers Roost and the smell of wet pine… a google image search for Robbers Roost shows me how convoluted my memories must be. Craters and dams and gorges and caves. All the dramatic names. All the body’s stored sensations. All the rationalizations.
At the San Diego zoo, my mother took me out of the stroller and held me up to see a prairie dog hole, but an iguana darted out instead. A bolt of adrenaline that stings still.
That memory came back a few years ago, when E. and I were hiking on Gran Canaria, and we could hear the lizards in the bushes – the bushes covered with spiderwebs thick as gauze. We figured they must have been the size of rabbits, but we never saw one.
They were like the black dogs of the British Isles: you learn to accept they are there, but you never look them directly in their eyes.
The first year I ran, beginning the fall I turned 44, I had this idea to take a picture every morning of a particular tree along the route. I’d document the seasons. I had been living in this part of the country for 17 years already, and the reality of seasons hadn’t really sunk in: by October it was impossible to photograph the tree in the 6 am darkness.
Sometimes I think the earth and I are still barely acquaintances.
At what point did I become responsible for cultivating the relationship?
Is there a word for the fear of nature? A kind of xenophobia, perhaps? Oh, the dramatic irony in that.
From my dining room table I can see the huge crown of the neighbor’s oak tree. In the evening the crows gather there. In the winter they fill out the naked branches like a dark bloom. They chatter and bicker, then fly on to the flat farmland just south of here, where they spend the night.
In the mornings they head north again and pause in the grove along the trail. We run under them – Leonard, E. and I – and their 5:30 am alarm moves with us, like a wave through the grove.
But tonight from my dining room table I see a stretch of blue sky now, and the crescent moon.
Yesterday I woke to the sound of a motor saw.
I am surprised by sadness.
I keep wondering how many years she grew there, how deep her roots went, and whether they reached all the way to the train tracks. Under the train tracks, maybe. Where did she send her stores yesterday? Scientists say trees send their energy out into the network once they know they are dying.
I wonder where the crows with congregate in the evenings.
Every year I vow to plant a garden: to get my hands dirty.
Today it feels like it’s no longer none-of-my-business, this nature thing.