Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of Cherry Blossoms, Horse Pastures and Fish Eggs: A Modern Mama's Earth Day Mini-festo

It was an unusual housing situation. Not because I lived with my mom after my dad left -- lots of kids experienced that, especially in the 70s -- but because I lived in one of six four-plexes built off a pothole-ridden dirt road on a ranch in Tacoma, Washington. The landlords were rancher-jewelers who wanted to provide affordable housing for people in need, so a number of the units were filled with single moms raising their kids in what became a loosely dependent little community. What seems most unusual is that they gave us free rein of the ranch.

Most of the kids were boys, and for five years my best friends were these boys. I had best little girlfriends at school I could call to coordinate dresses and Leia buns for Star Wars on the playground, but at home I was all about ripped jeans, ratty tennies, a hooded sweatshirt, and pitch in my hair. Afternoons and weekends were spent climbing the fir trees that lined Pipeline Road, racing up higher than the power lines, tree sap gumming my braids and my fingers. At dark, when I’d finally go in, I’d smell of bark and needles and dirt. I also smell of dust and hay and machinery oil.

The big red barn housed machinery and crates that had been stored in there for decades. There, we hid, climbed, creaked around on the ground floor or in the loft, cobwebs stretching sticky across our foreheads, stamping horses snorting warm breath up our way when we lowered straw into their troughs.

Out in the fields, we'd run breathless and dusty, tripping on mounds and holes in the uneven earth, rolling in the weeds -- dandelions, daisies, thistles -- alternately tumbling out of our falls like expert gymnasts, or flying and landing flat as pancakes, stunned by the hardness of the ground. Once, early on, I ran through a patch of the most lovely green and fuzzy looking bushes I'd ever seen. It was a hot summer day and I was sure they'd refresh me, like cherry blossoms on thick branches in the spring or deep puddles in the fall. But they were nettles that lit my bare skin on fire. I ran down the hillside ablaze, only to find no real cure at home, except maybe a skin-washing – and a greater understanding of my surroundings.

Earth Day is all that exploration and more. It's community and discovery and time and curiosity and dreaming and play. It's what I hope my kids have when I open the storage shed and let them grab rakes and shovels and trowels, and set them to digging along the side of the house -- between the grape vines and our neighbors' flowering pear tree. I want them to dig in their half-inch increments, discovering clay-rich soil, perfect for carving out army trenches, moon craters, and a route to China. I love hearing them out there at 7 AM on a Saturday, their first thought not having gone to cartoons and TV but to what in the world were they going to discover that day. Their voices are husky, rushed, companionable: "You dig there and I'll dig here! Let's see if we can make our tunnels meet!" And the scraping, scratching, toiling begins.

Earth Day is the reminder that we should be outdoors, getting into mischief with our friends. Feeling the sun, the sap, even the nettles on our skin. Viewing the world from treetops, hilltops and barns. It's why I want my son to come limping in after he's discovered a certain kind of branch is too weak after he's fallen from up in the cherry blossoms, onto the wood fence and into the neighbor's yard. Of course I don't want injury. And I don't want unnecessary risk. But I do want exploration and discovery, and a kinetic understanding of nature. The more you figure out, the more you've been in it, the more you feel at home in it.

Which leads, of course, to taking care of the earth. It means understanding our best contributions mean walking or biking to school and all other nearby destinations; it means not polluting the air with exhaust, not digging up mountainsides for coal, or drilling coastal reefs never before touched by human hands. It means turning off lights and machines when not using them -- and using them less by being outdoors -- so we can dam fewer rivers, allowing ancient species of salmon to make their ancient treks from ocean to river source as their ancestors have done before them.

When I think of those salmon, I think of my children, who started as little fish babies in my womb. I want them to take the treks I've taken, and our ancestors before us have taken: the swims in clean rivers, the romps in the fields, the falls from tall trees. I want them to come into shelter at night, smelling of earth and air and bark, layered in grime and sweat and cherry blossoms, and live like they care about everything that exists on this planet. Because they actually do.


Anonymous said...

You DID IT AGAIN, ANJIE! You've a wonderful way of expressing memories, describing reality now with Dane & Aubrey and dreams of a better future for our planet.
This post should be one of your submissions to be printed for the public - perhaps for June.
You are continuously pushing forward with your God given talent - writing - Go girl, Go!

Jessica said...

I love reading anything you've written, but especially stories from your girlhood. Fantastic.

Jennie Englund said...

This is beautiful!!

Did you just COME UP with it?

I love the salmon babies in your belly. It even felt like fishes in the beginning, didn't it?

Lovely metaphor and imagery.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to Jan's (JJJ) entire response (and Jessica's and Jennie's). I cannot say it any better.
Anjie, it brought back such warm memories of that time, as well as a renewed appreciation and love for our landlord's, who provided that haven in response to the voice of God to them.
Love you, and thanks for the memories!