At Home on the Mountain


A soft mist fell this morning, the sky looks silver-blue in this light, and the wind has cleared. The redwood trees are still, nothing is moving across the mountain. 

Growing up in the kitchen. In our family my daughter's kitchen is the place to be. The days we gather and the time we spend cooking dinner is greatly important because it’s just about the only time we have together after our separate work and school schedules, community volunteer agendas, house chores and yard work duties. We have a family meal together every other week, give or take, with both families gathered. Not all of our meals are complicated. Yet the days when we cook from scratch, gives us more time to focus on gratitude. The dogs are at our feet, watchful, my grandkids help chop, mix, stir, then dash off, lost in play, and return to the kitchen. We clear the days clutter off the table, sit down, eat slowly and savor every bite.
 
Sunday. We are making tomatillo Soup, with chicken bone broth, sliced, peeled and roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, fresh lime juice, roasted garlic, sea salt, a couple of heaping handfuls of fresh spinach leaves, and fresh picked tomatillos. The summer garden has faded, but we still have tomatillos clinking to spent vines. The tomatillos will be husked, diced, roasted, made into a thick salsa, then added to the pot of soup. We make a triple batch of soup. Enough for both families to have a meal, and plenty to go into the freezer for another day. At the table we garnish the soup with chopped cilantro, Serrano peppers and diced avocado. But first the soup will simmer on the back of the stove. 
 
While the soup simmers, we make enchiladas with the tomatillo salsa, and fish, fresh caught Wahoo, barbecued. I fix a big pan of New Mexico-style, stacked enchiladas, along with a pan of rolled enchiladas to go into the freezer to eat next week. 
 
Monday. Today I am at home in my small place where I live near the ocean. A pounding all-day rain urges me to settle down at my desk and meet pending writing deadlines. At noon I want a cup of tea and while the water is boiling, I check my email, and receive good news. My new memoir manuscript has been accepted for publication by a university press I greatly value. 

Outside my window I hear waves, half a mile away, pounding the shoreline. The air is heavy with eucalyptus, and I hear the cormorants in the lagoon. They have become more active with winter, riding the ragged ocean tide all afternoon, diving under the surge, fishing for their dinner. In the evening they come home to the lagoon to rest. 
 
When late afternoon rolls around, with my work completed, I have the freedom of knowing we have the enchiladas for dinner. After its rest in the fridge the flavors have melded and it will taste even better. I can round out the meal with a green salad, freeing me from cooking, offering time to read. Currently I'm reading Braiding Sweetgrass. Taking my time. Reading one chapter, then closing the book and stepping outside to feel my feet growing up from the ground and let my thoughts float on air currents. I feel the rain falling on me. Then I duck under the porch roof, and listen to beautiful rain dropping on the thirsty drought ridden ground.
 
Next week we will gather on the mountain again, to make a big pot of Winter Minestrone Soup, with pancetta, carrots, celery, butternut squash, garlic, thyme, tomatoes, spinach, chicken stock, cannellini beans, pasta, good olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan for serving. Ina Garten’s recipe. 
 
Now that I’m dividing my time in two spaces, days at home near the ocean, and days at my daughter's home in the mountains, and with my grandchildren, I belong to both the land and the sea. And I’m discovering something has wholly shifted for me. It’s my newfound understanding of home. 

Home. It serves as both origin and return, as haven. Security, and as a platform for collecting, organizing and utilizing the things we maintain and express ourselves. I need, appreciate, and love, having a central dwelling, a place to hang my hat, a stable home to return to, and a fixed address to call my own. It’s the thing I desperately missed after we sold our house in Santa Barbara, and moved from the city where we lived for forty-three years. While staying in the trailer, surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, while we searched for a new home to buy, being temporary, and not having a permanent home of my own, was hard for me, terribly hard. I had shelter, a safe, beautiful, comfortable, place to sleep. All of my needs were met. But I could not enjoy it fully. Too much time was waisted trying to find things that were packed up. My plan was to have just the basics in the trailer. Just what we needed. It didn’t work out that way. All of the “what if I need this” items got mixed up with the necessary stuff. Instead of calm, I felt chaos. 
 
Now, seven months later and settled into my new home space, gives me a grand view when I look back. Now I understand. It was all of my boxes and boxes of belongings, the furniture stored, the stacks of stuff I had no permanent place to keep. I was not craving my own home, near as much as I longed for a place to keep, use, and display all of that stuff. 

Yet now that I have released at least half, if not more, of all those things, I feel a freedom as wide as the sky. My new home currently houses only needed items, and the things that bring us great joy. If something is going to live here, it must be an important part of the tapestry of our lives, instead of something that takes up valuable space while waiting to see if we might need it eventually. 

With less, I’m finding my center of gravity, coming to terms with myself in a new stage of life, in a new landscape. Finding myself feeling more at home, paradoxically, after letting go. 
 
These days when I pack up my overnight bag and drive up the mountain, instead of the great big carry-all, I once required, now everything I need fits inside a small tote bag. 
 
My thoughts return to the mountain. Yesterday leaves from the acorn tree blew in the wind, yellow and orange, blending with redwood giants. After my afternoon walk, I stood on a carpet with forest green fallen branches at my feet mixed with muddy earth. My shoes caked with the land I frequent, and carry within.