Memoir, Migration and This Wilderness in My Blood

My bags were packed and the boxes stacked. We were moving from the city where we lived for forty-three years. We didn’t have a new house to move into, not yet. While we searched for another home we would live in a 26-foot travel trailer on loan to us and parked on land a family member owns in the redwoods in Northern California. 

The morning our belongings were loaded into the truck, I walked through the empty house thanking the space, saying goodbye to the home that sheltered my family for three decades. And before I got into my car to make the long drive, I checked my email. The editor at the University of Nebraska Press, sent an email saying she liked the manuscript for my new memoir, We Who Walk the Seven Ways. They were  interested in publishing, and asked for revisions. 

Oh, for joy. Happiness. And crazy-making. Take on the task of revising my book manuscript when I was in the process of uprooting my life? 

Time driving alone in the car settled my thoughts. 

When I arrived at sunset I was filled with calm, strength, trust. 

The trailer was parked by the barn, in a meadow with other homes nearby. Still, it was more off grid than I expected. 

Multiple times each day I walked uphill to the houses where our families live, downhill to the car, up again with groceries, to do laundry, to take a shower. We didn’t have trailer hookups and needed to be mindful of gray and black water waste. But we had electricity, internet, and plenty of cold well water running from the tap. I gained respect for my privileges and felt positive I would become a better person, and I have. 

Every day and most nights are bookended with writing. Writing backed against hiking hills with my grandkids and the dogs, or house hunting. I reached wide to be tender, loving, with my husband, and my family. When I write, I go deep. It’s not easy to move between my mind-world and the outer world. 

After a day of writing my daughter’s kitchen is the place to be. Not all of our meals are complicated. Yet the days when we cook from scratch, gives us time to focus on gratitude. The dogs are at our feet, watchful, my grandkids help chop, mix, stir, then dash off, lost in play, then return to the kitchen. We clear the day’s clutter off the table, sit down and savor every bite. 

Some people sit and meditate in silence. Others climb Kilimanjaro. Along with my 2-mile morning walk in the redwoods, I hiked to and from the trailer often. When we first arrived, the ground was muddy with rain water. Soon yellow, white and purple flowers dotted the earth and my footsteps formed a path. The flower season was short, the weather warmed. Green foxtails appeared, and quickly dried, sticking in my socks. At first, I grumbled about daily supply hikes in the rain or heat, my arms loaded, and then it became my mediation. I enjoyed the journey, paying attention to the earth, sky. Walking mindfully, stepping carefully. 

I am thankful for love and shelter, but we are too crowded in the trailer. We brought too much stuff and it's packed into a too small space. I'd planned to bring only what we needed into the trailer. But instead we included all of the things we "might need" but never did need. My friend Stacy referred to this as a “soul polishing” experience. On my low days I cling to her beautiful words. Stripping off the old expectations, shedding, growing, reaching. I look up and see the trees, the beautiful trees all around me. 

Eventually we found a tiny place near the ocean, and for the last few days we lived in the trailer, I worked on my memoir. 

On my last day writing in the trailer, I opened the window wide. The wind played in the trees and the air was heavy with the scent of mountains and earth. I had the window open to keep me company. I was lonely. 

I love being with the people I love, and I am also happy alone, and I am never lonely. Yet for the past week I felt like poor me, I must sit down all alone and write. 

Then I started thinking about how the characters in my favorite books are my friends. Relationships I remember long after I finish reading the book. My most loved books leave me feeling the author invited me over for a long chat at her kitchen table. I favor memoirs so intimate I feel myself leaning over the shoulder of the writer, feeling her thoughts and sneaking into her life. 

Thinking about the characters in my favorite books opened the window wider for me, and I found the root cause of my loneliness. With revisions nearly completed, already I missed the characters in my memoir. 

While writing I had intimate chats, wandering back over time with Marie, Ann, Mary Lou and Irene. Dancing with Irene long after the moon was full, wearing moccasins beaded in colors of sunrise, clouds and blue skies, her buckskin dress swaying. Irene danced the powwow competitions, Women’s Buckskin style, Northern, in the Golden Age category. At seventy-five with her tight jeans, blue-black hair and flirty personality, Irene reminded me so much of my aunt Jo, I had to keep reminding myself that she wasn’t my aunt Josephine. 

I missed the flow of these women, the ones with the grandmother faces, walking the seven ways. How they made me laugh, and told me the truth even when it was hard for me to listen. While writing, I brought them all back, made them come alive again. The women who over three decades, lifted me from grief, instructed me in living, and showed me how to age from youth into beauty.

First published in Women Writers, Women's Books

We Who Walk the Seven Ways: A Memoir

Copyright © 2023. Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.