Yellow aspen leaves and sheep.
The sheep, the sheep dogs and the Basque Sheep Herder, came by our home each fall. It was a beautiful sight to see. It was also a welcomed visit and moment of excitement in an otherwise very quiet valley. I’d be riding my bike down the road or out in the field and suddenly thousands of sheep would come round the corner, trampling the dirt road, breaking the silence, under the yellowing Aspen leaves. It would stop me in my tracks and I couldn’t move, watching them and watching them, until the very last one was out of sight. It was as though I was holding my breath or time stopped as those sheep when by, like time past, present and future were all together at once in that moment with the sheep.
Just a few times, the sheep would get off course and go through our yard, trampling my moms flowers or her small, newly planted tree. She call someone and let them know and they’d leave a bag of potatoes on our porch to apologize. This made it better.
Once, one of the sheep, separated itself from the herd and ran up the mountain side. The dogs and the sheepherder kept going. I couldn't figure out why they didn’t stop for that sheep. What would happen to it? I followed it up the steep mountain side where it had gone. It ran farther up. I followed it. I would herd it back to our house and give it a good home. It kept going up the face of the mountain, farther and farther up. I could not keep up with it. I was scaring it. I stopped. I stopped and sat down on the mountain side. What had been behind me, while I was climbing up and focused on the sheep, now lay before me. I could see the field, the pond, where I caught frogs, I could see how the river carved out a path for the water between the mountain and the field. I could see my home and my life from above.
That spot became my favorite spot that day. I was sad that I lost the sheep, but happy to find that place. Living in the mountains I was given the gift of seeing things in many ways. I could see things up close, the details, the intricacies, I could see things from above and from a distance. I could see the big expanse of the world, just by looking up the field, or up the mountain or up at the solid blue sky. I felt the openness and the expansion.
I also learned that day that losing one sheep, was not worth risking losing the whole herd. Sheep herders constantly having to made life decisions for the good of the whole herd had to leave a few behind. That sheep would probably make it up to the top of the mountain. The top that I would never reach. It would eat for a few days and then a coyote or a bear would find it and eat it. It would not live long without the rest of its herd, without the protection of the sheep dogs. It would die there on the side of the mountain and its bones would be covered with snow.
As winter approached, as the sun lowered in the sky and hid behind the mountain, the cold winds would come to blow the leaves off the trees. I would feel like I was in this tiny corner of the world, alone in the dark and cold. I would wonder if there were light and warmth beyond these mountains and this valley.
I would return to the spot on the side of the mountain many times. I would only bring special people up there to share it with me. One was my sister from my exchange student family in Mexico. Her parents had driven her all the way to Idaho in the fall. They were there to see the Aspen leaves change, feel the cold wind and see the sheep come past our home. She had shown me many things in Mexico and many things about myself. Now, it was my turn to show her Idaho and to show her who she was. We climbed up the hill, where I had chased the sheep years before. We climbed and climbed, our back to the view. Then, we sat in my special place and turned and faced the field, the river, the pond and the piney hills. It was beautiful, wind, water, mountains, blue sky and sisters from two very different lands.
The only other person I brought up there was my husband Raul. We went up there and we had two rings that fit together into one ring, like we did. We sat on the mountain side and gazed into each other eyes, we gazed out at the field, the pond, the river, the mountains and then we gazed down at the two parts of the one ring that we each held and carefully found a place to bury them. We revisited them many times, looking for them under the rock where we had put them. I often could not find them, but Raul always could. He even found them the day we went up there and really needed them. We really needed to remember that feeling we had felt all those years before when we had been up there gazing.
That spot is still there. It is truly a test of time. A mountain, strong and proud, hiding secrets and stories in its caves and crevasses, pulling us upward to explore, unveiling things we never thought were up there. It has soft areas and jagged ones. Safe places to hide from the cold winds and shale impossible to climb up and exposed. It gives deer and animals food and pathways to walk on, birds high safe trees to put their nests in, bears a place to sleep all winter. It is rock solid and strong, there to bare the burden of anything shared with it. It was there when Native people walked across it freely, when miners climbed it to find treasures inside it and when a little girl ran around on it to explore. It was there to share a moment when two sisters sat on its side and then when a man and a woman needed some solid ground below them again to keep their footing. It will be there for me to bring my children, my grandchildren to visit, so I can share with them the stories of the mountains.
May be then, we can find the bones of that sheep, that I tried to help so long ago and yesterday.
Easter and piano recitals.
I rarely wore a dress except for a photograph and then I would inevitably end up falling in water, getting dirty or jumping in. I remember being all dressed up once and falling off the bridge into our slough or maybe I jumped. It is hard to say, but dressing up was never my thing. I remember having friends who would have to take off their school clothes before they played outside after school. I thought that was a great idea, but was I ever able to do it. No. I would get new shoes and promise myself I’d keep them nice only to be wading in the river a few hours later. Life was too exciting to waste time changing your clothes or shoes.
In fact, I finally decided that dressing up and the world that went a long with it just wasn't for me. I took piano lessons and I really enjoyed it. I have two teachers: one whose name was Mary Poppin and the other was Patty Parsons. Patty taught me piano at the Presbyterian Church on their piano once a week, so I got to go to church. She arranged to have a piano recital there and it was my chance to dress up and show what I had learned. I was shy, but confident and ready to take this on. I would put myself into the shoes of some one who dressed up and performed and see what that would be like.
On the evening of the performance, it must have been in the fall, because it was dark when we were getting ready to leave. I was all dressed up and feeling a bit awkward now in my fancy dress and shoes. I was tugging on my dress and had slipped my shoes off in the back seat of the car. We headed into town. We passed the first camp ground by our house and the curve by the river and then, upon reaching the next camp ground we all looked over and noticed it was all light up. My dad pulled over and we all looked. There was a fire. My dad turned around and drove home to get a shovel and the neighbor. My mom ran inside to call the fire department. I was still in the car. We went back. “Stand by the road Melissa and flag down the fire truck when they get here.” They rushed over to the fire. I stood by the road and waited. We were seven miles from town, so I had a while to stand there and think. It was dark except for the flames. I thought about my piano recital, my dress, my shoes, the song I’d play. I looked at the fire and knew this was much more important than my recital, in fact this was really my life, much more than any short recital or short performance. No, I was not meant to wear fancy clothes and preform. That would never be the life for me. My life was in the woods, protecting it, taking care of it, waving down the fire truck and any other neighbor that passed by. Asking them to help. I wasn’t sad or disappointed to not make it to the recital, but happy to be a part of this, a part of something that to me really mattered. My dad and my neighbor Robbie (by then a strong teenager) waded across the river and I believe they managed to get it out by shoveling soil on to it. The Firetruck came, I waved them down. I never dressed up for another piano recital again after that.
I spotted a trout.
One day, in the summer of 2007, we’d been out at my old home in the mountains, staying at the neighbor Edie’s house, just a couple years after my dad had passed away. I wanted to take my two sons and my husband for a walk in the field, to the pond where I had caught frogs and my dad had fished with me. I wanted so badly to share that with them, to share where I had spent so much time as a child. We walked to the pond, which is a ways for the other end of the field. We walked to the edge and I began to tell them that we used to look for fish from this side of the pond. My dad showed me how to look for fish both in the pond and in the river and my eyes had been trained for that at a very young age. I wanted to see if they could see them. We got closer and walked down to a little beach right by the water. I spotted a trout. Usually, they were out in the deep part of the pond, but this trout was near us, in a shallow area. We could all see it in the crystal clear water and we all watched it as it wiggled and swam right toward us. None of us said anything. Before we knew it this fish swam right up to us and jumped out of the water right onto the beach in front of us. The sun was shining making the water bright and sparkling and the fish was the most beautiful, shiny rainbow trout I had ever seen. I immediately pick it up, but carefully as to not hurt it. I looked at it, in total disbelief and put it back into the water. None of us said anything, but as I write this now I have tears in my eyes for on that day that we went to visit the pond and I shared the special place with my children and my husband, the place was magic, as magic as it always was. And, my dad was there with us jumping out of the water into my arms.
A Starry Night
One star filled night, we were all standing outside. I had on a long, blue corduroy jacket that someone had grown out of. It had a hood with fake fur around it and felt safe and warm up around my face. We stood outside as a family to watch the lights of the snow plow as it plowed our driveway. Maybe we had been snowed in for a few days and we hadn’t seen or heard anything. Maybe we were out there watching the silence break, watching our path to be cleared so we cold once again leave our little cabin and go into town. My mom could get back to work and I to school. Mostly though, we just stood out there and watched. I remember it so vividly and I remember looking up at all the millions of stars. I had a feeling of complete satisfaction and happiness as I stood there. The warm cabin behind me, my future ahead. I felt completely safe. And I remember feeling like someone had their arm around me that night. I smiled to myself and believed, that I would always be taken care of.
The Mountains hold onto you tight. They hug you and make you feel safe. They give you a solid foundation, an anchor, a place to sit and think. They hold your secrets, your dreams, your tears, your foot prints. They surround you majestically, holding onto all they have seen from way before you were even there.
One year, there was so much snow that I cut the letters THINK DIRT out of brown construction paper and taped them to my wall. I couldn't wait another day to see the dirt, the tiny plants coming up, the leaves bursting out of the buds on the trees. I was cold and tired of all the white. The letters stayed on my wall for years. When my mom packed up our home to leave the last thing she did in the empty house was scrape those letters and the scotch tape over them, off the wall.