"a trail home" :: chapter 1, section 2

She pulls onto Highway One, turning the volume all the way up as she pushes the accelerator down. “La Llorona” begins, its sad slow guitar riding along with the increasing tempo of the car. As the little silver SUV picks up speed, she sees the massive wind tunnel hole through the Cypress hedgerows on her right, the one made by the raging white man next door. She sees all the downed trees on the ground, approved by the white woman in charge here who’s responsible for protecting this place. She feels the familiar anger seep into her cells. It’s followed quickly by a resistance to the shame they mindlessly project onto her for expressing that anger.

They’ve questioned her mental health here. They did the same thing in Cave Junction when she expressed her anger at the white people there who wouldn’t stand and bear witness while the NRA mfs dined and planned. Or who wouldn’t raise their voices in response to the white supremacist posters and barbeques, to let the POC know “the good guys” have their backs. She knows the accusations and insinuations are just a version of the silly “snowflake” stuff, the trauma vandalism that’s become so popular. What they don’t know is that she has a formidable facility, now, with her emotions; can express anger, then be done, move into calm, and then joy. Emotion does not undermine her; her facility with its contours and shapes makes her stronger and more connected. She also knows that they simply do not have the capacity to understand her and engage with her emotionally themselves, so they passive aggressively attack her instead. Just like Cave Junction.

She also knows her anger is healthy—an accurate response to the unnecessary human destruction of everything that matters around her. She has never, in her whole life, been as lucid, as emotionally present, and as aware as she is now. She can see connections they will never comprehend. She continues adding their responses to the data set, where it’s coming together in identifiably damning patterns. Then, she lets thoughts of them go.

The speedometer reads 50, and the weeping guitar in this version of “La Llorona” transforms into the first verses of the 8-minute song. She sings along:

Salías de un templo un día Llorona
Cuando al pasar yo te ví
Salías de un templo un día Llorona
Cuando al pasar yo te ví

Her mouth, now, easily forms around the words, and her strong voice cries with the singing woman. At first, she only cried, and sang sad sounds, because her mouth couldn’t form the words. She was deeply ashamed that she sounded like the white people around her. In this glorious moment, her body is filled with Spanish, with the beauty and warmth of a language she didn’t know was so much a part of her until it was gone. Her old world was filled with brown and black people—with smiles and greetings and acknowledgement and life. Human connection. Power-sharing. Variety. Creativity. She knows, now, that this is healthiest for human beings. She orients toward that world, with everything in her, every single day.

She breathes in the sadness and longing of the song’s lyrics, letting their salve soak into her body as the speedometer hits 60.

Tapame con tu rebozo Llorona
Porque me muero de frio
Tapame con tu rebozo Llorona
Me muero de frio

As she nears 70, longing and loss and beauty grow enormous, filling the interior of the car with light as it speeds past the ruins of cleared trees—other beings’ worlds—and toward the health of her refuge.

She pulls off the highway and onto the little road to her left. Quickly slowing down to 10 mph, her tires crunch over what’s left of the gravel on the road through the preserve. The sun’s starting to go down to her right, and its beams dance through the trees and shrubs, intersecting with the slowly moving vehicle, seeming to guide it to the familiar spot it sits in while she’s off in the trees. She turns off the ignition and it ends the music. She sits a moment in the silence, “me muero de frio” echoing in her head. She waits a moment for the echoes to still, then for the silence, then the birdsong, which enters from the wings of the forest stage. There are no other humans here. She smiles, leans her head back against the seat, weeps just a tear or two, and thanks the universe.

She pops the rear hatch, and hops out of the car, her legs eager to be moving on the trail. She changes from the old flip flops into her loved and well-worn hiking shoes, her fifth pair in three years. She loves her shoes. And her feet. When she started this journey in 2015, she had 40 more pounds and plantar in both feet. North bay trails changed that, and back home in Kennedy Grove, she learned to walk again in long strides. Her feet are healthy and strong now—she lost an arch, but no more plantar. She sits a moment, smiles, then laughs and announces, “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH — I LOVE this place and I love my feet!”

She stands up, adjusting the shoes. The beginnings of hikes are always filled with anticipation. What will the light look like today? Which way should she go—up and around or down and back up? A little moisture in the air promises a thickness of light she hopes she can capture in images. And, even if she can’t catch that, it doesn’t matter: everything about her is nourished when she’s here. Trails and trees saved her life, and they are still her life. She smiles again. Laughs. She closes the back hatch, walks to the front again, and reaches in to get her water bottle and phone. She closes and locks the door, tapping the handle with the back of her hand to remind her body she did, in fact, lock it.

Wondering how much time she has for the hike, she looks down at her phone to see how much life is in the battery. It’s at 88%, so she has lots of time. Time is different for her than for anyone she’s ever met. Maybe something about owning her time makes it different. Or the present-ness that comes with years filled with crisis and revelation. Or the poison of her present actuality triggering in her a mode of living in possibility.

She knows that all the changes she’s experienced the last five years have also changed her experience of time. It doesn’t really matter why, though. She doesn’t have to keep documenting every little temporal nuance so she can report back when she gets home and account for her whereabouts and her choices. She’s now freed of what she thought was her responsibility in that regard. She smiles again. Putting the water bottle in her right hand and the phone in her left, she sets off. Her soles make little noise on the still rain-wet, packed red pine needles of the trail. She decides to head down first, then back up and around.

There’s a logic to a healthy forest, a relational logic. She can always tell when a place has been haphazardly logged or cut through, even if understory hides the scars. The trees don’t seem to be connected to one another when their families have been hacked through by men with chainsaws. In healthy forests, trees are beautifully in relation with one another. They incline toward each other, interacting, weaving, intermingling. But slowly, like Norman moves, in Skinny Legs and All. It’s hard for humans to see. She didn’t see it at first, either, when her body’s pace was revved up by all the noise around her. She’s learned to see, now; she’s embodied her human version of the trees’ pace.

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First Rural Portal Project edition anticipated January 20, 2020 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies is an Accelerate Publishing project. Accelerate: A Niche Publishing & Communications Consulting Co.,–est. in 2015–is a socially just for-profit small business in California.