I live above the Russian River in Guerneville, California. My house crests a wooded hill, a steep hill like a child’s drawing of an equilateral triangle with triangle trees. The driveway, 1,420 feet of concrete, snakes through coastal redwood, California bay, madrone, and tan oak. In winter, the trees smell of rain and river fog trails the canyon like a loose scarf. Summers are the drought months and the river runs lazy and slow. Kayakers float past families of mergansers and turtles sun bathing on logs. Wading herons and fishermen stalk the steelhead trout.
On the hill, a few old growth redwoods remain. In the late 1800’s, loggers felled these ancients for timber, making way for grazing and agricultural land. Prune plums and spectacular Gravenstein apple trees flourished. Now, it seems, all we grow are grapes. In the heat of summer when the hills turn golden then brown, graveyards, golf courses, and wine grapes stay green. Up here, I watch for fire.
I woke today to a barking cry of a grey fox. Last week I saw two kits dead on the canyon road. Earlier this year, a deer chewed an arbutus marina with hanging clusters of pale pink berries to skeletal spindles. These are my closest neighbors: fox and deer, saw whet and Western Screech owls, sagebrush lizards. A redwood grove is a shaded and inhospitable habitat. In a young forest, like where I live, fox, deer and I, along with other invasives, grasses, poison oak, and scotch broom call the land home.
Someday I want to walk my hill with an arborist who can tell me stories about the trees, their lives and their health. Words are the hinges that hold memories in place. Yesterday, I read to my mother. At ninety-five, her world is slipping away. I read to her to preserve details, to name things, words like sassafras and scrub jay. When words go, memories go. Where I live, the trees, the towering redwoods, the fallen branches and gnarled undergrowth are telling a story, a story I ache to hear.