We step carefully through the feral sweetpea and Queen Anne’s lace growing with such abandon in this moldering graveyard that we can almost hear the restless thumping of their collective heart. I step, rather; my sixteen-month old daughter is impaired by a sutured wound that nearly took her big toe. We are heading for the promontory at the north end of the Old City Cemetery – epitaphs dating back to the Mexican-American War – that abuts our house, ferrying her here to mollify the terrible sting of being forbidden from exploring this rocky, weedy, sinewy terrain. A toddler, asked to remain seated.
Instead, distractions. Ants holding tribunal along tree trunks. Our neighbor’s dog snarling through the fence, begging for egress. Best, though, is the vantage point we clamber toward, the vine-choked and oak-shaded stage on which I have stood countless times to survey and shake hands with my little village.
We see this: hills dotted with Gold Rush manors; the “oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi”; defunct caboose, ruddy with rust; squalid creek brimming with mosquitoes and muddy fish; antique store brimming with ephemera, still sporting 19th century dust; our favorite used bookstore, labyrinth of words and pages; crumbling red-brick chimneys impaled in hillsides; pharmacy with a 1960s Dean Martin smile; America’s most-haunted hotel, ghosts propping open windows and reeling in the laundry; digger and ponderosa pines guarding that eastern horizon, thinly veiling the Sierras; dusty highway ducking beneath shaggy firs that once brought heavy-treading fortune seekers, drunk and careening in wagons, and not long before that, quieter creatures, all stepping softly with their secrets in tow.
My daughter is silent, one finger hooked into her cheek, ignoring the bandaged foot dangling at my side. I tell her: much of me was made by this place. Perhaps part of you will be, too. She likes the idea, I think, as she lifts her eyes toward some creature whose wings have momentarily hidden the sun. Buzzard, hawk, woodpecker? Or you? Waiting for the sweet song of a foothill dusk to bury our worries in velvet. To heal, close wounds, bring sleep.