Place Where You Live:

Santiam River, Oregon

At age eighteen I left the comfort of suburbia and family for college and wilderness.  College was expected.  Wilderness called to me.  While bicycling Arizona’s Painted Desert I slept in Indian ruins.  I huddled amongst boulders as lightning danced on Colorado peaks.  I sat on Pacific shores beneath a heavy overcast, immersed in the sound of thundering surf.  A worried mother asked, “What are you escaping?”  “I’m looking for something that I don’t understand.”  As much as I watched and listened to nature, her essence remained elusive.


Ten years later I began to work a small farm beside Oregon’s Santiam River.  The land enchanted me.  The osprey’s high-pitched call pierced my workday like a brilliant knife penetrating to the core of my being.  Turkey vultures glided silently above August’s sun baked fields.  Winter’s wind sighed through firs on the hill above the farm. 


While I reveled in the wildness, my every effort tried to turn it aside, to manipulate the land to grow food.  Rain showers that I had watched from a tent on backpacking trips now soaked me as I hurried to plant before soil turned to mud.  The deer I once quietly observed from a forest trail became pests that I fenced out.  The cold that used to keep me lingering in a sleeping bag long past sunrise turned my hands red and numb while I picked kale for market.  I plunged naked into November’s swollen river to rescue irrigation equipment.  Blackberry thorns drew blood as I flailed at them with a machete.  I clawed weeds out of the earth while the patient soil absorbed sweat dripping off my face.  Disease and bugs shrouded visions of a bountiful harvest.  But over time, the earth and the night sky so dwarfed my frustrated efforts that disappointment evaporated into a pure fullness.  That fullness blossomed inside like an inner fire as a weak January sun rose over the kale field, bringing life coursing into numb hands.  The wilderness I once pursued abides far from this farm, but I found it, unexpectedly, dwelling in callused hands and muddy, frosted fields.