We've lived here more than 15 years, but Yakima hasn't always been the easiest place to make home. This land is not my birthright. It's not the land of my restless bones, nor of my ancestors'. Relentless blue skies and bare brown hills still, after all these years, feel foreign, inhospitable. I can not stand unsheltered in the the sun drenched open without shrinking back, squirming for cover. The signs of life are small and sparse, and take a more careful, more subtle eye than mine to thrill. When you die here you lie out, bare and bleached, bones drying until they crack and crumble and the wind carries you away. You are nothing but dust like all the rest that could not keep an anchor in this land of rocks and thorns.
When I think of home I think of foggy mornings, waves pounding on the shore and quiet, mossy, dripping forests where rotten logs crumble into soil and splashy puddles stay all day. There is the steady slow journey of snails, and the eager, muddy greeting to the new day of long, fat earthworms before they wriggle back to the welcoming underground. My heart belongs to soft green places, where grace is generous and easily found in a lush landscape of large living things. And when you die, you rest in comfort, sheltered and swallowed by the forest until you rise again from the roots, now a towering cedar, a juicy berry, a thickening blanket of emerald moss, or lichen softening the stones.
But here is where we dropped anchor. These sagelands are where my children were born, where they are raised; this valley is all that they know to call home. Our lives are here where our anchorhold is not in large trees and welcoming ground or a landscape so generous it doesn't need company to be made a home. We are held instead by big, bold, starry nights, backyard campfires, plates filled by farmers and fields whose names we know, and the many small ways that grace is found in an arid and unyielding land where reliance on others is the difference between barren hills and green orchards, blowing away and growing roots, in ever hoping to find shelter from the scorching sun.
Still, when it rains, I am bound outside. And so one terrible day, after an unthinkable act of random violence far away left our family shattered and afraid and a difficult pregnancy kept me trapped here between these charred hills and a relentless sun, useless and anxious, I found myself outside. It had rained unexpectedly. The surprise of the song and the scent of the shower drew me out, just as it drew the worms from the soil and all of the color from the air.
There's a park in my neighborhood with a marked loop pathway, zero point six miles around a playground and tennis courts. It's wide open, no shade, but we go there often to visit and play and practice riding bikes. We're there even more during those times when survival, just making it through the day, requires fierce, fast walking and fresh air. So there I was, pounding out miles, worrying over my family, wrestling with anger, fear, and the idea of forgiveness; walking just to DO something. I could feel the baby stretching and moving, and I prepared myself to stretch and grow as well, to make my trembling heart into a welcome home. I was soaking in the last misty sprinkles of the rain in the lonely, empty park.
The park was not entirely empty though. There was one other person out that day- a short, hunched over old man in a grey windbreaker and Velcro tennis shoes, inching down the path. I walked fast. I was strong and swift, passing him without pausing, just a few long strides to the left or right and back on track. I had a lot of walking to do that day and no time to slow down.
One point two. Breathe. Walk.
One point eight. Walk. Breathe. Walk. Faster now.
What was he doing crouched down there in the middle of the path like that? He never raised his head. Never seemed to notice as I huffed and puffed past. He just walked, wobbly, and so slowly it hurt to watch. Every step or two he would stop, crouch down, then raise up painfully, pause to steady himself, take a slow breath and then another step forward.
Two point four. Faster still. Don't stop.
He was nearly around the loopbefore I finally slowed enough to see why he'd come out in the cold, damp drizzle. His eyes were trained down at his feet because he was looking for something small, something I hadn't noticed on all my laps around. He was stooping his creaky bones to gently, tenderly, pluck worms from the puddles and place them safely in the sheltering grass. He was giving them a chance to make it to their earthen home before the blazing sun returned to the sky and they were turned to blackened crisps, crushed to dust by oblivious sneakers and blown away.
Step. Stop. Stoop. Scoop. Stand.
Three point six.
The sun was just there behind the last fluffs of cloud as I approached my shiny, drippy van. I watched that man, my only company, rise up one last time, nod to himself, then turn, look straight ahead, and step off the path. He was headed for home. I pulled out of the parking lot just as the sun burst through the clouds, and a rainbow announced the change in the weather. Everything was bright, clear, suddenly sparkling with color.
The park was quiet, still. The path was empty.
The worms were safe, home.
And I was too.
A different kind of hold keeps me anchored here. It is not an easy place to sink into, but there is kindness everywhere, and beauty out in the open, if you can stand still a moment to see it. There is grace in every small step and I am learning as I go to walk gently on this land. I am not squirming and alone. I'm here with you and together we are home.
Yalisha Case has been accused of over thinking things, but isn't sure that's the whole story. She'll let you know if she figures it out.