We all appreciate a good view, and if we are very fortunate, we may have a lovely view from a window where we work, live, visit, or stay. Often when we travel, we go to places from where we can view something lovely or inspiring. We will drive to take in a view, some of us will hike, walk, run, ride, or paddle to enjoy a more uncommon view. And we take pictures, perhaps only mentally, but usually there is some visual evidence of our observation of the views we enjoy. And they never quite do justice but act only as a trigger for the splendid and vivid memory of the actual experience. I, personally, will take dozens of pictures of every view I encounter, often from different angles, in raw form and with lighting the manipulated, with and without filters, perhaps. But, always, with me, there are pictures. It becomes the story of my life, my journal, and inspiration for tales to share, such as this one.
I am, again, living in the house I grew up in. My parent’s house, and as my father passed a few years ago, it is now my mother’s house. I occupy a couple of bedrooms upstairs, my old room and the guest room, one for sleeping, the other for my office. I work from home, these days. Many of my things occupy more of the garage floor than my mother would like, but as she occupies all of the shelving and organized storage areas of the house, mostly with things she doesn’t use and will, likely, never use, like skill saws, space heaters from the 1970’s, and worn out electric frying pans, my stuff remains in boxes in the middle of the floor. My pantry is in the one cupboard in the garage that has been mostly emptied of Mom’s stale and outdated, stockpiled, loss leaders from grocery store sales in years past. My father’s things still occupy a very significant amount of square footage in this house. I don’t think he’s using them much these days.
And, almost daily, I occupy a space on the large, redwood deck off of the kitchen. The deck overlooks the large, landscaped backyard. There is a large lawn, requiring far more watering than socially acceptable or financially feasible. There are shrubs and trees that have been planted beyond the lawn and containers with flowering things within. All which require some watering beyond what is reasonable and practical. Beyond the yard, behind the fence with the securely cabled and padlocked gate, is a seasonal creek in a ravine. For my entire childhood, there was only lawn and the creek, the rest was all left natural, and beyond the creek, there was a ranch with cows and horses, grass and trees and this was my nirvana, this was where I lived as much of the day as I was allowed. Now there are homes across the creek, newer and far larger and more expensive than my mom’s.
This yard is my mom’s view. That’s what it is to her; her view. She will often exclaim, “Isn’t it a lovely view?” Outdoors defined; view. When I lived elsewhere, away at college, in another part of the state raising my own family, I would often receive mail from Mom and Dad. The envelope would contain several clippings from the newspaper, a brief, newsy, note written in Mom’s cursive handwriting, telling things she’d by now, already told me of over the phone. And, quite frequently, there’d be photos included. Many times, the photos would be pictures of the backyard. Her view.
Other than that it is and has always ever been somewhat of a burden. Now, more than ever, as she is 91 years old and is in high distrust of the gardener, drip irrigation, or any kind of automatic anything. She is, in fact, at this moment, watering things in the yard, with a garden hose. This is a chore she grumbles about and puts off all week long, until the hydrangeas wilt beyond recognition in the late summer heat. Then Mom dons her large hat, her sunglasses, her gloves, her long sleeved shirt and the only pair of jeans she owns. She laces up her muddy garden shoes and grabs an old broom handle to steady herself as she walks through the yard, dragging, miraculously, the heavy garden hose along with her. And she waters. I’d consider installing a drip irrigation system, but I won’t be “watering”. Besides, I think it’s good for her to get outdoors once a week or so, to step into her view, to be “in the picture.”
Mom’s preference, and actually, I’d say, lifestyle, is to sit within the house and look out at the view. It is to be observed and not experienced. Much like her formal living room, the deck and the lovely, mossy, and now very uneven, brick patio, are only enjoyed, potentially, when company comes. But, only if it isn’t too hot, too cold, or if there aren’t too many bugs. Otherwise, we sit inside and visit with the view as a backdrop to our special occasion.
When I was with my husband and raising my family, we loved to camp, especially in the mountains. The views were awesome. Even before children, my husband and I would pile into the truck, with the dogs in the camper, and we’d go off to some campground in the mountains. He liked to drive around the countryside and observe the view. We’d occasionally stop, get out, maybe, and take pictures of all the lovely things we saw. We would do so from the paved roads and from the OHV trails that wind all through the Sierras. From the comfort of a padded seat and an air-conditioned chamber, he loved nature.
I longed to be in the pictures we took. I wanted to be out there, in the nature; hiking, backpacking, swimming, paddling. Living. But, for many years, I resigned myself to being a prisoner within the confines of the cab of the truck.
When my kids were born, we continued our “outdoor” pursuits. We did finally eschew the camper and took to tent camping. Our tent was a large, two room affair with a screened in porch. It was labeled as a “ten man” tent. Additionally, we had a large dining tent which, when erected, would comfortably engulf an entire, regulation sized, picnic table. From within these environs, we could see all the nature immediately around us. For the rest of the nature, we would pile into the air-conditioned vehicle and drive and drive and drive. My husband referred to us as the “Cars-by Family”, so often, in fact, it became a source of shame and embarrassment.
We were fortunate enough, when the kids were in grade school, to find a forty-acre piece of property, surrounded on three sides by U.S. Forest Service property and on the fourth by a privately held timber holding. We wrote a check for the property, it costing less than a used automobile, at the time. It was situated just between the foothills and the Sierras themselves, and consisted of a slim bit of both sides, and all the rugged in betweens, of a steep canyon. We had a patch just level enough for our tent city and we camped there nearly every weekend of the summer. The view from the edge of the canyon, if you walked just beyond the tall trees, was awesome. There were old goldmines on the property and on the surrounding lands, a stream at the bottom with dramatic waterfalls and active gold claims still being worked. The land was very remote, roughly an hour, mostly by marginally maintained, dirt, Forest Service roads, from the nearest town. A town with a gas station, a park, a grocery store, an old hotel, a couple of greasy spoon eateries and many, sketchy, saloons.
My husband would sit in a chair, on occasion, outside of the screened dining tent, and would read and listen to “news talk” radio on a solar-powered, hand crank radio he probably still covets to this day. The kids and I longed to hike and explore, and on very rare occasions, we could convince my husband to oblige, but only because he wanted to find the opening to the gold mine he owned. More often, in fact, nearly daily, we’d pile into the air-conditioned vehicle and drive into town or to some other place offering a view. We were not “in the picture” nearly as much as I would have liked.
Funny, after a couple of years, it was a dear girlfriend of mine and me who hiked down into the canyon and finally found the mysterious and elusive opening to our gold mine. That was a day I will never forget, victorious, triumphant! And “in the picture”.
Several years later, we were fortunate enough to acquire another roughly forty-acre piece of property. It, too, was situated remotely, in the lower Sierra foothills, and on the very edge of a canyon overlooking the South Fork of the American River and a large wilderness park on the other side. It had a “million dollar view”. View property, with a house attached. It wasn’t much of a house, not terrible, almost comfortable, and home for a time. The kids, by now, were in middle school and high school. The three of us had long since tired of my husband’s “cars-by” lifestyle. We were very active in Scouting and I was a leader for both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We spent nearly every moment not devoted to work and school, outdoors, doing something. In fact, nearly every day after school, if no Scouting activities were on the calendar, we were at the wilderness park across the canyon from the house. Hiking, biking, geocaching, skipping stones in the river. We were “in the picture”, we spent more time in the view than looking at the view. Often, while we were enjoying our surroundings, my husband was sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the large windows into the view, with binoculars, trying to contact us on the cell phone to confirm our locations so he could be certain he’d identified the proper specks in the picture. Like a real, life version of “Where’s Waldo”.
All of that is gone now. I mean, physically, it is all still there, the forest property with the gold mines, the house on the edge of the canyon overlooking the park and the river, the man I married, somewhere. But none of it is mine, all left behind in one tragic unfolding after another, which I now, actually, count as blessings. Other stories.
Through all of this, I have learned valuable and life-changing lessons. Priceless lessons. Three of which I’ll share here. First, don’t ever let anyone prevent you from doing what you truly want to do. I always ever wanted to be out there enjoying that whole outdoors thing, and while I’ll never say I have regrets, only lessons learned, I wish I’d learned this lesson far sooner. I allowed myself to be captive in tents and houses and cars, escape into my desire was as easy as opening a door and stepping forth, and I hesitated far too long. Second; I waited for someone to accompany me, to step forth with me, and, eventually my kids and Scouting fulfilled that need. As the kids are now grown in live three thousand miles away from me, in opposite directions, I have discovered that being out there, alone, is as good, and sometimes, even better. Being out there, in nature, in the picture, is what I value most. To be in good company is lovely, but, truthfully, inconsequential. I’ll enjoy being in the picture alone or in good company. The invitation is always open to those I keep company with. The third very valuable lesson I’ll share with you is you don’t have to own it to enjoy it. The canyon, the goldmines, the gold-filled stream, the river, the wilderness park, the pictures I stepped in to, are all still there, all still accessible, and, yes, I do still return. There are more destinations and wonders to enjoy than a generous lifetime allows time for. Step forth and begin to enjoy those views, be a part of the view, live within the view. Be in the picture.