14 years old: I’m sitting on the ridge about my home. I hike here often. I’m
resting on my favorite tree, an old cypress whose branches I’ve memorized. I eat blueberries
and write poetry. I strip down to my underwear and soak up the sun. Soon, the leaves will change
colors in the valley. Soon, more roads will be paved. Soon, there will be a fire on this ridge,
started by a teenage boy. How dare he. I’ll have to realize that I share this mountain
and that landscapes, like people, change.
15 years old: It’s winter. It’s cold, but I’m bundled up in flannel
and down. Sprawled across hay bales in an open barn, I read Mary Oliver and watch the snowfall.
Every once in a while, a gust blows in a few snowflakes. My cheeks are cold and moist. My eyes
are wet with tears. I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad. I’ll remember this
hay barn forever.
18 years old:I am anything but a morning person, but today I awoke before dawn to take
a walk before school. I am a big, bad senior. I’ve been accepted to Smith College. Now,
I have more fun, drink a beer once in a while, attend a school dance. I’m the president
of three or four clubs. I’m cool. I have a girlfriend. Soon, we’ll get our hair
done and attend senior prom looking like stars. Today, I meditate. Why am I happy? Is this
ok? I bring a wool blanket and lay it out beside a stone wall. I study the wall, convinced
that where these trees now stand, sheep once grazed. I recite “Mending Wall” by
Robert Frost. I write an old friend a letter: I’m so happy! Can you believe it?
20 years old: Racing across the country on a train, I sped out of Harford, past my
high school, past my college, and out to Chicago. Soon, I’ll arrive in Reno. I’ll
go backpacking in Yosemite, climbing Half Done and Clouds Rest. Then, I’ll get a ride
to San Francisco, where for one summer I’ll sample life as an adult. Now, on the train,
I’m alone. I’ve covered up my stickers, taken off my pins. I’ll speak to
prison janitors from Wisconsin, “church ladies” with bumblebee earrings, Mormon
boys who ask if I have marijuana, and “trainlovers” headed to an exposition in
Utah. I experience my best exercise yet in crossing borders, hearing stories and learning narratives
I’ve never imagined. Meanwhile, I watch a sunset as I race across the Mississippi river.
Meanwhile, I witness elk beside the tracks, a snowstorm in the Rockies, and flat plains that
seem to stretch forever.
20 years old: I’m nervous, she told me. I’ve never met a woman who could
start a fire, she says. My fire takes several attempts before it burns just hot enough to boil
the Arabic coffee with cardamom my friend has brought, but I assure her that women can do these
things just as well as men. we’re having a picnic. It’s December. we’ve walked
across the road towards the Jordanian border. I want to see your home, I say. We settle halfway
between the sand dunes and the date palms. Under the full moon, we can see the Adom Mountains,
which are purple in the daytime. We drink coffee, stargaze, share our dreams, and roll in the