QUAIL MUTTERINGS #16. There’s No Place Like Home
(June 1, 2012)
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home…” These are the words Dorothy concentrated on trying to get back to her family inKansas. Even though she was standing in the middle of a wondrous, magical kingdom she still couldn’t wait to get home. Such is the case for me when I venture out to new places.
Just last week I took a road trip, by myself, up to Bishop, California. The occasion was Mule Days. Every Memorial Day weekend the place floods with donkey and mule enthusiasts excited about the wild-ass adventures that take place there. The parade on Saturday morning is the largest, longest running, non-motorized parade in the country. They’ve been doing it since 1969. The mule and donkey show includes packing, jumping, western pleasure, coon jumping, dressage, roping, races, gaited classes, chariot roping and races, gymkhana classes… You name it. Words can’t come close to describing it.
Anyway, it had been several years since I’d been so I was looking forward to going. My husband and I couldn’t get away at the same time because of our old dogs that need so much care and it was decided that I was the one needing a get-a-way. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince any of my friends to go with me. So instead of canceling my plans I went alone.
A friend from Bishop was showing her new mule in a few of the classes. During the summers she is a wrangler for a pack station up in the Eastern Sierra. She was busy with her own activities so we didn’t get much time to visit, but I did get to meet her mule and watch her perform. In spite of her mule being green and inexperienced I thought she did quite well.
The whole area was abuzz with activity. The restaurants were packed, the streets were crowded and the loudspeaker from the fairgrounds was audible all over town – especially during the evening shows when everywhere else was quieting down. I poked inside Spellbinder’s Bookstore to collect on my recent book sales and meandered through the aisles perusing the colorful displays. I spent most of my time petting the mules in corrals and walking around the fairgrounds, park and downtown. Walking, walking and walking.
All this time on foot gave me ample opportunities to ponder – more than usual. What came up for me mostly was home: the beautiful canyon, my comfy house, our family… What? I thought I came up here to get away from all that, but evidently not. I missed home. It’s funny how being away can trigger fondness in such a strong manner. You stop seeing the negatives and see, instead, only the good things. Normally, while immersed in a situation, it’s almost impossible to see only through rose-colored glasses. Our wiring seems to change depending on the setting of our environment. At least it does for me.
On Friday afternoon a chilly wind picked up and forced me to head back to my motel room for long underwear, wool socks, boots and down jacket. I just happened to pack these things at the last minute – just in case. That night, snow dumped all over the White Mountains to the east of Bishop which made the weekend much colder than the average temperature for this time of year. Great – cold and windy. My favorite… Not.
When Sunday finally rolled around I packed my bags and said goodbye to the Eastern Sierra. Starting out on the drive I purposely did not listen to any music or books on CDs. This way I could enjoy the grandeur of the scene without the influence from outside, auditory distractions. I do love those jagged, snow-capped peaks. So, for the two hours descending into the desert I became one with my surroundings and relished every minute of it.
Of course, upon arriving home I immediately got right into the tasks at hand: unpacking, watering, eating fresh greens from the garden… But then I escaped for a short walk up the canyon to reconnect with the familiar. The first pink hollyhock was flowering on the bank by the house. Penstemons were blooming again and a few lilacs still had the faded blue remains of the Spring’s blossoms. A hawk called from overhead and my dog took off through the bushes after a squirrel.
I’ve lived here all my life, over half a century, much longer than most people stay in one place. I’ve heard that one can become rooted to an area. But the natives before us recognized that the land can take hold and pull you in an even stronger way than your own roots can take hold of the land. I feel that. It’s a powerful sensation. Images of certain places in the canyon come to me, complete with smells and the feel of the air. Even just a log laying next to an old fence post under an oak tree – the damp mustiness floods my senses as if I am in that spot right now, even though it had been forty years ago. It’s a difficult thing to describe. Linear time disappears momentarily and I’m taken aback. Sometimes the feelings can be too strong, and I fight back tears of nostalgia. I’ve hiked all over this canyon and surrounding mountains and know it like it’s a part of me. Not separate at all. I’m connected to this place in ways I’ll probably never really understand.
Someone once told me of a Spanish term which describes this. La querencia – the place where my life is. It seems to fit perfectly. And so, for me, there’s no place like home. There’s absolutely no place like home.
Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Chi directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.