25 November 2015

I Came From a Dry Creek Bed

my beloved creek, captured on a
rainy spring day in 2012
My sister and her family recently bought a house.  They moved in this past weekend, just in time for Thanksgiving 2015.  It must be a thing our family does: exactly forty years ago, my family moved at this same time of year from San Francisco to Sonoma.  We enjoyed our first "country" Thanksgiving -- pizza -- on paper plates, sitting on the dining room floor in our new-to-us (but built in 1918) home.

My sister's move prompted me to tell my kids about that Thanksgiving in 1975 and about moving when I was seven.  My daughter asked me if the new house was a lot nicer than the one we left behind in Bernal Heights.  No, I told her.  I loved our SF house, as much as I loved this new one. I loved the way our old house was actually two of those classic San Francisco houses, smashed up next to each other.  Ours was connected on the inside, with our bedrooms and living areas on one side, and my dad's pottery studio on the other.  I loved that we lived right across the street from Paul Revere School, and I loved the community mural on the street side of the school wall, where my dad had painted my brother and sister and me.  I loved that our house was perched on top of a great big hill.  I loved my bedroom and our kitchen.

I loved the new house too: it's old fashioned style was perfect for my Laura Ingalls-leaning imagination.  I really loved the attic room I would share with my sister for the next decade.  Both houses were wonderful.  But the SF house just couldn't compete with the single greatest thing that ever happened to my childhood: Nathanson Creek.  For a day-dreamy, reader of a girl like me, whose imaginary friends were far more plentiful than real life ones, there could be nothing better than moving in right next door to a creek, one that ran full and fast in the winter and dried out completely in the summer, providing the most amazing set for my elaborate and long-running imaginary dramas.  In the Spring, when enough rocks and "shoreline" emerged that I could play next to running water, I pretended to go fishing for my meals.  In the summer, I jumped from mossy rock to mossy rock, climbed under the bridge at the front of our property, conjured long drawn out stories that were part pioneer girl and part romance.

Our yard was also amazing.  To my fanciful imaginings, I could add feasts of blackberries, apples and plums.  Cherries, if the birds didn't beat me to them.  Figs and kumquats.  Persimmons in November.  Mind you, if I were given a chore by my parents to pick those apples and plums and whatnot, I complained like a champ, but if it happened to blend in with whatever narrative I was spinning at the time, then I could work for hours.

The entire property was magical, with just enough room to get lost and feel far from home, but close enough for lunch or dinner to be moments away.  When my parents put a small vineyard in the back forty, they provided me with yet another landscape for my silly and serious adventures.  Growing up on that land gave me many, many gifts that I didn't know I'd cherish until years later: the sound of gravel crunching under foot; the feel of hot, dirty, sweaty skin after playing outside all day; the sting of blackberry brambles scratching my skin.

But what I remember most about that creek -- the place I think I truly come from -- is the smell of a hot, dry summer day, down in the rocks.  It smelled like dirt and leaves, and utter freedom.  Today, that smell makes me feel like time has stopped, like there is all the time in the world for dreaming up stories and acting them out.  Like there are no burdens or demands on my time.  No place to be but there in the brambles and rocks and dry grasses of Sonoma.

Did you know that nostalgia causes actual physical pain?  Or is that just me?

Still, that pang, that stab of sweetness, is how I know that I come from Sonoma's Nathanson Creek.

I wonder where my children will say they come from, forty years from now when they look back on their childhood, a much more urban one than my own.  It feels like a loss to me, that they haven't grown up next to a creek.  I hope there is a good smell or a good memory that takes them back and makes them feel, in their very bones, who they are.  I have no idea what that might be, but I hope they feel that pang and then tell my grandchildren all about it.    


2 comments:

Linda Hemmila said...

I love this. I wish you'd write a book about living in Sonoma. I'd be the first in line to buy it. :)

Monica Alatorre said...

Thank you Linda! Very glad you enjoyed it. :)