There was a stillness on the mountain where nothing visible moved besides the silent clouds and the grasses that shifted so softly against one another in the invisible breeze that you could not hear them.
I thought I imagined their sound. At the same time the mountain was teaching me her quiet. She was teaching me her remoteness from the worlds of people. She did not need them. She did not even think about them. They did not exist in her world, even though they climbed around on her body like fleas, and sometimes cut what grew on her down and cut into her dirt to make roads and fields and clearings for places to live. But people did not matter to her. She had been there a long time before people were even thought of anywhere on earth.
You could also hear the river rumbling quietly far in the distance in the summertime across the valley floor at the bottom of the mountain on the other side. It sounded like wind through pine tree branches, soft and low, always steady. I could count on that sound, though I could barely hear it from inside the Jamesway.
The mountain’s was the kind of quiet that included things growing to their fullest and then dying, heaving behind seeds, berry, or the new growth on the end of a twig. It included the rain when fell, always silent until it hit something and then settled into the earth, invisible beneath the masses of green things that covered all but the little patches of dirt my father had made on the mountain.
This was a big land that swallowed everything as if it had never happened at all. It had a silence I could watch even though as far as I knew it had never been born. It was because it was, and sometimes I thought I could taste it. The air in Alaska is that way. Thick and rich in summer. I could wrap myself in all of this, wrap it around the wounds in my soul even though I didn’t know they were there because I never thought about them. Because I couldn’t.
That kind of silence belongs to the mountain and all that she is and touches, and it always watches you to see everything you are doing because you are there. Like everything else is on the mountain. If you sit there long enough and watch, it is like you’ve never been born. It feeds you right through your skin and the hairs on your head as if you really are just another green leaf, or a floating cloud that came down the valley until it bumped into the mountain and just stayed there.
That kind of silence can feed a living soul the same way it feeds everything else down to the stones and the lichen that grows on them, and the bugs that live under the stones and inside the dead fallen trees. The wind and the river and the mountain could all talk to one another, and be part of the great silence at the same time. I could listen to all of this, and be a part of all of this, but I only opened my mouth and said something when I talked to the angel at the top of the mountain across the valley from me. I only used words for her, but I knew she heard me all of the rest of the time because she could see me, and there wasn’t anything real between us. We just were, together.
But the mud was something else. It wouldn’t have been there if everyone just left the mountain alone. But once my father cut into it to make a road, he cut all of the roots that kept the earth in place, so now when the water froze inside the earth, it had a place to leak out, right along the high bank of the road. Then it would run down the road and wash it away as soon as it could, right back over the next lowest edge that if found that it could cut trough or get over. And in the winter, when the water wanted to, it leaked and oozed out like big hands that froze themselves completely over the road so that you couldn’t see it any move. Just that ce, my father called glaciers. And in the spring if they thawed out quickly, they also joined together in the big ruts running down the roads and over the edges and down the mountainside. The ruts were big enough to stand in, nearly to my waist in places. And there wasn’t enough room to hardly walk around them anywhere, and my parents could not drive for many weeks. Then my father would have to take his little Oliver OC3 tractor when things dried out enough and scrape and move the dirt around to fill in the ruts and make the roads all over again.
But sometimes it was too big a job for him and his little tractor, so he would have to pay somebody with a big caterpillar to come and do the roads. I know it cost a lot of money, over and over again. But that was just one of the prices we all had to pay for being able to live on that mountain.
So sometimes the mountain came alive and turned into this mud that swallowed things, and that you could not walk on. It could swallow things.
How was I supposed to know if I was happy or not? After we discovered our mountain place when I was 7, that was the only thing that mattered to me. Either I was on it, or I was not.
Every time and every place that was away from it felt like hell. Heaven was being on the mountain, no matter what else happened. The else part happened all of the time, anyway. Thoughts of the homestead chased me around like these words do now if I try to get away from them without writing them down.
Places can be insistent like that because they live inside of you, under your skin, part of your skin, the way the wind is when it touches you and blows through your hair. They make the kind of callings that things do that you can’t get away from even if you put your hands over your ears. No, they don’t go away. They just shout louder and louder. Those things you can’t even tell in your body where you are hearing them. They go right through your body after they hang around in there and swirl around for awhile.
That place and my body were the same thing. If I wasn’t there I was completely and utterly lost, like I didn’t exist. I only felt like I had a body when I was on the mountain. I left my body there if I had to go somewhere else.
And that angel over there at the top of that mountain was like my soul. We all were a one thing.
I was no different that a tree or a berry bush or the snow piled up in the winter. I had no concept for digging up a tree or a plant and taking it somewhere else. I never even thought about picking up a rock, even if it was small, and taking it away from there. Things just belonged there, and I was one of those things.
Like memories. Do we have them or do they have us? How about feelings?
Like Christmas. It was like a place or a thing, an object. You just waited and wherever you were, and it would come back again to where you were. You just knew it would show up. When it got close to getting there, mother would unpack the Christmas boxes and there would be the pretty calendar with all the little doors we got to open on each day. It had glitter on it, and after you opened all the small doors, it would be Christmas and the big doors to the stable would open and there would be the manger with Jesus asleep with his parents.
That’s the way it went with Thanksgiving and Easter and everyone’s birthdays. One after the other, they came back again, and nobody could change that. It just happened. When Christmas wasn’t there, it was just hidden somewhere waiting. All it did was wait, and I waited, too.
Like fall and the first day of the school year. You just waited for that, too. I could always tell it was coming because the air changed like it had a snap and a bite in it. It wasn’t too cold and it wasn’t too warm. Just a little bite, like if you put your tongue between your teeth and bit down gently but not so much that it really hurt. Just enough to feel it, and to tell something was happening, something was changing.
My birthday came right before the dirt popped up and got crunchy, but after the raspberry bushes turned dark red against the mountain so you could see them and tell right where they were, so you would know the berries were ready, so you knew exactly where to go to pick them.
And then mother made the jam, and brought the bowls of scum to the picnic table with a box of Vanilla Wafers. The scum was delicious, and disappeared quickly.
It is not a strange or foreign thing to measure time by cycles of when things came back again. We continue to do that with day and night, with the seasons, but I did not have a sense of moving in them or with them. Everything in my life just happened outside of my direct control. Starting with the tiny and moving on up. I was just a part of whatever was – when it was, where it was, how it was. Because I had never had the opportunity to move to my inside, so that external became internal, these boundaries did not differentiate themselves the way I think they do for others.
I think that is part of why things are hard with me regarding Ernie. He might be the first person I have really taken in to me so that he is part of my cosmos somehow. He is a part of me the way I was a part of the mountain. I miss him like I missed the mountain when I was away from it. But he is a person and has a self of his own that can move around, and is not just there for me to return to like the mountain was. He is transient. The mountain wasn’t. It was solid, a place, it stayed put, and even if I had to go away, I always knew where it was so I could get back to it.
Ernie is not a mountain, he is a person. I do not have a frame of reference for that relationship difference, I guess. He is, from my point of view, my homestead – a “Place I can go to for solace, comfort and connection.” That is what I learned of involvement and attachment.
That, then, is getting closer to the difference between the mountain – and the homestead. The homestead was personalized, a personal place, our place. It was something we as a family had an investment in, a love for, and homesteading was our challenge. Our commitment was to “prove up” so that the homestead would be ours.
The place was bigger than that, though. It was like the mountain had a name, and that name was homestead. The homestead had boundaries to it. It was surveyed, and staked out. From the homestead I could see and love much more than was actually the physical boundaries of the homestead itself. But they were an extension of the homestead – the homestead being a place, and the valley and the rest of the location being the place where the place of the homestead was.
So this is about boundaries, the boundaries of the actual homestead – and what belonged and didn’t belong. The homestead was to be ours. We could never own what was not the actual homestead. The homestead, obviously, belonged right where it was in relationship to those mountains, that valley, in relationship of proximity – near or far – to the ocean, to Anchorage or Eagle River – and to things I could not see.
This would not matter to anybody else, but considering I did not have boundaries where I started and stopped and where mother started and stopped, this whole definition of boundaries, in and out, included and excluded, only came to me through the information I had about us and the homestead, us and the valley, me and it all. I guess THE ALL was more family to me than my family was – maybe with the exception of the nosebleed incident. Otherwise I was a cumbersome burden, something the family did not want but could not get rid of.
It is also very hard for me to write about these things. When I look at them, I know all these things are still right here inside of me, that time has changed nothing. They never left, I never left them. They are a part of me.
It’s like closing your eyes and seeing things that are right there in front of you when you open them again. Things don’t vanish, don’t go anywhere just because you aren’t looking at them with your eyes open. They stay there and wait for you to see them again.
And you can’t pick and choose what you see if you are really looking. It’s scary, because it lets me know I have not evolved. And because there was so much trauma then, separations between people and the place of the homestead just go wider and wider as time went on in my childhood. They were not integrated inside of me, so that things are separate when I go back and look at them.
Except for me and the mountain. We were always together and a one thing, separate from everything – and everyone else.
In order to write the truth about who I am I have to find it. And in order to do that I will have to know who I am. It is a circle.
I started out being the reflection and manifestation of the most troubled, terrible aspects of my mother’s mind. I was her mirror, not a real person, not a self, not my self.
It’s not enough to go back and “report” the “semantic” facts of my childhood. Many of them are fried cells of trauma, anyway, and cannot be found, even though all the feelings are still in my body. This ability to report is only one form of the memories. It is an objective observation as if under a microscope of facts anybody watching would have observed.
But what of the autobiographical perspective? Telling oneself in the story, telling the experience of being in the story. Life as it happens to and with and because of the person of the teller having been IN the events.
But there’s another entirely different component, that of having been aware and conscious not only of the events themselves, but of having the experience of the experience of the events while they happened. This, in the writing, is a function of point of view.
I cannot take the point of view of the reader. I was the only one IN that body, this body. I am the only one that can tell this story from that singular point of view.
Maybe that’s how I wrote those essays from Mrs. Petite. I wrote from alternative points of view. That, in the end, was what my vision was about. Those alternative points of view.
Maybe that is what is supposed to happen from the moment we are born. Our point of view gets developed. People cal out to us as people and speak to the people that is forming inside of us, so that people can come forth, come forward, take the stage by using the senses available and by organizing them from a single people’s point of view.
Maybe there’s more available to us. Other options we lose awareness of and contact with within ourselves as we become defined by the defining forces of a culture. It does become, for normal people, and exercise in stretching their imaginations to acquire the ability to perceive any aspect of the world from an alternative perspective. Most are shaped to be the people their culture will accept. Those aspects are what is recognized, called forth, and other possibilities are excluded – the same as they are for our acquisition of language.
So when I say “find my perspective,” I mean that literally. My perspective was never conscious or aware for the first 18 years of my life, and I was so alone I was not influenced by anybody except my mother. To add a perspective now in the telling of this story may be only supplementary, because whatever I knew back then was not accumulated verbally, therefore was not formed within a perspective that included words – not even in verbal thought form.
One does not know the mind through words, even if we want to think we do it that way. One gets to know the mind the way one gets to know the wind, by paying attention to it, by noticing it. One comes to know how it moves, where it comes from, how it sounds when it passes things and touches them, how it leaves, and when it comes back again. One notices the quality of its intensity, duration, not unlike one can attend to one’s own feelings in the body.
And the wind means something different if you are a sailor or a sail, an eagle or a kite versus being a hummingbird or a bit of pollen or a dead leaf. The wind carries sounds and scents and seeds, pollens, pollution. It brings storms and crashes waves. It carries things and moves things and shapes things – clouds, the soil, settles each snowflake or raindrop. It interacts. It moves grasses and leaves, covers and uncovers things. It buries civilization, history, erodes the landscape, changing things it touches. It can steal heat from bodies. It has its own patterns and rhythms and seasons. Just because we don’t notice the details of the wind doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
The wind has a source and is created somewhere and is related to things in ways I do not understand. It tells a story with its own voice. It has a beginning and an end. We breath the wind and cannot live without it, even though we think of it as only air when it is still and not moving. It is inside of us.
Any season there was an opening, a channel in the wilderness through which except in the long light of midsummer, that we could see the headlights of my father coming home from work long before he got there.
I could see that if I were outside, his headlights in the winter – further away because the leaves would be gone from the trees. I could hear the sound of his engine, and if I were in trouble I would know things would be different, better, once he got home. Mother mostly made sure he did not see what went on while he was gone – but certainly not always.
So this becomes like a split between me and the world. The mountain did not care if I was there or not. Dispassionate, detached, not one bit invested or involved with me, as a person, as a child. Very distant. The place was distant. I just felt that I belonged there. Like anything else that belonged on the mountain.
But not a sense of belonging TO the mountain. Not like the mountain cared. I never thought it did.
So why did I talk to the angel? Because she was there? Did I ever feel or believe that she heard me? Or was it all out going from me into a void?
Was I invested? Was anyone or anything invested in me?
I guess part of the reason I need to explore all of this is because even though my childhood was extremely bad, I survived and raised my kids basically all right. I suspect I “got” something from the homestead that I would not have had if we had stayed in LA, or not returned to the land. I want to know what this “THING” was that I got there – what was this relationship? What did it do for me, what did it give me?
- The egg found its way to the nest of the homestead, which acted as an incubator for me.