Today is the last day of sugaring for the season. My parents will fill the back pan with water, draw off the last of the syrup, pour the half-syrup into buckets for a neighbor to boil down on his kitchen stove. My daughter asks, “Why it over?” and I explain about buds and leaves and why sap runs through the trees in the first place. Her eyes drift out the car window to the grey and brown and dirty-white landscape around her and I wonder if she even remembers what it looked like around here when the leaves were green.
I spend a lot of time, during spring in Vermont, wondering why we don’t live other places. I start thinking how we’ve never lived in California, and why the hell wouldn’t we? I start thinking of going back to Brooklyn or Philadelphia, to my grandparents’ empty adobe in Tucson, to my aunt’s shack at the edge of town in West Texas. Places are my porn: I travel not to see other places, but to feel the potential of my life lived there. I imagine what my body would feel like waking to those other scents, sounds, temperatures & breezes. What a consistent dose of sunlight (or streets) would do for my limbs, my aspirations, my mood, my daughter. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game of the mind: I believe so strongly that place (architecture, landscape, climate, culture) affect who we are and how we see the world that how could I not play this game of wondering, of place fantasy, when the stakes are so very reverberant and real?
There was a time in my life when I consisted on a constant dose of travel in order to feel that lightness and possibility in my bones. Enter a new town and you know, deep down, that you can become anyone you want to become. I dreamt only of new apartments, shacks, trailers and roads where my life could be written anew.
But at a certain point I realized I wanted to write deep as well: know myself through what I chose, rather than through the windows of possibility. It was a terrifying moment and decision. It’s the same as choosing trying (at the risk of failing) over not trying at all. Yes: so much harder to say than no. At that point I got married, moved home, built a house, got pregnant, planted a peach tree, went to graduate school. Yes yes yes yes yes and yes. Rooted, in every sense of the word.
And I don’t regret it. I know myself so much the better. But there is a loophole built into the system.
I write fiction.
In fiction there is no marriage, no house, no child. No one piece of land, no mud season. No peach tree. Close my eyes and I can be anywhere I want to be, and anyone. I take it most seriously. And when I am without it—when days go by without traveling into other spaces—a desperation begins to slip in. A constriction. A fear. At which point the dishes stop getting washed. The laundry piles up. Wings sprout from my shoulders. The mother bird slips away. To the desert. To the city. To an empty house nearby. Where no one, not even the most spectacular and loving creatures she knows, can find her, or know her, or claim her as their own.