The property that I grew up on was just that, a piece of land. Not a street, not a neighborhood. We didn’t have a mailbox that we could check at the end of the drive and no early morning newspaper ever flew onto our porch. The few times we heard a human voice in the distance, us kids would make it a mission to track, stalk, and spy on that human. Once my friend Amanda and I heard a woman singing out in the canyon that began in our “back-yard”. That one voice provided us with a few hours of walking in the brush, listening, and crouching in the woods, until we found a house, an actual “neighbor” deep in the ravine, on a hillside. A young woman sat on the deck, singing to herself. We felt replete with accomplishment. My mom probably felt the same as she dabbed calamine on every single boil on our arms and legs later that day.
Trails laced the land my parents owned, but property lines and fences meant next to nothing to the children who roamed it. We knew those dusty walks in child-map ways; when to hop that root there, where the dead owl was found last year, and the spot that was too narrow for the wagon we dragged behind us.
On the next property over there was another family. They too had no paved drive, no mailbox, just muddy ruts in the dirt roads made by their cream-colored truck in the wet season. We found the tree one day while searching for pestle holes in the giant granite boulders that dotted their countryside. The Maidu tribe originally inhabited that land, and the bits and pieces of their lives that we found were always the beginning of a story. My dad would tell us about the holes in the rocks, smooth, worn, cup-like divots atop boulders bigger than houses. “They would toss some acorns in there,” he’d say with a quiet, conspiratorial voice, “and with their other stone, they’d grind it and grind it until they had a mush to make a tortilla with!” Then he’d make us quesadillas and we’d eye each other across the table and make a few savage grunts. There’s no room to be politically correct when you’re seven years old.
The neighbor boy and I found the pomegranate tree while exploring the back land one fall, searching for artifacts. Around a huge boulder we walked, running our smooth baby fingers on the sandpaper speckled surface. We stopped. We oohed and ahhed. A tree stood before us, loaded with giant rubies. Before I knew it, he was half-way up the tree, already reaching for the fruit. I began to climb as well, and soon we were both perched on the strong, fat branches. How we knew what it was, I’m not sure. Maybe we’d seen it during holiday meals or in a market, but we knew we were going to eat it. We each took a pomegranate and starting at the flower-like top, peeled and picked our way to the seeds and sitting above all that land, that wild, crisp air….we made the most serious mess either of us had ever seen. The crimson juice ran down our faces, our shirts, dripped off our elbows onto knees and sneakers. Our small hands looked terrific to us.Covered in juices, we felt like true savages just then. I remember his wide smile, shrill laugh, mouth open, teeth stained pink.
After the long trek back to the road, we parted ways at the barbed wire fence that had been bent back to allow hundreds of trips between the two homesteads. I can still feel the exact angle one would have had to position themselves to squeeze through the opening to avoid the pointy barbs. I ran home after the fence, and when inside, left my shoes in the entry way, my dirty pink velcro sneakers splaying their grime over the jade-colored slate. I then slid down the carpeted stairs on my bottom, a ritual not to be denied for the sake of dirty play clothes. When I skidded into the kitchen, my mom gave a gasp, and then immediately laughed as I placed the shiny, perfect pomegranate I’d carried home for her onto the kitchen counter. She handed me a damp washcloth for my face and smiled with her mouth, her eyes, her whole body.
for my brother, Jordan….Happy 30th Birthday. I love you so.