My dad had been dead for a little less than a year when I decided I’d drive by the house he and my mom shared before he left. I hadn’t been there since the last box full of memories was hauled away. I missed the drive up to the walkway that wound up to the door that used to be ours.
I’d gone out to that house several times a week house for eight years, but just as it had in every other part of my life, the landscape had changed. The corn field that used to flow to my left was now cut into pieces by an intersection. There were stop lights where I used to coast unchecked under the stars. The road I took to mom and dad was a straight shot, now it curved. I only made it as far as the second fork in the road before I flipped on my left blinker so I could turn around.
This wasn’t the way home.
A few months later, Riley was offered a job in San Francisco. I hemmed and hawed. I knew we would go, even when I said I wasn’t sure. He left for work and I stayed behind to finish unfinished business. The girls watched me pack and the nights watched me weep over our big tree in our backyard. I’ve always loved trees. The pagans believed groves of trees were sacred and my primitive heart beats out its agreement. We didn’t have a grove, but our big tree was no slouch. The dear thing seemed to do just fine as far as my pagan sympathies were concerned.
Our dear tree stretched into the sky and across the neighborhood, It had a trunk I couldn’t wrap my arms around, and branches that reached over our home and hearts. I’d found peace in its shade, certainty in the winds it weathered, joy in the site of my children circling it while they clapped and played fairies. So I cried. Spent tears for the grounding I’d found in its roots and the light captured by its leaves. And I knew, even as I cried, that I wasn’t really crying for that damn tree. I was crying for the sacred sanctuary it represented but never truly was. And then I cried even harder because a representation of refuge is better than no refuge at all.
We decided to live in Oakland. The first few weeks were hard. Margaret is still finding her way here away from friends and the familiar. We made it to our second Monday just a little more bruised than any of us had expected. It was another day of six year old tears and thirty year old frustration. So we got in the car and drove across town looking for reprieve in the form of Target carts and popcorn. We idled at a new stoplight on a new street. I turned to separate my fighting girls and saw a faded awning stamped with a white tree against muddied green.
And it occurred to me,
We’ve moved to a town named for trees. Oakland. Land of Oaks. Treeland. And I can’t wrap my arms around the things that make it different. And we can walk in the shade of its streets and find certainty in the winds it has weathered. And it’s just green enough for my girls to circle around it clapping and playing fairies. Its history give us roots and its high places just might catch enough light. It’s possible this concrete place named for a forest is the sanctuary my old tree promised. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ve entered our sacred grove.
The light turned green and I flipped on my left blinker.
“Mom, why are we turning around?”
"We're going home."