I knew that weed. Actually, it was a baby birch tree. It has grown just a bit over the last few years, gaining a few inches here and a few inches there. I never really notice it until fall, when it turns a brilliant yellow against the brown and green background of the sugarbush.
But I noticed it that day.
The kids and I were up visiting Craftsbury, looking for people, saying hello, and doing a lot of driving around the area to do what we needed to do. And as I passed by Sterling College and Craftsbury Common, I saw the vistas and yards I had come to know very well in the last 8 years. Some are pieces of land where I could draw a visual map in my mind of where they went and what grew there and experiences I had had there. Some are more like postcards on the fridge, pretty pictures I know well, but take for granted.
What does that mean? Did I really take it all for granted? And what does any of that have to do with that damn little weed?
There is a sense of security and confidence that brews when you're intimately familar with your surroundings. It is more than knowing where your favorite tree grows or where the first little snowdrops will appear in Spring. It is a subtle, but constant, awareness of the cycles and lives that are moving on all around you. It is a deep knowing of where you fit in those lives, those cycles. It is knowing the rituals the earth preforms, and when to see the sacred moments.
It is being granted a private conversation with the Universe.
Not everyone is looking. Even when they notice, "Hey, that little tree is all yellow against the leaf-covered bank" they may not really see it. They may not say, "that little tree wasn't there when I moved here 7 and a half years ago, but now look at it. It seems almost tall enough to stick its little tip above the snowbanks this March."
But if you stop, even if just in your mind, and really allow it to sink in your soul, you can feel something speaking to you. It is as though the story of that tree's life unfolds in your mind. You might remember where the nearest adult birch is. What the soil is like around there in the spring. That the garter snakes have a hibernaculum in the rocks next to that tree. Where the horses stop when they are backing the maple syrup tank in to the old road in the woods, just five feet from that little tree. That that birch just might survive no matter how cold it is, because birches stay with you as other trees drop out on the journey north from here.
But I don't live here anymore. I don't live where I know the shapes of the spruces against the dusk sky. I'm not sure where the snowdrops will pop through the snow this spring, or even if there are any here. I don't know where the first dandelion greens will be that could be cooked up to nurture our winter-weary tummies and souls with rich green food. I don't know where to find wild leeks, or where the bethroot grows. I don't know how long those baby spruces have grown beside the driveway, or whether the birch tree in my back yard died last year or ten years ago.
It is disconcerting to be disconnected. To feel like a guest in the world I used to know so well. But I do know where to begin to look, and this winter maybe the beginnings of finding my spot in the lap of this little hill of ours.
I already know where the deer trails are, and where the hemlock stand can keep them safe. I have heard the Barred Owls at night, and know that as the winter drags on and food gets scarce, they're likely to hang out in the old dead birch tree snag. I saw a red squirrel bouncing up a tree with food in its mouth, readying for the cold. Colin told me where the beaver is building his dam. The winter birds have begun to sneak out of the woods, collecting seeds and making stashes. And I know where the coyotes call from, and that they know where the deer hide. When the snow falls, which it should do soon, we will be able to go out and track them over the karst topography around us.
I left school this morning, the last day of our residency, ready to come home and delve into my semester's work. And as I headed across the campus, there in the disatnce, looking over the village of Plainfield, the traingular strength of Spruce Mountain held everything in its place. And I remembered... I am not a stranger in a strange land here. I am here, and have been here, ever since the first time I saw that mountain from the road as we passed through town. I was 16. I have been drawn to these hills ever since. And for a time, if ever so brief, Plainfield was home.
Here I am again. Looking to memorize the trees.