Our love affair with the Flats

After 15 years at a high desert, spring-fed wonderland in the foothills east of the Sierra, my husband and I are leaving this little valley of American Flat. An early small heap-leach milling operation has swelled into a naked mountain webbed with dripper hoses. The growing industrialization is overwhelming, noisy, and intrusive, and we’re retreating to a hillside in Silver City, population about 150, including kids and dogs.

Our small shop/studio apartment construction project there is progressing smartly, and I’m loving working in the community garden. The deer have not yet attempted the new forest-false-front fence of tall willow branches woven into the old hog wire. Last winter’s plantings of onions and garlic are tall and robust, peas and potatoes are getting ready to bloom, while tomatoes and peppers shiver in the uncertain weather. And, with daily rain, everything is thriving strongly. Life is on track with forward motion.

But it’s also in limbo, this space between chapters, an apparent loss of control over my life. Construction details in Silver City occur without me, and the community garden needs less attention with the rains, besides weeding. At the Flats, the ponds may overflow until we clean the leaves out of the drains; more extensive maintenance seems pointless since the clogging process is inevitable. Moving is weeks away. Life looms, a vacuum, neither here nor there. But then, my Boston sister, musical director of an off-Broadway show, called to say “Forbidden Broadway” was coming west. Of course I’d drive down, spend time with my daughter’s family in Concord, bring my Walnut Creek sister to Modesto, where we’d entertain ourselves while the cast rehearsed, watch “Forbidden,” and drive us three back to the Flats, visiting my brother’s family at Mt. Aukum, in California’s golden foothills dotted with gnarled, mossy oaks, and soaring pines in the mountains striping the highway with psychedelic stripes of flashing sun and shadows.

When she comes west, it’s an exotic escape from daily life.

My sister’sʼlove affair with the Flats began early in our residency, allowing them both to escape city life and the worries of a starving musician; more important may be the natural landscape, the quiet, the scent of freshly rained-on sagebrush amidst water’s conversation with itself, the dawn bird chorus, and night’s symphony of frogs and crickets under starry heavens.

My Boston sister loves cooking and makes fabulous meals. My Walnut Creek sister patiently endures the usual interplay of snide comments and short jokes (which she is). We groan over dominoes, exchange stories, and indulge in hilarity, and the occasional insightful conversation. We were entertained by friends in Silver City. Sadly, during the five days of their visit the weather was too rainy for an outdoor campfire; we compensated with a cosy fire in the pellet stove, and family interaction provided more than just warmth.

Since the sisters have returned to their homes, I find my attitude toward limbo and the vacuum of waiting has changed. People do need a sense of control over their lives, no matter how illusory, to thrive, and I’m not waiting. I’m controlling things I can do, packing non-essentials, culling my clothing and possessions, completing small projects; all the things one hopes to accomplish before moving. I’m also examining and clearing out stagnant accumulations of thought and habit I’ve long tolerated.

Perhaps some traces linger, of my Boston sister’s energy, or my Walnut Creek sister’s patience. Anyway, I’m using this time as an opportunity, and the sense of mourning over what’s lost is abating through action.

Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and long-time Comstock resident.


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