Sunday, November 17, 2019

Love Letters to my life #17: Roots by choice

Persimmon Tree (Photo: Kansas Forest Service)
by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month,
and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

On the 13-acre “farm” where I grew up, there was a young persimmon tree that offered a branch perfect for climbing. It was my tree, my place. The fruits were small, hard and puckery while green, sweet and comforting when they turned that odd persimmon orange. I’ve been thinking about that place in southeastern Kansas, that lonely life on a farm outside of the village, outside of the town, outside of the world it seemed.
This isn’t my tree. I didn’t have a camera then and I don’t know if it still lives, but this is how I remember it, standing at the edge of an open field, giving me a bird's-eye view to the house, the road, and the woods behind me. Beside it, a thorny hedge apple tree dropped its strange baseball-sized, pebbly green fruits every year to animals who weren’t interested.

The woods behind the fields, though, offered a banquet: two mulberry trees, one purple and one white, a hickory tree where the squirrels hung out, and a black walnut tree with nuts so rich and sweet I always felt sorry for people in California who had to eat the bland English walnuts that we bought at Christmas time. My dad later sold that walnut tree for an amazing sum that was about four times what they paid for the whole property when we moved there.

I am currently working on a book about my two years in Mexico with photos and art from that time. There are so many memories and moments of beauty from there and so few remembered from my childhood. One theme of the book is family and roots, as well as my perceived lack of them. That persimmon tree is a memory that persists.
What is beauty?
My current project is an art, photos, and stories book:
Kaleidoscope of Mexico ... a journey homeward
Why I moved to Mexico ... what I learned there ... why I left.

Abundance surrounded our tiny, never-quite-finished house. Beyond the trees in the woods, there was a prolific pecan tree near the house and a tiny orchard with one each of peach, pear, and apple. Blackberry bushes ran along the fence row although picking them meant braving the ticks, chiggers and copper heads. We raised chickens, one pig and one calf. My dad butchered the calf but my mom had fallen in love with the pig who had to be sold when she had piglets (don’t remember how that happened) and became too much to handle. In our overly ambitious garden plots, we had corn, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, peas, carrots, green beans, potatoes, and so many watermelons that we cracked them open in the field and just ate the hearts. Had we been a real farm family from pioneer days, that tiny farm could have fed us.

What strikes me now is how little I appreciated that abundance and beauty. When I searched for a photo of the persimmon tree to refresh my memory, I found that it was native to southeastern Kansas and only adapted to the eastern slice of the state. 

For some reason, the thought that “my tree” was rooted in that land by choice shocked me. It wasn’t a transplant; it might not even have been planted at all. Somehow a seed, perhaps from a passing bird or squirrel, had dropped onto fertile soil and sprouted, sinking its roots, growing tall, providing open arms for a lonely little girl. 

I’ve had trouble finding my place and wonder if this “quirky by choice” biggest little city in the world might be what I’ve been seeking. Reno is set in a broad valley with the sparkling Truckee River running through it and the snow-capped Sierra as the movie set back drop. It is also base camp for Burning Man which comes and goes, dropping huge pieces of art behind as it leaves. 

The Gathering (part of a piece from Burning Man)
The Mod at Riverwalk
This high desert town with its history of gambling, divorce, and prostitution, now thrums with art and murals, music and festivals. It has become a magnet for the scattered pieces of our small, wandering family, so I hope it is where we will remain, allowing our roots finally rest in this stunning land.

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