Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The scent of sage conjures up turkey stuffing, Thanksgiving dinner, the feeling of anticipation. There is that. But for me, those nostalgic, seasonal associations that, sadly, come with a bite, get overridden by this one, when I get a whiff of sage out in the woods or anywhere:
When I left home for the first time, at the age of seventeen, it wasn’t to go off to college as perhaps it ought to have been. It was to move to the middle of nowhere California with my high school boyfriend, Joe. We rented an old Victorian in the middle of nowhere’s snow, and while freezing, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t love Joe anymore. Even though he was a really good guy, who loved me well, and whenever I think of him now, it’s only with fondness.
Everything I owned, I’d moved up there—from all my books to my girlhood, oversized baby doll—to Milford, a townlet of 22 people, outside of Susanville, and though I’d fallen out of love with Joe, I wasn’t ready to move all of it and me back home to temperate Santa Cruz after only two weeks, and prove my mother right, that seventeen was too young to leave somewhere for nowhere, even if somewhere included her drunk before six each evening.
Instead, I found a place on a large sagebrush laden plot of land for $50 a month. Home was a miniscule red cabin, that had previously been home to hens, not humans. For that price, it came without heat, bathroom, or kitchen. My waterbed took care of the heat problem, though never once did I wake in the morning and not see my breath threatening to freeze in the air. Use of the big house took care of kitchen and bathroom. Except for the crippling anxiety attacks that plagued and frequently paralyzed me, I had a grand time living there. I’d stick out my thumb on Hwy. #395 and catch a ride to occasionally attend classes at the junior college and get to my housecleaning job.
One day the guy who owned the place elicited my help in clearing the sage brush that inch-by-inch covered his lower 40, in order to make room for what, I don’t remember. There was one hell of a lot of sage he wanted gone, and I was young and, though less than enthusiastic, something compelled me to help—a reduction in rent, maybe? It took all day. Never having worked half this hard, I was miserable. I may have been young, but, the following day, every single part of me ached.
In the summer, Jacks Peak was lush with sage, second only to poison oak. On hot days, I loved brushing up against the sage, rubbing its leaves between my fingers and bringing them to my nose to inhale deeply the day before me and one I’m not sad is long gone.
On this cold, damp, and still dark morning, remembering summer in the woods and how heat can force the smell of sage into the air, I look forward to tomorrow when my oven will do much the same thing, and later when sage is something on our tongues, along with turkey and the tart-sweet cranberry, and bounty is just one of many things we give thanks for.
Posted by Patrice Vecchione at 6:17 AM