We moved to the mountains when I was in sixth grade. While everyone else in the family had cause to go down to the valley for work or school every day, I did not. I became a mountain kid, through and through. On school days, I’d walk out our front door and fly down the hill to the road below our house. There, I’d catch up with the neighbor that shared the same bus stop. We were the second to last stop on the route, meaning we had just about the longest ride possible both to and from school every day. We filled those rides with music from our walkmen. Men at Work. Def Leppard. J Geils Band. Each morning, we diligently waited at the turn-out on the isolated mountain road, in whatever weather, for our ride to school. Every afternoon, we were dropped at the end of our shared dirt road to eventually split up at a fork and finish our respective walks to our homes. We could have been anywhere, in the middle of nowhere.
While just seven miles and a three thousand foot climb away from “civilization”, we were worlds away. Instead of soccer practice and meeting friends at 7–11 to hang out after school, we were taking long walks through the woods, turning over flat rocks to find salamanders and scorpions, fossil hunting, and playing epic games of Monopoly at one of our rustic homes deep set in the forest. We shot .22's at empty cans on stumps. We played on, and catastrophically fell from, rope swings, high over ravines. I have the xrays to prove it. We also watched Venus at sunset, from the deck overlooking the miles of trees between us and the sliver of ocean lining the bottom of the sky. For what it lacked in the social normalcy our middle school counterparts in the valley enjoyed, it made up for in things like snow days, which were unheard of for those same counterparts. We also got rain, tons and tons of rain. We walked in it, played in it, and lived under it, while it ran down our windows in sheets obscuring the trees just outside.
After the first few years in the mountains, I started high school. I rode to school with my father on his way to work each morning. After school, my grandmother would pick me up to stay with her, at her home in the foothills, until my mother finished work and could drive me home. I spent those afternoons watching movies and napping. I was an extraordinarily heavy sleeper. The couch in her family room was my nest. I usually put on The 3:30 Movie, and then drifted off, somewhere in the second act. As my grandfather tried to explain it to anyone that happened to visit, “She doesn’t sleep. She dies for short periods of time.” Truer words never spoken. These naps left me awake in the wee hours. I sloppily performed French translations and watched Late Night with David Letterman, informing my sense of humor, henceforth.
In the middle of my Junior year, I got my driver’s license. I no longer had to spend those afternoons waiting to fit into someone else’s schedule to get home. Alone, I made the winding drive every day. Keeping me company, I had an array of earnest mixed tapes, culled from the radio, and a set of cassettes called “The Motown Story — The First 25 Years.” This became my baptism into Soul and R&B. Tammy Terrell became my favorite to sing with, dreamily countering Marvin Gaye. The Temptations were front and center, wishing it would rain.
I know to you it might sound strange.
But I wish it would rain.
Those were years we didn’t want for rain. There were nights I would be in my room, getting ready for a night out with friends, and the sounds of rain would quietly vanish, replaced by the cushiony fall of snow. By the time I noticed, I was in for the night. There was no way up our driveway and into the world, once there was snow on the steep exit. The freedom found in the ability to drive was quickly squelched, one crystalline drop at a time. There was one night that I watched the snow fall, inches and inches of it. Mid-storm, the temperature lifted as the fronts changed, and a tropical storm set upon us, pounding the fresh snow with rain. In minutes, what took hours to build was washed away.
It’s another sweltering California summer, with no rain in sight. How can this be the same place? The rain and the snow are a fuzzy impossibility, amidst grass gone brown and the wilted apple tree in the yard. What we never seem to remember, is that these times, like all else in life, are cyclical.
You are happier.
You are sadder.
You are smart.
You are stupid.
I no longer live in the mountains, but I stare back up at them every day, green and ringing the valley where I live. Eventually, I’ll go back, not to those mountains, but to others. Mine will have a lake, and when the grass goes dry, I’ll dive in.