Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Arlene L. Mandell
Twelve years after we moved into our home on the east side of Sonoma Mountain, while cutting back vines, I found the property marker, a rusty metal fence post buried beneath fallen manzanitas. Beside it was a white aluminum pole, tilted at a 90-degree angle, adorned with two faded yellow "flags."
I should explain that we are surrounded by untrammeled woods. To the west and north of our land is a pristine section of 5,000-acre Annadel State Park. During the winter rains, we can hear rushing water-- a winter creek--but the woods are so steep and dense, we've never actually seen it.
Most of our three acres is bordered by six-foot fencing, useful for keeping the dogs in and the rose-eating deer out. This property is three times larger than any place I've lived before, affording total privacy and testing my limited gardening skills.
The next morning, I woke thinking about compressed enclosures, how I'd spent the first fifteen years of my life with my mother, father and brother in a three-room Brooklyn apartment. I was intensely private and escaped into books.
A shy girl, I'd navigate the space outside those walls, and all social relationships, cautiously, and make friends slowly, but am still in touch with my two best friends from first grade. My forays into nature were limited to Prospect Park.
With each job I took, I observed how others interacted with colleagues and supervisors, while I stayed carefully below the radar. Year by year, my boundaries expanded. I became more assertive professionally, but still avoided confrontation in the workplace and physical danger. No flinging myself at nature by hiking, skiing, mountain climbing or white water rafting.
But yesterday, I clambered over tree stumps and crawled beneath low-hanging limbs. The forest floor was soft underfoot from years of leaf and needle drop. As I broke off dead branches, I realized I was making enough noise to warn, or signal, a coyote or even a mountain lion.
Finally I reached the steep area where I believe the creek would soon be flowing. I looked back at the white metal pole, the marker between the known and unknown. It was only fifty feet behind me.
Arlene L. Mandell, a retired English professor, is frantically revising Machiavelli's Daughter, a novel she began a decade ago.
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