Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Gift this Year: Coming Home (1)

A shot of the distant Sweetwater Range, about 20 miles south of my mom's home in Smith Valley, Nevada.

In the weeks following my most recent marathon, I’ve come home(s) for Christmas break. Two weeks and a distance of a mere 300 miles to cover-- but in this, figures can be deceiving. Though only a mountain range or so away from my new residence in the East Bay of California, Nevada is another world altogether. Today, for instance, I woke with the 23-lb cat, Meow, on my chest and an easy 10.7 mile run which wound its way around alfalfa fields, flocks of sheep and donkey, and of course, the requisite quarter or pack horse. It’s a landscape  I nearly forgot in my undulating hills of the East Bay-- here, there are expanses which stretch to the base of a towering horizon of snowy mountain peaks. It’s all extremes: the flatness of the sage and alfalfa-covered valley, framed around and up 
by jagged peaks, seemingly purple at their bases fading to a snowy white at their peaks. 

Running is not so much up and down, but a gradual move in either direction with that ever-distant horizon in the distance, becoming neither near nor far, but always remaining there, a boundary, perhaps. When I came back from my 70 minute run, my mom and I made cookies-- Vienese crescents and a simple butter cookie called “Melting Moments”-- both we’ve made together since I can remember, which is to say a long time-- after the divorce but before the second marriage, before my sister, before Smith Valley, before a lot of other places you’ve probably never heard of ending in comma Nevada.

 Then we took a drive around the valley--Smith Valley-- so she could show me this place of beauty she calls home.  We stop at the only bar in a hundred miles (OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little), a place called CG’s, once owned by Basque emigrants that my mom and dad once frequented back before me, when they were married. They would exchange beer memorabilia (mirrored, framed, antique signs) and meals with the barkeep that he'd cook for them there, at the bar. But he’s not there anymore. So much, she said, has changed.

She told me she fell in love with Smith Valley, then, when she was my age. She recalled asking my Dad if there was any property for sale. I don’t know why exactly they never moved here-- though I seem to think that the lack of much to do aside from ranching had something to do with it since they both worked as card dealers in the casinos in Reno at the time-- but nonetheless, my mom always loved Smith. And how she’s here. There’s a beautiful symmetry in that. 

Of course, nothing remains as it once was: old CG’s-- with its 19th century bar back and local character-- burned to the ground long ago. The Local Mercantile-- across the street from CG’s-- also burned, leaving only its foundation as a trace. Now, there isn’t much in what’s now called Wellington, Nevada: this new bar. A Basque restaurant that’s expensive and only open on weekends. A construction firm whose buildings and equipment have seen better days. A bakery run from a resident’s home.  

Smith is the other town in Smith Valley. There, there is a post office and dentist. A Middle/High School for the handful of young people who live here. I ran a 10k which began at the school back in 2007. I’ll never forget a young man from ROP (Right of Passage-- a high school/correctional facility in the desert for those who commit crimes in childhood; they often ran against my high school team and nearly always, always, beat us) who asked me how I’d become so fast. I’d passed him early in the race and he never caught up. The question touched me, I guess, because as a high school girl who wanted to be a runner, I always looked up to the ROP boys because they were so fast. Back in 2007, our situations were reversed (though I was not incarcerated for any crime.) I was the fast one and he looked up to me. What did I say? I said: Training and Belief. I wish I could have said more.  With the perspective that comes with coming home for the holidays, I’ve learned that YES it’s training and YES it’s belief. But it’s also love-- the love of where you come from and the love that comes from where you come from. 

I am so happy I was able to make the drive here. Tahoe, I’ve heard, is still covered in snow and more continues to fall. But here, the sun is out and there isn’t much whiteness on the ground. There’s just us surrounded by this vastness, holding my mom and I together like we were for so long years ago. 

We are the same, but we are different. Weeks ago, my grandmother (my mom’s mom) passed away. She was such a strong woman that despite her years, it was a shock. We have been sharing memories. My mom’s are more poignant than mine-- so much so that I don’t know if I can give them their proper expression in my writing. I only know that I feel my grandmother most with me when I run. I remember when I was growing up, and hating myself (“why am I so fat?” etc) that my grandmother would say to me: “Be grateful that you have two eyes that can see and two ears that can hear, and a mouth which speaks clearly....” and she would enumerate all my strengths to me, that, as a child, I was too stubborn to hear. But while I was running this most recent race, I recall hearing her voice at mile 2-26: “You have legs that can run, so run!”

And so, this is what I mean when I say I owe the love I feel for home and the love home feels for me as a major contributor to my progress toward my goal of competing in the Trials.  Home: Nevada. My mom who loves these expanding horizons, and these large spaces. It means hope, she says. 

And perhaps that’s where I get it from. The horizon means hope and there are horizons in every direction you look here.

Me in a cowboy hat in front of the local watering hole. Who would have thought it's in my blood?

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