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by Gysela Gervais

by Gysela Gervais

Yesterday, I ate lunch in a new place.

Not a restaurant…the back yard of an adobe house that was built in 1825. As far as I can tell everything in the house is original. Obviously a few things have been added, such as electricity and some plumbing, but the rest of it is just as it was…which is beautiful, with open beams and massive windows towards the mountains.

In the back yard, where I ate, the terraces are still there, but the plants have changed somewhat. There is a trellis over the walkway and a beautiful magenta Bougainvillea engulfs it. Over the old stone wall is another massive Bougainvillea, this one in pure white. Scattered throughout the rest of the yard are cacti of various types, sizes, and heights, some palm trees, several blooming Agapanthus africanus, and a few terracotta pots with geraniums.

There is no grass. Only dirt.

I crinkle my nose at the barrenness of the earth…at the stark contrasts of color against such an ugly backdrop of hard earth. I sigh as I sit in the recliner, and I look around for something beautiful to gaze upon so that I can relax…the earth and dilapidated garden is just too distressing to me.

I looked up into the tall eucalyptus trees, the pepper trees, the oak trees, the Jacaranda trees, the banana plants, and eventually, I look up into the sky. It’s filled with clouds of varying shapes, textures, and sizes, and I realize that it’s been a very long time since I’ve just sat and watched the clouds. So I sit. And watch. And my mind gets very quiet.

After a while I start feeling floaty…like the clouds. I drift a bit with them…allowing my mind to flow as well. Very soon I start wondering about the people who built this house…the people who were old enough to build a house in 1825. Who were these people? Why did they lived here instead of a block away or a mile away or a state away? What were their lives were like? Was it harder to live in this house than in their parents’ homes? Were their parents nearby? Who did the loved? Who did they hate? Who did they wish were nearer to them? Where did they want to go? To where did they want to return?

Then it occurs to me that unless there was a lot of money or creativity, there would be no irrigation system…hence no lawn. Having a lawn meant that water would have to be hauled, and unless there was a well on the property, that meant collecting rain water or diverting a nearby creek…or hauling water from the nearest spring. Extra water…in addition to the water that was needed for cooking or drinking or bathing or caring for livestock. A lawn was a luxury. Plants were a luxury. Beauty was a luxury.

Suddenly, I experience a deep feeling of appreciation for these people. Not only for those who built the house and lived there, laughed and cried there, but also for all the pioneers…particularly women…who did without the finer things in life. Those women who struggled to make the wilderness habitable and cozy and beautiful. Those women who followed their husbands’ dreams even if it wasn’t theirs…even if it meant they would never see their families again. Facing the realization that they couldn’t stop having children very successfully even if they wanted to. Facing childbirth without a doctor nearby…knowing that someone might not live through it…knowing that with every pregnancy, there always existed the potential that this child would not know his/her mother. To live in this way…to have this be normal gave me pause.

The house…the yard…the barrenness now looking so much like it must have originally, is very different to me. It feels sacred…almost as though I am trespassing in someone else’s private life. I almost feel a need to apologize, but I’m not entirely certain to whom I should give my apologies. Instead, I simply send out a heart-opening, heart-expanding, tear-filled breath of gratitude…to all who came before me…to those who took risks…who dared to dream…who did the impossible…for whatever reason.

Because these people inspire me. These people remind me that I can do hard things too…I can do scary things and dream big dreams too…I can dare to risk too. Because in the end it just doesn’t matter how my life turns out…how much I fumble…how many mistakes I make…how fabulously or poorly I do something. In the end, it only matters that I lived…fully and completely.

And so it is.