I once was lost while hunting the Medicine Bow range.  I’d foolishly split from my partner – more foolishly still, left him with the only set of maps – and soon realized I’d gotten turned around.  I’d felt an initial icicle stab of panic, then composed myself and fired up my GPS not knowing it was to be the only time it would ever fail me.  I dutifully and confidently followed its directions back to “CAMP”, feeling calm enough to relish my surroundings before I realized that “CAMP”, allegedly fifteen meters away, was a cluster of large rocks I’d never seen before.  I had a brief no-thought moment of surprise (followed by another frigid gut clench of restrained panic), then started planning my strategy for shelter, self-extraction or possible walk-of-shame rescue.

First step: assess.  I needed to know where I was so I climbed to the highest elevation near me.  The bald crown of a large hill, visible from my current position, did nicely.  I hiked up to its clearing, then took a good look around at… green.  Nothing but green.  Pine tops  as far as I could see – and I could see forever in all directions.  I was adrift.  A tiny bit of fragile flotsam on an ocean of green.  A speck.

I remembered cutting across a logging trail and backtracked to it, eventually emptying out onto a larger forest access road and catching a ride in the proper direction.  I made it back to camp – the real one, with a tent and truck instead of clumps of unfamiliar stones – without further mishap but I never forgot that borderline panicked feeling.  And another feeling, just beneath it.

I was in love.

“Come West” was my advice to Tina Traster but those words don’t scratch the surface of my passion for my adopted home.  They slide beneath it, wrap around it, roiling my blood, playfully dragging nails across my thoughts, making me smirk.  I close my eyes and see wind parting the prairie grass, snow melting to streams that rampage through boulder-choked gulleys (amazes me still how water can move like mercury yet be so close to ice).  I try to divine the messages written in the graceful cursive of raptors’ wings as they quadrant out the landscape for their next meal.  I hear the chorus of coyotes on the plains, the bugle of a bull elk in rut among the pine.

This is my home.

The stillness feels like belonging, the silence between lovers and friends, comfortable with the simplicity of each other’s company.  The emptiness fills me, not a void but a blank page, full of possibility.  The granite giants above me, shot through with veins dripping autumn or bled white entirely, don’t care if I live richly in their palms or die broken across their knuckles.  My insignificance somehow compliments their majesty and makes me feel alive, welcome.

The wind blasts the chaff from my soul and streams through my atoms, polishing them until I glide through life on ball bearings.  Hot, it turns my flesh to jerky; cold, it slides between my bones and freezes my joints at rest.  And when I let it in, when I let me go, it whispers to me of peace.  Of timelessness.  Of hope.  Of second chances… and thirds… and millionths.

I have gazed through the distance at herds of antelope and they gazed right back, binocular vision calculating range likely better than I, knowing I was both a dangerous predator and slow, feeble pursuer.  I have been surprised by the point-blank appearance of mountain goats on pencil-thin trails cutting across the face of sheer slopes, making me raise my hands in bemused surrender to the angry glares of the adults.  I am a visitor here, friends, I willed my body to say, and mean your family no harm.  Just another animal picking his way through the scree of his life.  I have filtered water where streams feed liquid mirrors, watching in amazement as massive trout erupt to feed on hapless hatches of insects while the sunset’s lightshow plays out across the surface.

This is my West.  Open and endless, welcoming and devouring, encompassing and scattering with equal aplomb.  These are my mountains.  Near-eternal reminders that everything we do in our life’s span is a child’s passing fancy.  And I am blissfully theirs, for as long as they’ll have me.

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ANDREW NONADETTI is a writer of fiction and, until recently, a deceptively charming but manipulative and abusive sonofabitch. To his surprise, though, there seems to be a genuinely good man hiding in there as well. And he's a quick study.... Feel free to email him at [email protected] to discuss his novel, life in general, terminal ballistics.... Pretty much anything, really. He's kind of gregarious and a big geek about a range of topics.

64 responses to “A Brief, Spontaneous Love Letter to a Parcel of Dirt”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Ah, home.

    I feel its call. There’s nothing quite like knowing you have found a home – in a landscape, a country or a heart.

    And yes -emptiness is full of possibility. We can write our own pages. The rivers in the distance are leading somewhere – we just have to decide whether we follow them and whether they are leading us home.
    x

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Indeed, Z. With the change of the seasons, thinking about my property up north and doing some landscaping at home…. I don’t know. Got a little self-indulgent again and just wanted to share it. Beautiful country out here. Come back and see it again soon! 🙂

    • Judy Prince says:

      “There’s nothing quite like knowing you have found a home – in a landscape, a country or a heart.”

      “And yes -emptiness is full of possibility. We can write our own pages. The rivers in the distance are leading somewhere – we just have to decide whether we follow them and whether they are leading us home.”

      How lovely, Zara!

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Anon,

    This is too big for me to comment on right this minute, but I will say that this quote:
    “a blank page, full of possibility,” means a lot to me.
    When I was a kid, we didn’t have many books and not much paper in the house.
    I saved lots of stuff that other people my age wanted, and I traded with, I think, Wilma, to get a whole ream of paper.
    The sheer potential of that ream of paper kept me up dreaming at night.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Glad to have struck a chord, Irene. “Potential”. God, what a word! Splitting the atom releases a tiny flash in a very small pan compared to what happens when something cracks the shell of pure imagination.

      When my daughter feels like coloring, she has the usual selection of pre-drawn, book-torn images. I’m perfectly proud of her for what she does there, of course. But she also invariably grabs several – sometimes a dozen 😉 – sheets of blank printer paper for her drawing. And that right there is pure magic. I don’t care if she fills the page or makes a simple Musashi slash or two, she is showing me her mind!! Makes me beam like a fool….

      • Irene Zion says:

        Anon,

        Do this. Ask your daughter what the picture she made is about. What is this part? What happened here? Why is it purple? etc. Remember. When she is not looking, write lightly on the back of the drawing what she said, and the date and, oh, before this, ask her to sign her work. She should always sign her work.
        You might think you will remember, but, people forget things, even important things.
        Trust me on this one.
        Please.
        You’ll be glad one day.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Ha. We already do. She made an awesome three-foot long map of the world yesterday… except Africa was a little east… and there was no Central America… and Australia was half the size of Asia… and Antarctica showed up twice. But it was awesome! It’s now dated, labeled, rolled and rubber-banded in the (ever-growing) “box of cool stuff our daughter’s done”.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Antarctica! There are two now!
          When my kids were little I made up or found all sorts of teaching songs.
          The continent song was one of their favorites.
          I made it a point to sing with them: “and don’t forget Ant arc tic a,” like that so they wouldn’t mispronounce it when they were bigger and say An ar dica, like most people do.
          Lord, I do miss my little guys.
          We framed at least one picture from each of them.
          Ben’s, after visiting a nursing home, is of an old man in a wheel chair and Ben. The old guy had a cast on in the picture, since the only reason he could think of for using a wheel chair was a broken leg.
          I do, I do, I do miss my little guys.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Hm. I taught my daughter a song so she’d remember how to load and fire her hot pink bolt-action .22…. 🙂

        • Irene Zion says:

          You’ve surpassed your teacher, grasshopper!

        • Zara Potts says:

          Oh my god! Finally someone who says Antarctica right!!! I have always wondered why Americans insist on dropping the C. AnTarCtica. Thanks Irene!!

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Because “C” stands for Communism, dammit!! Or something :).

        • Irene Zion says:

          Deep breath, Andrew,
          deep breath in your nose
          and out your mouth.
          Repeat.
          Repeat.
          Soon the phones will stop ringing
          with canned voices of politicians.
          Soon the election will be over.
          We can turn on the TV
          and the phone again.
          For what it’s worth.

  3. Judy Prince says:

    “The granite giants above me, shot through with veins dripping autumn or bled white entirely, don’t care if I live richly in their palms or die broken across their knuckles. My insignificance somehow compliments their majesty and makes me feel alive, welcome.”

    Lovely odd truth, it resonates powerfully, Anon.

    And this, as well:

    “I have filtered water where streams feed liquid mirrors, watching in amazement as massive trout erupt to feed on hapless hatches of insects while the sunset’s lightshow plays out across the surface.” Achingly beautiful.

    Today, as so often, I’d looked up from the computer at those inimitable English skies, flocks of birds, the old brick garden wall rich with draping ivy. And I thought: “This view is so important to me, but going out, being part of the view, is enlightenment.”

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Life is not a spectator sport, Judy, though it is the only “problem” that goes away if you ignore it long enough. Get out in it and relish every sensation!

      Sigh. God, I love this change of seasons ;).

      By the way, how did that honeysuckle go…?

      • Judy Prince says:

        Yep, Anon. I try to get out in it as often as possible, knowing I’ll be bewitched by it.

        As soon as I’d asked the neighbours for a cutting of their honeysuckle, they said absolutely—-and any other blooms or bushes I’d want. Next I knew, they’d invited us for high tea, and had potted some honeysuckle for us to take with us to our new house. We should be closing on the house in the next week or two, the back garden which is a virtual tabula rasa upon which we can etch our own plantings. I can’t wait! I wonder if vinca major will grow here. Must wheedle out the English gardening books for this northern area, and tweak up the gardeny locals to see what they’re growing on their allotments and in their back gardens.

        How does your garden grow? Did any pumpkins appear? What are you planning to plant with the kids?

        Our 7-yr old grandkids’ll be here next month; perhaps we can do some late autumn planting. Our dear friend here’s grandfather was head gardener at Kew! Impressive, that. She learned a lot from him, can name all the flowers in view, and the birds, too.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Congratulations on the new house and best of luck with the growing! It was an odd year for us (in every way), with the garden getting off to a very slow start. I’d gotten into such a habit of saying that very thing that it took me awhile to realize we were picking a pound of green beans a week and that the cukes had taken over a good chunk of the raised bed. We just had a killer (literally) frost so it’s time to pull out the works and take a final accounting but it seems pretty good so far. Probably a dozen or so pounds of green beans, a good batch of huge cukes, the raspberry bush finally started putting out and, so far, three pounds of spuds (mostly Burbanks) with probably another five or six still underground (mostly Kennebecks). We planted several garlic cloves to winter and mulched in the spinach so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the spring.

          Now if I could just get the damned puppy out of the habit of grazing on the plants when he’s out of sight….

        • Judy Prince says:

          What kind of puppy, Anon?

          Wow, your garden’s quite a producer! I know you’ve been working hard at it, too, as those little buggers don’t just spring up without major assistance.

          I think what Rodent and I will do is (if this is possible) grow new potatoes (his fave veg) and maybe English peas, round lettuce and garlic—–and I’d love to have blueberries and raspberries. And maybe seedless Concord grapes. Dill weed leaps to mind, too.

          I’ll ask my friend here what kinds of things flourish in this climate and soil.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          You know, all my stuff was in raised beds, in square foot rows. A lot less work, a surprising amount of yield. That includes the spuds – only went about two feet deep, too. One 1-ft square frame, plant about 3-4 plants, add another frame on top and bury the shoots when the vines get 8″ or so until there’s only 1-2″ poking out. Repeat if desired but I got more out of a two-foot tower than last year’s five-footer!

          And we got another German Shepherd. Four months old, forty-five pounds and ears like a radar array. Our daughter named him “Bear”. We were leaning towards “Tank” but both fit him ;).

        • Judy Prince says:

          Fascinating, Anon, I never heard of such a thing as your super-raised beds. Might just try it. Also looking at those huge strong garden bags filled with soil, the plants at chest-height. I told you about my friend who has 3 such bags with a couple kinds of potatoes and parsnips in them. Obviously, she’s using them bcuz she has virtually no space for gardening, has them on her back patio. However, no reason one couldn’t cut out a major part of the bottom of the bags and plop them on the ground with their plants peeping out at the top. Not so much bending to weed and feed and water.

          Egad, 45 pounds at 4 months? Yikes. Oh but they are magnificent animals!

          Nevertheless, I’m a tad averse to dog hair, so I think I’ll opt for a German and a shepherd instead.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          You might want to gauge Rodent’s reaction to the idea of bringing in such adoptees :). Plus, you know, fewer people call the cops when you put a dog in a crate when you leave the house versus a German (unless you’re in Poland).

          From what I could gather when we first tried this, potatoes were generally “stacked” in old tires. Plop down the tire, fill the rim and interior with soil, plant all around. Once the shoots were tall enough, drop another tire on and bury again. However, the idea of stacks of old tires in my backyard landed somewhere between “trailer trash” and “ghetto trash”, so I just made wooden frames instead (2x10s or 2x12s, mostly). The first year, I planted way too many per square – like, eleven or twelve 😛 – and ended up with incredibly tall vines producing golfball-sized spuds. This year, much shorter vines but much bigger – and more – potatoes!

          And those green beans? From an 8-foot x 2-foot frame. You can do a lot with a little space. Google “square foot gardening” some time.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I planted like that too, when we were in Illinois.
          Here we are having an invasion of two different kinds of white flies which are eating
          EVERYTHING!
          One of the types is new and no one knows what will happen with it.

          One of my two goldens eats anything you would put out for mulch. Watermelon rind, asparagus wood, brussel sprouts stems, oh, and lizards, a dozen a day easy.

          She never gets sick.

          (How did I get on this topic?)

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, Anon and Irene.

          I googled articles on square foot gardening in the UK, which is adapting techniques from those developed some 20 years ago by Mel Bartholomew in the USA.

          One article’s author, Colin Shaw, is adapting Bartholomew’s techniques to high input organic gardening. He says about Bartholomew: “Although he did not follow the principles of organic growing, the overall idea is not far removed from the close spacing and intensive growing used by organic gardeners.”

          The illlustrated “map” of one such 4 by 4 foot garden made me almost shout: “I can do this!!!” Here’s the “map” in Shaw’s article in which he also posits some pragmatic theories which differ from Bartholomew’s:

          http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicgardening/gh_sqft.php

          Judy dreaming about her garden

        • Irene Zion says:

          Judy,

          It’s so much more simple to garden when you have distinct areas which you can easily reach.
          If I could do it, anyone could. Victor is the true possessor of the green thumb in the family.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Our first year, we grew a single, four-foot row of corn, just because we could. Damned if we didn’t get about fifteen ears out of it. Not exactly cost efficient but pretty damned fun.

  4. Tina Traster says:

    A lovely love letter. I almost have that guilty feeling of watching someone in his bedroom

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thank you, Tina. Though it’s your search for “beyond the reach of your dentist” that made me leave the drapes open ;).

  5. Greg Olear says:

    You’d be a poorer man if you never saw an eagle fly. ; )

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Ah, damn you! If not for the wink-icon, I wouldn’t have Googled the phrase. I loathed that man. Looked like an albino Kermit the Frog and just… just… gah!

      Way to go, Greg. You’ve ruined my beloved state for me. Now I have to pull down this piece and move to, like, Alaska or something.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I respectfully disagree. He’s a goober of the highest order, no argument there, but at least he never attempted to be cool. I cried when he died. And that song is terrific:

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Hmm…. I cried when HST missed and hit those poor icicles instead. 🙂

        • Zara Potts says:

          Oh Jinkers. He is a goober.
          The American boy I was going to marry when I was 19 was from Boulder and he cried everytime he heard ‘Rocky Mountain High.’ It’s one of the reasons I called off the wedding.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Good call, Zara, assuming you didn’t have too much of an evil streak. A very, very dear friend of mine shared the fact that her then-boyfriend, now-husband once cried while watching Frosty the Snowman – sober. Apparently, it was just very sad that he came to life… and then melted. She’s, um, gotten her money’s worth out of that one.

        • Zara Potts says:

          AWWWWWWWW.
          I’d have married him too.
          That’s way past adorable.

  6. Slade Ham says:

    I was reading the first few paragraphs, thinking to myself, “Wow, I LOVE that feeling. How can he not like it?” Then I got to the part where you said that you did. I need that feeling again soon. It’s been a bit too long.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Well, snow hasn’t blocked off access to my forty-acre Hamlandia, set aside for the commune. Straddles the WY/CO border, abuts a state park, national forest, gorgeous views of Bull Mountain, lots of antelope, bear, elk…. Give a holler if you head up north.

      Of course, today I am watching a now-15-acre wildfire that erupted not far from my office. Not such a happy, in love feeling right now, though we’re not evacuated… yet.

  7. Lorna says:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely.

    I especially connected to this sentence to the quiet shared between my hubby and I on those many long drives we’ve shared together – “The stillness feels like belonging, the silence between lovers and friends, comfortable with the simplicity of each other’s company”. That’s one of the best feelings in the world.

    Home is always a nice place to be!

  8. Don Mitchell says:

    “The stillness feels like belonging, the silence between lovers and friends, comfortable with the simplicity of each other’s company.”

    Man, I know what you mean. There’s a place on Mauna Kea on the Big Island that I’ve loved since I was a kid. You can see forever. There are a few paragraphs in David Mitchell “Cloud Atlas” that could only have been written by someone who’d been there, not that that changed how I think about it. I put my father’s ashes there and my mother’s too, and that’s where mine will go when it’s time. Sometimes, when I’m there, I’m not sure whether I’m in company with them, or with the mountain, or indeed if there’s any difference.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      It’s been a few years since I’ve been out that way and we only spent a day doing the tourist thing on the Big Island (aside from Volcano Nat’l Park). I need to fix that and, when I do, I think I need to visit and pay my respects. Thanks, Don.

  9. jmblaine says:

    I love the way TNB comment
    threads can turn into
    odes to John Denver.
    Greg got it best
    in that JD never tried to be cool
    Saw him live one time
    and thought it was completely
    pleasant
    Also: You never hear
    anything bad about him in Nashville
    which says a lot.
    As for Home
    I think I am figuring out
    it’s a place I haven’t
    yet been.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      “You never hear
      anything bad about him in Nashville
      which says a lot.”

      Should I take this to mean that the denizens of Nashville are, um, generally critical of folks? I hope you find Home, sir. Some lucky folks carry it with them. Some are more like puzzle pieces, walking around until they hear that soft “click” that tells them they just dropped into right where they’re supposed to be.

  10. Gloria says:

    Lyrical, Anon. I can feel your love for The Rockies.

    just another animal picking his way through the scree of his life

    This piece makes me long for home. (I’m from New Mexico – foothills of The Rockies.) If you’d once mentioned a rattlesnake or a sunset I might have booked a ticket.

    Beautiful read.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thanks, Gloria. I have a healthy respect for rattlers and do my best to avoid them, even in writing. Don’t let that stop you from taking a little jaunt back home, though, if you have a longing.

      My family drove down to Texas this past summer and I only nicked the northeast corner of New Mexico. It seemed…. Well, actually, I drove a little faster through that first border town. Only saw two living souls, teenaged boys having a “Beavis and Butthead” moment, starting near-rapt at a single stick burning in a driveway. I really hoped they were stoned. Or were the walking dead. But the scenery was spectacular! It was as though you could see each star in the sky perfectly.

  11. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I’m with ya, man. New this patch was home as soon as I laid eyes on it. And that’s saying something considering that before Colorado I’d never lived anywhere more than three years i my life.

    Any moment Erika, Megan, Quenby, and the rest of the Colorado connect/connect will “form of a chorus” and sing…er…something…probably not John Denver. I’m pretty surprised Zara. Most people I know wouldn’t be caught dead singing RMH. Not necessarily out of dislike for JD, but rather out of abhorrence for the bloody obvious. You sure that boyfriend wasn’t from Golden? 🙂

    Anyway I do regret that I don’t spend as much time in the wilds since kids, but I so know that feeling. That delicious panic that’s like “I think I might be screwed just now, but that’s also how I know I’m living life the hardest.”

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Our kids are getting old enough that we’d like to start getting them out and about but, amusingly, I’m the one who’s a complete neurotic about our 2-y-o being warm enough on a overnighter. Gotta bite the bullet, though – don’t want to rob them of this experience. This’ll require a redesign of the “oh-shit kit” I keep in the truck, of course, since I don’t currently stock “Pull-ups” in it….

  12. This was a great ode to a great place, and I thoroughly agree with Greg about the eagle, and would further that with another couple of animals and related verbs… Basically, the natural world, whilst awesome on TV or in books, is something so powerful when you’re actually out there in the thick of it, that you really can fall in love with it.

  13. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Absolutely beautiful, and the way you describe all this gets at the wild and the pristine that’s so powerful in the American West. Traveling through, my little troop once cut a southeast diagonal across Wyoming and I remember being speechless for most of it. There was a river near Sinks Canyon that before it changed to rapids, had water moving “like mercury yet so close to ice” as you say it. Thanks for these thoughts. From close, civilized Europe, they give me an itch for the western wilderness all over again.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      I forget where I heard it but I recall someone observing that Americans think three hundred years is a long time and Europeans think three hundred miles is a far distance. I want my children to have access to education, culture, life so I’m staying near major population centers while they grow. Once they’re out of the house, though, I suspect I may give in to my inner Luddite for a little while. You’ll be welcome to visit the compound when I do ;).

      • I’ve never heard that observation and I like it. It’s true that I sometimes hear people in the States boasting that a building is almost fifty years old or Europeans saying that they had to take an exhausting two-hour drive somewhere, and I can hear the other side of the pond sniggering.

        My plan to give into my inner Luddite is almost the same as yours, so I may take you up on the offer.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Silly Nathaniel,

          You can’t be a Luddite and be on TNB simultaneously.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I don’t know about that. I mean, it might be “Luddite*” or “Ludd-Lite”, or we may all have direct neural access to the web by then. Who knows? But, whether or not there’s wi-fi (or “wee-fee” for Nat), there will need to be a bit more elbow room and self-reliance than I currently enjoy….

        • I plan on writing my next TNB post on a cave wall somewhere and everyone can come by and scrawl their own messages underneath it.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Is this like paraphrasing Einstein? “I don’t know what form TNB 4.0 will take but TNB 5.0 will be pictographs on cave walls…”? Brilliant, sir, though hell for the commute!

  14. Richard Cox says:

    This is a beautiful piece, sir. The way you describe the West is exactly as it makes me feel when I visit. I should head that way more often.

    I’m glad you found your way back to camp, otherwise we might never have enjoyed your posts here at TNB. When I think of being lost like that, it reminds me of Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air, where he was blinded by snow and couldn’t see and just picked a direction to walk at random. If he’d walked in another direction he’d have sailed straight off into a 7,000 foot drop. Yeesh.

    Sorry I missed this earlier. I’ve been remiss in my reading of late.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Thank you, sir, and know that you are always welcome should you find yourself in the area.

      Yeah, lost sucks. Lost and blind sucks hard. Makes you wonder how many folks chose the wrong way over the centuries :/. I’ve learned a lot of common sense (which sounds like a funny thing to say) since coming out here. The biggest – and, for me, most counterintuitive – thing is “sit still”. It’s that whole ego drive to walk out on your own but, really, the best thing to do with modern resources available is let folks know when you should be back, keep a sensible “oh-shit kit” with you, find a good spot visible from the air and then hunker down and enjoy the silence until that date/time passes. And work on your snares :).

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    Man, how well I know that icy gut-clench of the quick realisation that something has gone wrong and you could well be getting it in the neck.

    Having spent a lot of time both far from my place of birth and travelling through country that spoke to me, I liked this piece a lot. A nice, lyrical read.

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