Monday, January 23, 2012

Querencia

In Spanish, querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.  My querencia is in Northeastern Washington near the Columbia River. I think it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots on the earth, and as a nature lover life here has brought me much joy.

I have lived here in each season of the year of the year but summers are special. In the earlier years I spent hours walking the land; I hiked up the switchback to get the mail or down the hill to walk along the river front. The countryside was quiet, except for the sounds of nature; the cicada’s chirp, the birdsong or the buzzing of bees. There was plenty of other wildlife to observe.  There was an osprey that had her nest across the river and she was fascinating to watch as she soared back and forth to her nest.  There were coyotes that yipped at night, and once a mamma grouse scuttled out of the bushes to fly at me, protecting her chicks as they scurried across the trail. One day I saw a rattlesnake alongside the road which stopped me in my tracks. I dared not move until it slithered away.


One of my favorite places to walk was to the two deserted apple orchards not far from our cabin. Even before apple harvest season the children and I would walk to the upper orchard to play and to enjoy the fragrant lilacs when they were in bloom in May. Both orchards were overgrown and both deserted but the apples were tasty . It was great fun to take the kids in the red Radio Flyer wagon to the upper orchard and get apples for canning, pies, drying, or just eating fresh. We often took a picnic and made a day of it. The children loved playing among the trees. The upper orchard was the large of the two and was on the left hand side of the road and sloped upward. At the top of the slope there was a huge mulberry bush, more like a tree than a bush. We harvested the berries by spreading an old sheet on the ground beneath the tree and shaking the branches. From there we gathered up the sheet and dumped the berries into containers to take home.


The Lower Orchard, located on the right side of the road at the bottom of the switchback was smaller, and perched on a cliff that overlooked Bear Meadow.  One Indian summer afternoon I took a walk by myself up to the lower orchard. It was late in the day, still hot, and the sun was low in the sky. The air was still and fragrant with ripening fruit and the pungency of the Ponderosa Pine. I meandered for a while, just breathing in the peace and enjoying the scenery . Suddenly I became aware that I wasn’t the only visitor. A few yards away I looked up to see a half grown bear in one of the trees. I looked at it and it looked at me. My heart was pounding I knew not to panic and run but I didn’t want a showdown either. Very slowly I turned to leave and as I did so heard a crashing of branches breaking and when I turned back around there was no bear in sight. Apparently he was more afraid of me than I was of him. This is one of a few bear sightings; certainly it was the closest I had been to one out in nature.


Over the years there have been changes on the land. That is the nature of life as we all grow and evolve. There is no longer access to the orchards and the switchback is overgrown and fenced but the river still flows, silent and strong, and the trees are still abundant and tall. The wind song whispers to me. I am at home, on the land and in my heart, my queriencia.


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