This past week I returned to a hometown. It's not the place I was born. It's not the place I lived the longest. It's fairly unknown to the rest of the world. It's only one of the most defining places of myself, my identity, my history, my family. It is the remnants of a booming pioneer town on the Des Moines River in Southeast Iowa. The area is named after an Indian Warrior - Chief Wa Pe Lo. This town on the River is called Ottumwa.
The land in Ottumwa and environs is fecund. In May it bursts with green leaves, fragil shoots, birds swooping, Canadian Geese resting in the many waterways and much much more. Deer bounding across the two laners. The humid air makes my heart blossom, open - amongst all this beauty, I have much pain.
I consciously chose my entry point. I flew into Kansas City - another city of personal meaning. I visited my childhood home in Gladstone - happy and unhappy times - before starting a route I knew (and hated) well. 35 N to 34 E. A route filled with anxiety, fear, unhappiness, unfulfilled dreams. But here I am, 20 years later, my own rental car, an independent, successful adult. I have to come to reclaim.
I drive the gravel roads out to Cliffland and park on the bridge. I remember when Lady Knight (my California Saab) and I were last here. I watch the muddy river flow. I don't think about jumping off this bridge. I watch the water flow. I think about this place. This area. Where I buried so much hurt. Where I talked to the person I am today. Where I inspired myself to be what I have become. Where I saved myself. Was my own hero. My own Gully Foyle.
There are two places I must visit. Old places. Places I promised a return decades ago. I park. I take my fancy Spanish Desigual purse filled with water and wear my hand made in Portugal Fluevogs and go into the forest. A forest that welcomes me back with lush Jack in the Pulpits, Iowa Wild Roses, wildflowers, lush green underbrush. The path is well worn. Muddy. I remember these paths, I remember my many solo hikes. These gentle and rolling forests saved my life so many times. They feed me today too.
Mossy rock. An opening in the earth. The sound of water over rock. Falling through air. The air is moist. Sunlight filters through the leaves. I stand in the silence. I connect to this place. I connect to the past. I connect to possible futures. These threads extend from my present moment - a place in this reality, my physical feet grounded in the cool depth of this cave.
I'm standing on the other side. I'm on top. Watching the water fall over the edge. I look to the path. I go deeper into the forest. The edge of a field. The top of a hill. I have found what I was looking for.
The Cemetery has no name. The dates are well worn and date 100 years to the past. The earth has sunken in where the bodies have decayed. Peonies and Iris thrive and bloom. Calf high grass and miner's lettuce fills the sunny places. I stand in a circle of three sets of pine pairs. I talk to the dead. I ask them questions. Their answers come from the intertwined tree branches. Wind blows through them. I share these moments in time. In the stillness of this Pioneer Cemetery. I promise to return again this fall.
These dreams in the dirt. This old hurt. These fears. Insecurities. Stirred up like the dust on the gravel roads I speed down.
I think of these things: the fear, my desires with the core of my being, my failed attempts to create that reality. And I make a decision right here on this bridge over the Des Moines River. Where I stand. My unsatisfied, unfulfilled dreams/goals, my heart full of fear and uncertainty - I anchor these things to 1/4 of an analogy. Their corresponding comparison pair is where I was in my life 20 years ago with where I am now, what I have accomplished, who I have become. I see the bookend of the analogy - no fear, a promise, my heart content and overflowing with love.
I plant the seeds for this dream, deep into the fecund Iowa dirt.