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Dispatch from a Clear Day
Kendra Atleework

When the smoke is too thick to do anything outdoors besides the bare essentials—when the garden’s getting weedy and I had to thrice-wash a load of towels because the ash began to settle while it hung on the line—it feels important to remember all the reasons I love my home.

I love my home because it is cradled between the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, so no matter which way I look, I know exactly where I am.

I love my home because chances are I know you—even beneath your mask I know you—and chances are I’ll see you at the post office, or at Manor Market, or at Dwayne’s.

I love when I can hear the rumble of something going on at the fairgrounds. I love when I can hear coyotes in the fields. I love when little green frogs hop across the dusty road alongside the canals and skunks dash boldly around my yard. I love when everyone trades produce in the summer and helps each other get firewood in winter. I love when seasons change; I love when seasons douse us with their essence, in their prime.

I love the deep shade of the lawn in front of the Bishop High School, even on the hottest days, where my friend Ranae and I sit and write with our pastries from Great Basin and our drinks from Looney Bean, where the flag on its pole clicks in the breeze—half mast again, seemingly all the time these days—and a couple walks their dog and a family plays hide and seek amongst the huge old trees.

I love a certain locals’ hiking trail, and seeing locals on it, and I love the hidden trail that picks up where that one leaves off and makes its journey to a certain lake. I love bushwhacking and getting a little lost and using a topo map to figure out which crags and peaks surround you, feeling your way, spotting the lake below you, a turquoise bowl; throwing your clothes off, jumping in screaming, sitting naked in the sun until you scare some out-of-town backpackers coming unsuspecting down the trail. I love eating snacks in the sun, covered in goosebumps, up here in this rock and stone world that feels so different as to be magic, so strange and vertical and with a quality of light that changes by the minute, from the clean cool of morning to the ticking afternoon to the slanting blue of early evening that fades again to cool. And I love the return to the valley, a warm bowl you sink back into, your car winding down 168, the last of the sun slipping over the top of the Whites, and back in town there’s sand and pebbles to shake from your shoes and Burger Barn or the brewery or Salsa’s, and then the exhausted sleep after a hike that was longer than you planned and involved some surprise cliffs and backtracking but that’s okay, everything’s okay after a day in the mountains. I love the cool air that begins flowing down, so that by midnight when you are long asleep and sore in your bed, showered and fed, over your quiet house the Milky Way is a great gossamer ribbon across the sky, the satellites small and steady, the stars blazing in their otherworldliness, following some private course, streaking here and there, subsuming one another, flickering out.

This morning I opened my window for the first time in weeks. And I smelled September, as I have known September since my first: the coolness of night warming out of the grass, off the asphalt; the summery smell of the fields and the canals, the tang of the first falling leaves, which have started to gather in my yard. I pulled my nose away from the screen and opened the rest of my windows and listened to the birds, which was thrilling, and listened to the neighbor’s lawnmower, which was also thrilling after weeks of living shrink-wrapped alone inside my house hearing nothing but the air filter.

The year is 2020, and thus I am overjoyed by the simple fact of the neighbor’s lawnmower and clean-ish air. I am reminded that I love my home. Reminded, after weeks of an eerie semi-dusk, and refreshing the AQI app until it crashes, and wincing on behalf of the mail carrier who makes his rounds on foot, masked, not for the virus but the smoke.

Let me remember this. Let me remember what it feels like to open my windows. To go freely into the high country. To hug my friends. To be in a place I know full of people.

Let me remember until I have it back. And then, let me remember what it feels like to lose. Let us never forget how we love all the things that make our home. Let us hold them so tightly, so gently, place them with such honor in our lives that we nightly pray to whatever we believe in: may we never go without them again.


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