I grew up fantasizing about dark, dense forests. Rain-washed meadows and perennial greens. My father spent his youth in such a landscape in a medieval German village in the Slovakian highlands, and so perhaps the affinity is in my blood. Or it might’ve been planted there at an early age, reading about all that transpires in the Grimm brother’s dark woods, about questing knights and the wild depths of Fangorn and the Old Forest.
But the landscape of my youth was different. I was raised in the dry Mediterranean landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area. For nine months out of the year the bare hills are brown (gold if I’m in a good mood), and trees mostly cluster in the valleys and canyons that wind down the hills. The trees are dark greenish gray, blackening quickly as the sun angles downward each afternoon.
For a long time I resented this landscape. Green was imagination and life. A walk through these golden-grassed fields meant squinting, sweaty brows, ankles scratched by thorns, arid soil crunching underfoot. The long, dry summers were like an annual punishment. Droughts remain an ordeal, for my psyche as well as the land (that high-pressure ridge that settles every few Winters out over the Pacific, blocking all rain from the North, is so easily personified as some malevolent, oppressive force or will…).
But where the moisture collects, in those folds and creases between hills, there run these dense, riparian woods. They are veins, coursing moisture though the dry landscape. Oak and bay laurel, alder-thickets, willow and creek dogwood. Ferns carpet the creekside, and mosses color the rocks.
It’s cooler beneath these trees. Though the water in the creekbeds dries up in high summer and our warm, lengthening rainless autumns, the plants here remember, and retain the promise of new waters and rain that returns.
My imagination pools there, like the water running off the golden, treeless hillsides.