It has been 5 months now of writing this weekly column; sharing with readers the way that I ďfind paradiseĒ by escaping into nearby wild places.

Although nature nourishes me in a way Iíll never perfectly describe in words, the act of using metaphors and similes to capture what is heard and seen outside has been delightful exercise. Many of you have replied with compliments and suggestions; I am often deeply moved and always grateful for your feedback.

Now itís time for summer vacation. Hot sunshine bakes the foothills of the mountains near this Valley, making hiking less inviting. These months between the spring and winter rains provide a perfect time to sit around and soak our feet in streams of memories.

The cottonwood trees are whispering of hidden history; reasons why folks came into the Valley. Iím opening the lines and calling for some tales of local folks and everyday lives; stories of living in gratitude and discovering paradise daily.

To prime the pumps and get the water flowing, Iíll share memories of childhood in a place that was not so different from this Valley. I remember the area south of Coueríd ĎAlene, Idaho, and north of the Snake River Canyon, where the rolling hills are covered with crops like lentils, wheat and barley.

The winds would come and stir the grasses, where the crickets sang the summer evenings in. Cattle roamed where magpies squawked like sentinels, exchanging important messages. The trees were mixed: deciduous with evergreens.

When I was 16, a mighty wind blew through our town and knocked down a 50-foot pine in my familyís yard. It demolished the swing set where Iíd hung upside-down in my younger years, and this was cause for celebration. If it had fallen another way, it could have landed on the kitchen counter.

My father took action: chained it up and dragged it off with a borrowed tractor. In the soil stirred up by the extraction were piles and piles of peach pits. Looking at those dried insides, I was transported back to earlier times. As a child who ignored much practical advice, I planted hopes in unlikely places, dreaming of new realities (like delicious North Idaho peaches).

By the ages of 10 and 8, my sister and I required little supervision. When the temperatures climbed to the 90s, we found the way to available water. Near the house, there was a small and muddy pond, which students from the local university used to practice forestry maneuvers.

Log-rolling and other stunts occupied this area, but mostly the pond was ours to wade in. One day we came to dad, complaining of the itches and bites weíd acquired. He rolled his eyes and exclaimed, ďDonít tell me youíve been in that old mud-hole again?!Ē His words evaporated our complaints. We had been searching for a proper name to give our beloved swimming place, and unbeknownst to him, he had suggested a brilliant name. We ran off happily to formally bestow the title ďThe Mudhole.Ē

The Mudhole was great fun in winter months, when the ice would freeze across the surface. With a broom and a shovel, my parents would clear the snow away for skating. In the 15 by 15-foot space, new dreams were made of how Iíd win Olympic gold, or perhaps silver. One winter a log was left spanning the distance across the pond, preventing skating.

The new event was risking the bridge across the icy divide. When I went with a visiting family friend to show off, I slipped and fell through the ice. I have to admit, the sympathy and hot chocolate I received were so glorious, I was tempted to repeat the chilling adventure.

On the day Mt. Saint Helens erupted, I was wearing a bunny suit. My mother and I were in a neighboring town, where my ballet group was performing with grown-up ballet dancers. My big debut began with a series of rolls unto a mat. Afterward, there was hopping around, with other bunnies following. An announcement was made when intermission came, and the theatre emptied considerably due to the fact that ash was settling from a volcano nearly 400 miles away. I will never forget that afternoon with all the strange events: The walk to the car with a bandana clamped around my face, or the hour-long drive on the ash covered highway that led to our house. The yellow line was a landmark my mother could follow with confidence, but my imagination was fraught with fright those long 10 miles, imagining precipices and caves that would swallow us up forever.

One summer, a friend of my dadís lent him a miniature pony for me to exercise. His name was Prince, and I pretended that I was a wealthy princess upon his back. Although I was only 8 or 9, I had permission to take Prince out for rides on the gravel roads nearby. This seemed like a dream too good to be believed, since I was a child always fighting for independence and self-rule. On our rides, I would tell Prince tales of distant lands, with other kingdoms and castles. He would walk at a steady pace down a gravel road that led to a grassy knoll where the clover was thick, the grass lush and green. There he would plant his hooves and begin his lunchtime feasting. My dream would come crashing down, since no amount of pleading or pulling on his lead could persuade him to leave that mound, which was barely out of yelling distance from my house. Eventually Iíd have to go on foot and find the king or queen (mom or dad) to lead Prince back to the stables. It was a good reminder that I was not ready to leave the castle: My parents could control Prince with easeóthey were more equipped to rule the kingdom.

I couldnít wait to get out of my small town by the time I reached my teens: to move to a place with city lights and sounds, where people spoke languages other than English. The traveling during my college days to Ecuador and other Southern-hemisphere cities was heavenly. I canít wait to go again to foreign places. Despite this, Iím thrilled to make the same choice my parents made: to raise children in small towns surrounded by open land.

This is a small bouquet of memories. Iím waiting to see what fields of recollections I can pick from Valley brains. I need your help in finding other ways of seeing magic in this place we live. Iím ready to sit around a stream and tell your stories.


Finding Paradise appears weekly in The Santa Ynez Valley Journal. Contact Christie at christietarman@gmail.com with comments, ideas or questions.