Out beyond the house, and the yard, and the driveway fifteen years unpaved, over a chain link fence, through a thicket of sage brush, was my place. It was hidden by a ridge, tucked beneath a windswept burrough where rabbits and rattlesnakes shared the warmth of the earth. There was a small, flattened patch of wild grass, and I would sit with Peaches, our family dog, assembling huts out of twigs and thistle branches.
The patch was at it’s prime in late summer, when the ground hardened, and the grass and wildflowers around the periphery started dying in anticipation of fall. Out of the corner of my eye, I’d often see a garter snake slithering by, or a grasshopper searching for lunch. The grass crackled with all sorts of bugs and snakes, and sometimes, if I was fast enough, I could lunge to catch one and watch it move for a while.
It was in this spot, over the years, that Mel and I played, that we figured out how to make fluorescent paint from dandelion buds and spit. It was where we laughed and fought over whose American Girl doll clothes, now covered in dirt, belonged to who.
After I’d stopped going there, we buried a rabbit named Highpockets, a baby chick with one toenail painted pink, and eventually Peaches. Maddie and I had been in our front yard when the vet injected Peaches with a lethal dose of horse tranquilizers. We held her in our arms while her eyes began to flutter and her body shook with convulsions, and then her breathing slowed, grew heavy, and stopped. It was the first death I’d ever experienced, and that night, trying to fall asleep, I couldn’t shake the look of terror Peaches had in her eyes: whites exposed, begging for mercy.
The rest of the field remained a place of refuge as my sisters and I grew up. As much as it was a second backyard, it was also a science laboratory, a place to bring friends and show off our wild finds, a place to escape from home.
Once, when I was 10 or 11, when we were still best friends, Brittany and I ran all the way to the cement barrier that separated the expansive sage field from the highway. We met at night, after our parents put us to bed, when the heat of the summer night was starting to dissipate. She and I scrambled through the sage, for a mile or so, scratching our legs and ripping the thin material of our pajama pants. At some points, the brush was so tall that both of us would tumble down the edge of a small ridge before being able to warn the other. We clopped through muddy spots. Lunged away from spiky fractures in the chain link fence.
And finally, we made it to the highway.
The highway: blazing with light, and speed, and freedom. In the night we huddled against the cement barrier, absorbing what warmth was left in it. Cars and semi-trucks whizzed within inches of our faces, and I closed my eyes, smiling at the feeling of escape the cars gave me. It was blissful away-ness, tucked up against the cement, so close to the movement. I was a part of the road. I was a vehicle in and of myself.