She was the kind of woman who despite the consequences kept the pancake syrup in the refrigerator because she was sure it wouldn't keep otherwise.
She welcomed each Sunday with a stanza of Emily Dickinson amid the steam from her chamomile tea, and then let in the cat. She listened to NPR, wore a loose silk bathrobe, and wouldn't serve the cookies until you admitted you knew the conservatives would squeeze the joy out of the world.
She ate dolphin-free tuna melts on organically grown whole wheat and argued the warm-blooded fish wasn't. When she found she was wrong, she quietly crossed that seafood off her diet swearing that meat had never crossed her lips.
Her life was full of macrame and needlepoint. She knit colorful ski caps with tassels and pompoms. Afgans. Scarves. Slippers.
She couldn't tolerate electrified music but worshipped Jerry Garcia's ghost.
Dogs, she said, were kept by poor souls bereft of the earth mother's unconditional love.
She tried to be vegan, and claimed I'd tricked her into the French Onion Soup.
She called Martha Stewart the false prophet of nest building.
I don't remember how I found her place, or why she let me stay unwelcome as long as I did. I liked nothing she liked. Her politics annoyed me. It seemed to me she wanted to live outside a world for which she had no use and loathed that she needed to rely on it for staple supplies. When younger I wouldn't have seen that as angst but as a fundamental truth about the world at large.
What is the truth, she reminded me, but interpretation?
With an old garden pick she tried to dig a well through the Santa Cruz Mountain bedrock. After three days I called a guy with a backhoe who did the job in twenty minutes.
She wouldn't drink a drop at first. Switched to the local merlot like Christ would have until the eternal hangover drove her to handfuls of tylenol washed down from cups dipped into the rain barrel.
At her pestering, I tried to get us off the grid and covered our cabin with solar cells. The high-efficiency silicon technology and inorganic gel cells were necessary due to the devil of electric power. When the storm of '98 wrecked the battery shed, she swore off electricity completely.
I told her the batteries she used to listen to public radio were full of electricity, and she called me a liar. Then threw them out.
She felt men were the unfortunate consequence of nature's dearth of creativity when trying to come up with a solution to the need to mix DNA, but that out of all of my kind, I might have some qualities worth saving, if only because I could bring the vegetables uphill to the cabin more quickly than she could.
She never talked about her parents. She never asked me what I thought of mine.
What was in her past was too painful to unleash upon the redwoods and deer that inhabited the space mother earth provided to make our home.
Home. She was to whom I went when I told people I was going there. Long gray-blonde locks and tye-died shirts. Bell bottom hip huggers from when they were in the first time.
She was full of shoulds and shouldn'ts. Her philosophy from that time: Marijuana should be legalized. Alcohol banned.
Free love was an idea never given its chance.
Lenny Bruce had it right. Unlike Saving Private Ryan, no one was depicted doing anything but having fun in a porn flick.
Her admonition delivered at the tip of a shaking forefinger: Consenting. Always to be consenting. Sex is wonderful. I should try it sometime.
I never did.
In the beginning I tried to make conversation with the Robs and the Jills and the Janes and Joes that passed through her bed on detours from their lives. But soon I lost the will to small talk. And so I made them coffee at breakfast and made sure they could get away quietly, before she would wake and sit in her chair with her tea and her cat, a book of poetry upon her lap.
She always cried when they were gone.
It was none of my business if they were married, she said. It was her life, she reminded. I had mine. She'd got this far without me. I could leave if I wanted.
I never did.
There were pains she was hiding. The man in her past who leapt from the cold stone shadows. The hallowed ivy draped halls. The violence against her class personalized toward her that defined the paths our lives would take. Her's the prey, mine an act of randomized genetics. She couldn't hide that I wasn't supposed to find her.
I made her tea. Fed the cat. Cleared the brush from the doorstep and kept the deer from eating the carrots. She never needed a family except the motherhood of the earth and the peace of the forest. I tried to live like trickling water in the spaces between those things while she winced at my being where I was when I shouldn't, so never to become the home to whom she went when she told people she was heading there.
And the lump in her chest that grew and captured her, took her. The withering death. The "I love you" I wanted but never came.
I had no one else, no artificial, state-assigned keepers, no siblings, no longer her macrame world beyond the cold stone institutions from which I emerged. I cried. And I waited until the the rain was hard enough so no one could see, so the flames wouldn't spread and burn the mountain lion's home.
I burned our house. I spread her ashes,
on my birthday.