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I close my eyes, and when I open them again I am in a field of green. Heavy mist floats around me, the grass grows tall and the ground feels soft. The air is just cold enough to give me goose bumps, but warm enough that I’m not shivering. It’s still. And calm.
Facing me is a small, familiar hill with a flat top. It rolls up out of the ground, steep on one side with rudimentary log stairs winding up the front.
I begin walking toward it, the grass swishing and bending under my feet like it knows exactly where I am going to step.
When I reach the bottom of the hill there is a stream bubbling in front of me. The water dances around little rounded stones. My ears know the sound of this water better than anything. A thick board, pushed into the muddy banks, serves as a bridge.
I walk over it and start climbing the log stairs set into the face of the hill. The muscles in my legs have memorized every step.
It takes a long time to reach the top, but when I do it is worth it.
A tiny house rests on top of the hill; an old-fashioned, stone cottage with olive-colored moss and tangled ivy covering the walls and roof. A diminutive pipe chimney, turned brown with rust, has fought its way through the ivy and now pours steel-blue smoke into the air.
A short, mahogany picket fence encircles the house. It might have once been white, but now the wood is stained and faded.
I swing open the gate. Rusty hinges protest when I push them. I smile at the comforting squeak they make. Six smooth, worn stepping stones lead across the small yard to the wooden front door. A little window smiles at me from the wall beside it. Cream-colored curtains allow a little light to shine through the collection of turquoise and emerald bottles gathering dust on the sill. The labels have been peeled off, but I know and remember the story behind every bottle.
Turning and walking around the house, I see wood piled against the side wall. The logs are stacked neatly, supporting each other and several of them have recently been taken off the top. My arms ache remembering the hours spent cutting and splitting and stacking that wood, and my lips twitch remembering the laughs and smiles we had that day.
I keep walking around the house. Behind it there is a little garden. Several flourishing, nameless plants have taken over the bed and sprawled along the fence behind them. We never were motivated enough to plant anything here and we decided we liked the vines. One corner of the fence has been hidden from view by indigo morning glories. Flower boxes dangle suspended from the window sills, their beds alive with vibrant petals and the steady hum of bumblebees. A barrel with rusty bands stands under the drain pipe, collecting rain water and dew. The sputtering sound of the drops hitting the surface comforts me, like the stream.
Behind the fence grows a small stand of quaking aspens. The little trees have sprouted leafy and green, and their bark is ivory and soft. The ground under them is grassy and free from undergrowth. A few delicate purple flowers grow around their bases.
I step over the fence and walk underneath the trees. Everything seems perfectly quiet and tranquil under here. I can almost hear voices in my ears as the wind shakes the leaves, flashing their white undersides.
As I clear the last tree I reach the edge of the hilltop and look out.
Beyond the misty blanket covering the valley I can see the tops of not-so-distant, snow-capped mountains. They sit, silent, supporting each other, as if they were always there, daring people to see what was beyond them. Pine-covered foothills lie at their bases and hovering above them are thunder-heads the color of fresh bruises. I can see small lightening flashes illuminating their underbellies and hear the soft bellow of far-off thunder. The wind blowing down through the valley and up onto my face smells like rain, dirt and the metallic sting of electricity. I breathe it all in and smile, wrapping my arms around myself. I love when it rains here. It makes everything glow.
I turn and walk back to the fence and hop over it. I walk back around the house and face the front door. The surface is the color of sun-bleached drift-wood, complete with dark knots and whorls. Carvings of trees, flowers, animals and mountains adorn it from top to bottom.
The weathered brass door knob turns easily and I push the door open. The wood is heavy, but swings on smoothly oiled hinges.
I am hit by a wall of good smells; our smells: wood smoke and flowers and old books and bread. A fire has been lit in the open wood-stove. The bed in the corner sits supported on a gnarled wooden frame and covered with a fading patchwork quilt. At the foot of the bed squats a large dresser with clawed feet. I smile remembering the day we carried it up the hill. The bottom drawer stands open and clothes spill out. The top of the dresser has been cluttered with cheap, wooden picture frames holding memories faded with time and too much sunlight.
Mismatched woven rugs found at flea market stalls cover the floor from the bed in one corner to the 1950s-style roll-top desk in the other. The walls around the desk are plastered with our photographs. Some show people smiling, crying, laughing, dancing or kissing; some depict far away landscapes, mountains, buildings and animals. Some are black and white, some are color; all of them mean something.
Several books, stacks of paper, pens and pencils and more photographs litter the desktop. The chair is covered with clothes I haven’t had the heart to wash yet. An old flannel shirt, a pair of dilapidated blue jeans, a leather belt with a tarnished silver buckle.
Beside the desk rests a dusty, wooden bookcase. The rickety shelves hold not only books, but photo albums, dried flowers, picture frames, a basket of seashells and beach glass, a miniature Zen garden complete with black stones and a rake, and a box of money from distant countries. The books have mostly faded. Old favorites, classics, new discoveries and books we never had time to read.
Along the back wall is the kitchen. Creaky cupboard doors stand open, revealing a diverse assortment of tin cups and clay mugs, wooden bowls and cracked ceramic plates. None of them match. A bowl of oranges sits on the counter beside a used cutting board and knife. The peeled apple slices mixed with cinnamon in a bowl on the counter wait to be tossed into the cast-iron frying pan sitting on the unlit stove.
I turn around and face the door. Nailed to the wall beside it is a twisted metal coat rack holding an array of jackets with hastily stitched elbow patches and faded hats with fraying brims.
I walk over the pull the curtains aside, looking out over the stained glass lights shining from the bottles in the window.
At the foot of the hill stands a person. They stare up the hill and bend over and pick up the bag sitting at their feet. They walk across the stream and begin climbing the stairs. I smile and open the door, crossing the yard and unlocking the gate. I stand there with my back to the house, to the aspen grove and the purple flowers, the mountains and the rain and the thunder, all of it wiped from my mind. This is what I have been waiting for.