I’m almost all packed. I told my friend I was taking the chickens when I leave Spirit Hill on Sunday. I came to visit for a week because my friend Carolyn, the proprietress of Spirit Hill, wanted me to finally see the place she’d been telling me about for years, and I was going to be in California from Boston briefly for some work I was doing. “Stay a week,” Carolyn said. “Maybe the place will inspire you to write.” I’d written one book and hadn’t found a reason to write a second one yet because I was more interested in helping other people do what I had done: broken down the walls of “I can’t write this story I want to tell” and landed in the land of “I got this. You can buy my book on Amazon.”
Arriving at Spirit Hill is to flood your brain with sweet lord are you kidding me? Pictures do not do this place justice. You have to see the whole to be able to process the parts. It’s all so wonderful. There’s just so much, so many plants, so many trees, so many places to sit, so many objects that beg to be admired, touched, photographed. There’s the oasis of the pool area, the wild spread of garden beds.
I didn’t leave after a week. Carolyn said, “What if you stayed longer, maybe a year, and became the property manager?”
“No thank you,” I said. That sounded like hell. Manage a property? Yikes.
We did what we do best as friends: we brainstormed, and we came out the other side of our conversation with the decision that I would be “farmer-in-training, writer-in-residence” at Spirit Hill. I’d do the work of a property manager, but I would call the job something that sounded much more fun, something more my speed.
COVID hit and things got strange. I dealt with the solitude by deciding I, someone who knows nothing about plants or trees except that they have roots, would trim the entire property. I started with the olive trees. Suffice it to say we did not harvest olives that year, and we had to pay someone a thousand dollars to take away the mountain of clippings I managed to create in a handful of months.
Pruning trees and plants was like a drug for me: more more more!! The world was reeling with fear and sickness, but I had my head deep in digging up and splitting big grasses and got to live in a bubble of what can I cut back next? I had no idea what I was doing, and so every day felt a little bit like kindergarten: go play and see what happens next.
Plants and trees are forgiving: they (most of them) let me do my thing, and in summer they went berserk with the whole growing thing and things were back to looking like a farm instead shorn sheep.
I did find my next book, but it wasn’t the one I expected. I had thought I was here to write about Spirit Hill, but Spirit Hill did what it does best: it held me and helped me grow until the next right thing happened. So now I’m headed back to Boston to write a book I never in a million years would have thought I’d be writing. A book about basketball and leadership!
The guests who were here last weekend were return guests: they brought cards of scenes one of them had painted of SHF and shared s’more cookies they’d baked here on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
The olives were gathered and pressed a few weeks ago, and now we have the new bottles of olive oil for guests. It’s greener than the last batch and delicious. It’s funny the things you miss, and one of the things I will miss most about Spirit Hill is the olive oil.
I’m reading the book Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. Here’s a paragraph I keep rereading: Inside? Outside? What is the difference and how can you tell? When a sound enters your body through your ears and merges with your mind, what happens to it? Is it still a sound then, or has it become something else? When you eat a wing or an egg or a drumstick, at what point is it no longer a chicken? When you read these words on a page, what happens to them, when they become you?
It is reassuring to me to think I can’t leave Spirit Hill, Sebastopol, Graton, Dillon Beach, Bodega Bay, Andy’s Market, Wildflour Bread because they are in me.
Leaving is hard.
Even though I have taken so much inside, I will still miss this place. The birds are singing; the sun is making its way out of the clouds. The fire danger is down to low. Everything is green and wet.
Time to grow.