by Mary Sojourner
Monty Python alert: familiarity with the Knights who say “NI!” and the importance of shrubbery will be critical in the reading of this post. See footnote.
I’ve been homesick all day, longing for the southwestern deserts, aching to walk slowly up an unknown wash. I would be a few miles from Aguilar. The wash would wind east across a playa and between two low mountain ranges. It would be twilight, the air cooling, blue shadows drawing me forward. My water bottle would be near-empty and I would know that I had probably walked too far from camp. And yet there is another curve in the wash ahead. And another. And who knows what lies beyond - there, where I can see the top of a young cottonwood glowing in the sunset.
The future memory fades away. I decide to take myself to Farewell Bend and the Bill Healy Bridge. I’ve walked there a few dozen times since my move here. I know what I’ll find. Geese will be feeding, their butts luminous in the fading light. There will be a lanky woman on a paddle-board, a joyful dog exploding out of the water; there will be my favorite graffiti I’ve ever seen: a green leaf and the word Integrity.
I’m thinking about integrity as I step onto the bridge. When is a place a home? When is a place The Home? What is the line between nostalgia and the longing for The Home of one’s own spirit? I’ve talked earlier in the day with a man who had also lived in the Colorado Plateau and high deserts. He too had wondered when he would feel connected to this green river-laced country. He spoke of it taking a few years for him to come home to Central Oregon. I’d listened and thought about how impatient I am.
I walk to the middle of the bridge and look down at the supple currents of the Deschutes. Geese feed; a paddle-boarder emerges from under the bridge; there is not joyful dog, but there is a shrubbery progressing smoothly down the middle of the river. It does not seem to be subject to the whims of the currents. Indeed the shrubbery makes a smooth 15-degree turn and heads for the bank of the river. A big brown shining head moves about four feet in front of the shrubbery. I’m puzzled for a few seconds until I figure out that the otter is dragging a young tree to the shore.
I watch until the otter disappears in to the reeds and grasses at the edge of the river. For a few precious moments, I have felt so connected to this place that I didn’t exist. There has been only the dark shining otter head, the words of a man I barely know - and a shrubbery proceeding determinedly down-river.
Perhaps I am learning a new way to connect to a home. Perhaps I have been granted only one mad and instant love affair with place. I may never again be walked with my eyes closed to the rim of a high desert canyon, told to open them and find myself instantly more Home than I’ve ever been. Perhaps a new love is beginning, a love that will ask me to slow down, to pay attention, to let connections form without effort. I suddenly remember the chalk drawing I had seen a month earlier on the bridge near the Mill District,. It was of an smiling otter in a monk’s robe. Saint Otter had been written in flowing script.
I murmur Thank You. I’m not sure if it is to the river, the otter, the man, the artist or the shrubbery. Perhaps I speak to the connections between all of us.
Footnote: The Knights Who Say Ni! are a band of knights from the comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, feared for the manner in which they utter the word "ni" (pronounced /?ni/, like knee but clipped short). They are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Peng, and Neee-Wom. ...The Knights demand that King Arthur bring them a shrubbery in order to pass through a patch of woodland which they guard. They require that it must be one that looks nice and is not too expensive.
----no less an authority than Wikipedia, which may be a construct of the late great Monty Python.