It wasn't a house. It was my mind that was divided.
All of my life I'd been focused on a goal I was sure I wanted more than anything else. I'd dreamt, studied, labored all to one end. . . what was it, exactly? To be a scientist. For what reason? To save the world, of course.
I'm my only hope for a hero, I reminded myself day after day.
However, now I found myself sitting around an enormous farm table with a family that I was quickly falling in love with. We were eating roast chicken28 and garden potatoes with the Irish black bread I had made with my own hands. I was still wearing the blue apron. Now it had little pieces of dried bread dough stuck to it and a dusting of flour. I could have taken it off, but it was part of this day, a day I'd never forget.
“Oh, wow, this is really good,” Jon Morgan sighed, slathering a wedge of homemade butter on a thick piece of bread.
I was more proud of that loaf of black bread than I'd been of my first lab coat. Meg Morgan had showed me how to shape it, and Will had shoveled it into the horno. But everyone agreed, it was Molly's bread.
“It is good, Molly,” Jeremy agreed, as he obligingly buttered Anna's bread for the second time. He leaned forward and smiled down the length of the table at me. I tried not to look too pleased, but I couldn't help casting furtive glances at Will. He kept his eyes down, but he ate a lot of bread.
“Thanks. It turned out pretty good,” I agreed, timidly tasting my piece of chicken. I quickly lost my dread. This chicken tasted better than any I'd ever eaten before. The garden potatoes were sweet and creamy; they came with their own built-in butter. But then there was the butter—yellow, rich and sweet enough to eat like ice cream.
Anna agreed with me. I watched her eat the butter off of her bread, and then hold it out for Susanna (on her left) to butter again, and then to Jeremy (on her right.)
“Didn't I already butter your bread?” Jeremy asked with a puzzled smile.
“I lost the butter,” Anna explained. Her rosy cheeks were shining with a butter-gloss.
“Where did you lose it?” Jeremy asked, looking at the floor around her chair.
“Not down there,” Anna said with an innocent smile.
Jake laughed. “You're going to be a two-ton tuna,” he teased Anna.
“No I won't!” she returned, wrinkling her brow at him. “You're going to be a two-ton giraffe!”
“Raw butter won't make you fat,” Jon Morgan interjected, “just beautiful.”
“Eat some more,” Jake advised Anna, grinning mischievously.
“Eat some more,” she echoed, holding her bread out toward Susanna.
“Are you tired, Molly?” Mrs. Morgan asked me, from the far end of the table. I leaned forward to see her.
“I guess,” I answered. “But it's a good kind of tired. I really enjoyed today. I learned so many things.”
“You did really well,” she said, smiling back at me. “I think you must be a farm girl at heart.”
I don't know why her words bothered me. She was smiling, and I was smiling, everyone was smiling. . . But deep inside I felt irritated at the words that cut me away from all I had worked so hard to achieve. The bread was good, but it was nothing compared to the years of study and late nights working toward my doctoral degree. This was fun. That was pain, sacrifice, and vision.
“No,” I answered, trying to keep my voice light. “No, I'm a city girl. In another couple of years, I'll be Dr. Flynn, and work in a lab somewhere. But I'll always remember the fun I had today with you guys.”
Everyone was silent, unexpectedly so. When I glanced up, I couldn't keep my eyes from finding Will first. His face didn't hold any particular expression, but his eyes made me feel like crying. It was as though his gray-blue eyes had looked into mine and said “goodbye Molly.” Then he looked down, and was gone.
I looked around at the others, but I didn't see them. My mind was frantically searching for a way to take back what I had said. Somehow the happy mood at the table was gone, and I was the one who had stolen it.
“Well, Molly, we wish you luck with that,” Mr. Morgan said, smiling forgivingly at me. “I'm sure you'll make a very fine scientist.”
“Molly, I'm going to stay here for the summer,” Jeremy announced. My vision slowly returned so that I could see his face. “The Morgan's have asked me to stay on and help for the summer. Since I don't have a job to go back to anyway, I'm going to stay here.”
“He's going to help Will build a straw bale house!” Susanna announced. “We all are.”
There was silence for a moment after this announcement, then Mr. Morgan spoke again,
“Yes, we always hire someone in the summer, but we'd far rather have Jeremy to help us get started with the land management ideas. So we've asked him to stay. We'll be building a straw bale house on Will's land.”
“I'm eager to learn this style of construction,” Jeremy said, leaning forward to look at Mr. Morgan.
The conversation went on from there, about straw bale construction and if it could be used in Nigeria or not. Will never looked up again, and only spoke when someone asked him a direct question. I looked at Ramona. She met my eyes, but her gaze was polite and distant. She was waiting for me to leave. They were all waiting for me to leave.
Why shouldn't they? I had announced plainly that I had no intention of taking their way of life seriously.
It's for the best, I assured myself. It could never work anyway. This is what I want, and what I'm going to do.
So I excused myself, and went to bed, saying I was tired. Then I cried myself to sleep.
I slept like I was dead, and when I awoke, just before dawn, I realized I must have been more tired than I'd realized. The conversation at the table the evening before seemed like a bad dream.
Susanna was still asleep in the bunk over me. I crept quietly out of bed and dressed, shivering in the cool air of morning. I wanted to get outside and take a walk. I needed to think.
The house was quiet, and the well-oiled hinges of the front door swung open silently to let me out onto the porch. T-Rex was nowhere in sight. The rooster was crowing in the chicken yard, announcing the first light of day to an otherwise still-sleeping world. I went down the steps and took a path beyond the barn that I had noticed the day before.
The path led along the top of a ridge and was sheltered by tall pines. I stopped beside an unusually large one and looked closely at the bark. A vibrant orange, like the color of cantaloupe flesh, alternated with a silvery gray to form the bark of the trunk.
I wonder if it's a certain kind of pine tree? I thought and put my arms around it. To my surprise it felt ever so slightly warm. I put my forehead against the tree and closed my eyes.
Butterscotch! I smelled something sweet, like butterscotch. I turned my head from side to side, looking for the source, but lost it. When I rested my head against the tree again, there it was. The orange, inner bark of the tree smelled like butterscotch candy.
How funny, I thought. I wonder if anyone else has ever noticed that? Will probably has. Will. William Morgan. Molly Morgan. Dr. Flynn. Molly Morgan. Dr. Flynn. Molly Morgan.
I sighed and pulled away from the tree, wandering down the path again. I felt like the trees were watching me. They politely refrained from interfering with my thoughts, but offered some kind of unspoken solace.
“I'm a mess,” I said aloud, glancing around to include my audience. I threw out one hand toward another pine and repeated emphatically, “No really, I'm a mess.” The tree was silent, and I stopped on the trail, sighing deeply, and looked straight up.
It's hard to keep your balance when you look straight up through a pine forest. The view moves with the wind, and it's like being on a boat. I had to widen my stance and put one hand on the nearest tree to hold myself steady.
“God, I know this isn't a chapel and I haven't been to confession in forever. . . but if you're there. . . would you show me the future? If I could only see whether or not I'll make it. Not that I'd make it here. I don't know anything.”
I dropped my head, found my balance, and walked on without waiting for the reply I didn't really expect.
God is too busy, and I'm a mess.
I stopped again, distracted by a spiderweb that had been spun across the stiff leaves of a yucca plant. It was very lightly beaded with moisture, and I had to put my face quite close even to see the droplets. A spider sat indifferently on the web, and I wondered if he could see me or not.
“Maybe God is this close to me, and I can't see him,” I told the spider. “Maybe he's looking at me right now.”
The spider suddenly jumped into action and sped across the web, dropped down a silver cord, and disappeared into the heart of the yucca.
“I don't even really know if he likes me,” I spoke into the dark tunnel where the spider was hiding. “He's never even asked me out.” Tears welled in my eyes and I realized that I'd finally uncovered the real source of my angst. I stood up and furiously wiped the tears out of my eyes.
I wasn't sure of Will. I wanted him to say something. I wanted to at least have the option of turning him down. How very shallow of me. Will wasn't that kind of guy.
I have to let go, I thought, coming to a stop on the trail.
“I have to let go,” I said aloud to the trees. They had no comment, but their silent solace finally found a place in my mind.
I'm always trying to stay in control, I admitted to myself. It makes me feel secure. I have to let go. I have to live the life I have, and let go of everything else.
I put my arms out and spun in a circle on the trail, winding the early morning light around and around me like thread around a spool. If I could collect enough of it, I'd feel better. But I got dizzy and fell over onto the pine needles and forest foliage. As I waited for the world to stop spinning, I heard footsteps. No, hoof-steps. A horse was coming down the trail.
It didn't occur to me to get up, or move out of his path. I just sat there, in surprise, and looked up into the face of Will Morgan—and up the very long nose of his horse, Roy. A moment later T-Rex came charging down the trail and ran up beside me. He sat down as though the place I'd chosen to sit was now the designated sitting area.
I have to let go, I repeated to myself firmly, and got to my feet.
“Molly!” Will said in surprise. He seemed conflicted over finding me there. His lips were parted from galloping down the trail, and his eyes sparkled with the pleasure of being out in the morning. “Are you lost?” he asked.
“I. . . no. I woke up early and went for a walk. What's down this path?” I asked, trying not to look too glad to see him.
“My land,” Will answered, and this time I glanced at him in surprise.
“You were there all night?”
“No, I left before light to go check on my herd. Roy and I always go for a ride early.”
I wanted to ask him if I could see his land, but I'd made myself a promise to let go. So we stood in silence, feeling awkward in the gorgeous setting, not knowing what to do with the privacy suddenly granted us.
“How. . . how far is it?” I asked at last, trying to be honest, but ending up feeling devious.
“A mile,” Will answered. I looked up, finally meeting his gaze. His face was so impassive and distant that I took a step backward, moving off his path to let him go by. Roy stepped forward, but Will lifted the reins and Roy stopped beside me.
“Do you want to go see it?” Will asked, and my breath caught in my throat. His face said plainly that he did not care if I wanted to see it or not, that he was just being polite. Well, polite was good enough for me. I nodded.
“If you have time. Yes, I'd like to see it,” I said quietly, curbing my enthusiasm.
Will slid his foot out of his stirrup again and offered me his left hand. I suddenly regretted my own curiosity, remembering my last ride on Roy. But this time, he stood perfectly still as I settled on his broad hindquarters behind Will.
Silently we rode Roy through the forest, back the way Will had come. He was so near, I could have rested my head on his back, but he was so far away, I couldn't reach him.
“Do you like the forest?” Will asked, breaking a long silence.
“Yes. Yes—it's beautiful,” I answered, trying not to sound eager. “I smelled a tree a little while ago. One of those big ones. It smelled like butterscotch.”
“They do smell sweet, don't they? Those are Ponderosa Pine. See all the little pine branches on the ground under the trees?” Will gestured with one arm at an area under a nearby tree as we passed it. “Squirrels like to eat the joints of the new branches because they're sweet and tender. They eat right through and the branches fall to the ground. Nature's way of pruning.”
“Do you know a lot about the forest?” I asked, looking around me.
“No. Hardly anything,” Will answered. “There is so much to know.”
“What is that tree?” I asked, pointing to a fantastically gnarled and twisted old tree that reminded me of a Father Time painting.
“That's an Alligator Juniper,” Will answered. “See the bark? It looks like an alligator hide.”
“Is that a Yucca? I saw a spiderweb in one back on the trail.”
“Yep. That's Yucca. The Navajo people use the root for shampoo. It makes your hair shine. See that little holly-like plant on the ground, the one with red leaves? That's Oregon Graperoot. It's a pretty strong antibiotic. And the shaggy stuff on the trees, that's called Usnea, or Grandfather's Beard. It's a powerful antibiotic too, especially for sore throats.”
“So you do know a lot,” I said, resisting the urge to poke him teasingly in the ribs.
“No,” he said seriously. “I could spend my life learning all the creatures and growing things out here, and barely even skim the surface. Grandpa knows a lot more than me. Mona makes a point of learning about wild edibles and herbs. I don't know much.”
I realized that Will wasn't showing off how much he knew—he was showing off how much there is to know. He was quietly demonstrating how much knowledge there is to gain from Nature. I thought of my university, and suddenly all the books and sciences seemed categorically small.
“It starts here,” Will said, pulling me out of my reverie. I leaned around him and looked down into a valley, framed beautifully by a red rock canyon.
“I didn't know you had a windmill,” I said. A round metal tank of clear water stood at the base of a windmill that was turning slowly in the morning breeze.
“I just got that,” Will answered. “There was already a well, but it didn't have a pump. I bought a used windmill and fixed it up. I kind of like the way it looks too.”
“So do I,” I agreed, admiring the old wide-blade mill. “Where are your cows?”
“You'll see them in a minute,” Will said, walking Roy down the hill slowly. “They're out to your right.”
Grazing in the morning light were six head of cows and four calves. They looked up as we came down the hill, and two of them uttered low moos in greeting.
“I see grass coming up!” I noted aloud as we crossed the valley. Will nodded, and I could see his smile when he turned his head to the side to look down at the ground.
“Yeah, the rain really brought it out. This ground is where the cattle have already been. If you look out there, where they haven't been, there still isn't much grass. Ironically, it's the native grasses that are coming back, not the seed I planted.”
“Is that bad?” I asked.
“No, it's good. The native grasses are hardier, and the animals like them just fine.”
Will pulled Roy to a stop in the middle of the valley and I turned my head from side to side, looking as far as I could in each direction. It was so beautiful, I couldn't find any words that wouldn't make it less than it was. So I just looked.
“I'm going to put the house there, and the barn over there,” Will said, waving his hand in the general direction of the windmill. “Up a little way, so I can see the whole valley, but below the windmill so I can have water pressure.”
“How will you get building materials in here?” I asked, “Is there a road?”
“No,” Will chuckled. “That's my favorite thing about this place. I've got a wagon and a harness for Roy; he pulls in the supplies for me.”
Will turned Roy around and we started back up the hill. I searched for something to say, something that wouldn't be manipulative in any way—just sincere.
“It's beautiful,” I said at last. “I can see why you love it.”
Will didn't answer, and we rode the rest of the way home in silence. It wasn't awkward, just quiet. When we arrived at the barn, I could hear Jake inside, complaining that Will was late. I slid off of Roy. Will met my eyes briefly, nodded, and turned away.
And that was that. He never said anything more, and I had to let go. Two days later, I drove back to my real life.