Beth Touchette: A Walk in the Neighborhood

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Beth Touchette finds the story of her Fairfax neighborhood in its trees.

My home, which used to be my refuge to come back to at the end of a stressful workday, has become the location of my stressful workday.

The glitches on Zoom meetings with my students, the drone of my husband’s endless conference calls, and the bickering of my now-home-from-college children all make it necessary to escape my house every afternoon.

Initially, since all the local trail head parking was closed, I hiked Fairfax’s streets. Happy to be out the door, I always smiled at the stuffed animals positioned in the windows and the sidewalk rainbows created with copious amounts of chalk. I rummaged through the ever-evolving piles of closet clutter set out on the street, gingerly carrying objects that my kids could use when and if they got places of their own. I noted which plants were thriving despite the deer, drought and clay soil of Fairfax, and planned future gardens.

After over two months of circling Fairfax’s streets, my eyes settle on its trees. Victorian houses sit next to towering redwoods that were large when the cottages were built. I wonder if the stress of these recent years is being documented in their rings. I realize that the oak whose giant trunk splits into two human-sized branches was here when Native Americans wandered the Ross Valley. I remember hearing that many of the oldest oaks in California had grinding stones placed beneath them, and I think of the families who made acorn flour in that suburban yard.

I approach home, and see the tree I planted 19 years ago. Eight months pregnant, and uncomfortable in the summer heat, I picked out a pink magnolia, in anticipation of the birth of my first and only daughter. I still remember the people at the plant nursery whispering with concern as I loaded the tree into my car. Every spring, when the magnolia blooms, and neighbors compliment us on the tree’s beauty, I tell the story of how and why I planted it.

But, in a few decades, the story of Elena’s birth, and the pandemic, will be distant history, and all the future wanderers in our neighborhood will see is a large tree, with giant pink blossoms that will soon drop to the ground.

With a Perspective, I am Beth Touchette.

Beth Touchette is a North Bay educator.