Willow Branches

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Deep within the dark Pacific Northwest winter I went to the island nursery to get some eucalyptus branches for my bathroom. It not being the season for eucalyptus branches the gentleman offered me some cut willow tree.

I asked him if they would last long.

He said you could actually stick a willow branch into dirt and it will grow into a tree with the right amount of water and light.

I told him my bathroom was dark and I just needed them to last the winter until the eucalyptus came in.

He suggested putting them in water to prolong their decay but that there was no way they would grow without light, or soil.

They weren’t much to look at. Just a bunch of bald sticks. I almost threw them out. Three times I took them outside to the compost and then changed my mind and brought them back in.

They bothered me. They looked so tangled and stark. 

But I left them, and tried to ignore how much they unsettled me.

I think it was my son who saw the first root. Then more roots came, then buds, and finally green. Willow trees were growing in the dark, in a vase, in my bathroom. Without soil, without light, they were growing. 

The roots became a matrix and the green burst forth and after a few months I saw the branches were struggling and now needed more so I brought them out to my sun drenched living room.

Spring is whispering and the sun is growing stronger while my willow branches drink and devour it. I fill their vase daily with water, they keep getting greener, their leaves keep getting fuller and I tend to them and care for them, as these branches have become sacred to me.

 

                   “I saw a country road lined with tall shade trees. I saw fields, cattle, a village below the trees. I don’t know what book or picture I had got that from, or why a place like that should have seemed to me safe. But it was the picture that came to me, and I played with it. The mornings, the dew, the fresh flowers, the shade of the trees in the middle of the day, the fires in the evening. I felt I had known that life, and that is was waiting for me again somewhere.” –A Bend In The River, V.S. Naipaul 

 

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The Island

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It all started with a kitchen. 

While searching and gathering everything I could about Quebec and Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto, learning about cities and schools and neighborhoods my husband sent me a link to a house for sale with a kitchen that stopped everything. 

The house was nothing to look at, but this kitchen, THIS KITCHEN was everything.

The kitchen was in a house on an island. 

“Honey, where are the Gulf Islands?”

“Off Vancouver.” 

And then the rabbit hole opened up….

…I found a writer who wrote an article on the island…

…I searched for her on FB and messaged and she kindly returned….

…She wrote me of the beauty, the quirkiness, the diversity. She wrote of a school in the middle of a forest and would I like the administrator’s number who has 2 adopted boys from Ethiopia…

…and I kept falling and falling and falling. 

The Gulf Islands. 

But it was so far. And so isolated. My husband was worried I would be too alone. I was so scared to be so alone. But something was pulling me there. Something was telling me to go. Something so much stronger than worry or fear. 

We made the plans, found a summer rental for 2 months, and traveled across the world.

My husband settled us into a cabin on a lake, said goodbye, and flew back to Africa.

As I watched him sail away on the ferry my heart stuck in my throat, and I was shaking all over. 

I was on an island, with my 3 year old son and 8 year old daughter, where I did not know a single soul, with 2 months to find a home….

…and build a life.

The Unraveling

Uganda was familiar yet so much had changed. It still remains running in my blood, when I look at my daughter I am there, she wraps the county around me so I can still smell it and feel it, even long for it. I see in her the people I knew for 4 years, the people on the street, in the shops, walking along the road. I see them all when I look at her. And miss them.

How lucky I am to have lived in the country my daughter is from for 4 years. To know that part of her.

The city is choking. Day after day I found myself unable to breathe. When the rains came it was perfection and I loved it and then the dry would come and with each minute, day, week, month, as the moisture left the air turned brown, then grey, then dark.

My daughter started to get asthma.

My son seemed pale.

The dry season slammed us.

I started to pull in, worry. Shut myself up. Wait for the rain.

And in that waiting…

…there was the horrible food poisoning that laid my son and I down for weeks.

…the middle of the night emergency room run where no doctor was available.

…the yellow fever outbreak running through the villages coming closer to the city.

And then the election.

The president of Uganda, Museveni, was running again, his  86th term (or there about) and word was his main competitor was not going to let the election be “stolen” again.

I was hanging on when I heard phones might be shut off. I was hanging on when I was assured the UN would evacuate us if need be. I was hanging on.

And then my dear English friend who raised her children all over Africa, my dear friend who thought nothing of being in a car in the worst neighborhood without a cell phone, my dear friend who seemed to have no fear said, “Oh no, but darling you must evacuate. It’s not going to be pretty.” And then she left.

That’s when I heard the opposition was planning to burn the city down.

By the day of the election, with most of my friends gone, I was no longer hanging on.

Me, to my husband, “But how will we get out if we need to?”

Husband, “Don’t worry, we will.”

Me, “But if the city is on fire how will we get to the airport?”

Husband, “The UN will get us to the airport.”

Me, “BUT THE ROAD WILL BE ON FIRE AND THERE IS NO OTHER ROAD!”

Now I know my husband would have never let us be in a dangerous situation, but I no longer heard him. I had let go and 8 years of wandering came flooding out of me….

And then we heard the gun shots.  The walkie talkie comes on to tell of riots. The government shuts off all social media. We hear the opposition has been arrested, the streets are filled with soldiers, more riots, an occasional yell pierces through the deep silence and I felt adrift and lost and terrified! I ran to my bedroom and crawled under the bed and called my neighbor who was thankfully still there. Through sobs I told her I needed to know there was a way out. She told me she had the Irish ambassadors helicopter as her escape plan and no matter what the children and I would be on it if need be. She promised not to leave me behind. I will never forget her kindness. Those words soothed me, saved me and buffered me as we stayed by the walkie talkie and listened to it all unfold, my heart pounding in my chest while I clung to my children.

There were no fires.

The riots were very small.

I can safely assume no one else crawled under their beds with fear.

But it was clear that I needed a break. It was clear there was something more going on. It was all too much, too wonderful, too scary, too full of adventure, too much chaos to find a new center after I’d left all I’d known so very long ago.

I needed a break. I needed to go home. I needed clean air, and good food, and to just catch my breath, to feel connected. I needed to rest.

I could have never imagined when we made that choice  for me to come back that I would end up not at home, but in another country, alone on a mountainside, on a tiny island with my 2 children and nothing else and it would be nothing like rest, there would be snowstorms and power outages, my husband a million continents away. I would be more cut off than I’d ever been, more isolated and more vulnerable than I thought possible, and that it would prove to be the best and most wonderful 2 years of my life.