I have a strange love affair with Orion the Hunter. Perhaps because his distinctive belt makes him the only constellation I can always pick out with certainty, seeing him in the sky always makes me smile. I feel safe. Protected. As if the vast sky is suddenly my friend.
I looked for him in the sky every time I stepped into the garden to watch the stars. I never found him. I’ve missed him. Missed his protection.
Eventually I stopped going out so often. It doesn’t help that the garden is lifeless and bare. The earth isn’t brown; it’s grey. The gardeners my mom hired to tend to things while we were away apparently thought everything in the back garden was a weed, and eradicated it all. They only left the trees that line the back fence. They may even have been right about the weeds, but it’s still weird to have a grey garden.
There is one patch of grass, right by the edge of the patio. It sort of swoops around to the side of the house. Crickets live in that grass; I hear them chirping sometimes when I go out. There used to be more of them, back when the weeds had not been BRUTALLY TORN from the WEEPING EARTH – I mean back when we still lived here. We would lie in bed, my sister and I, and fall asleep to the sound of crickets.
Windows in Denmark are thick, for insulation. Most of them have double panes of glass. Ours were so good you could barely hear a car if it zoomed past right outside. We slept in silence. For the first few nights we had trouble falling asleep at all. It happened in reverse when we returned: the crickets were so loud that they kept us up at first. Only our jet-lag saved us from sleeplessness.
There are so many animals here. I don’t remember noticing them back when I was growing up here. There are the crickets, of course, and there are ladybugs and daddy-long-legs and the occasional butterfly. There are ants. (I hate ants, and with good reason.) There are the crows that perch at the top of our fir trees, cawing and cackling and flapping about like black heralds of doom. There have been a few blue jays rooting through the barren earth under the trees, and a dove or two. None of this is new, not really; there’s just the novelty of long absence.
But then there’s the flock of wild turkeys on the hill at the end of the street, and the tiny lizards that flit out of my way when I walk home from school. The squirrel that dove into its burrow when I passed. The ducks in the creek a block away from my house. The furry brown creature that might have been a mouse that vanished into a bush almost before I’d caught sight of it. The birds I’m almost certain were quails that rustled in the shrubbery for a full minute as I walked down the path. The hawk perched on a telephone pole, so still I almost didn’t notice it.
I don’t remember seeing these things before. I don’t remember noticing that this city does its best not to be just an urban mess of streets, and that its best is pretty good. I was probably too busy with whatever book I’d been reading lately, and it makes sense that I’d pay more attention now that this place isn’t familiar anymore. But it’s still jarring to see all these animals I didn’t know we had.
What’s even odder is the smell of dust. My way home from school is lined with half-wild greenery (where I see most of the animals that are so strange to me), and I go past a golf course, a park, two scenic paths and a creek, all carefully maintained by the city (and the owners of the golf course, whoever they are); all filled with Californian flora and fauna (and neat lawns in the golf course). It’s beautiful and varied, and I love it; but California is (sort of) desert country. It’s dry. The earth here is so dry in the summer that it sifts into the air. This mingles with the smell of the dry, dry plants – particularly the resin-filled aroma from the fallen needles of the evergreens, for some reason – to make a peculiar flavor of air that cannot be escaped. Sometimes it’s even overwhelming. I still don’t know if I like it or not. It feels like it should be unpleasant, and it almost is, but it’s so familiar.
It reminds me of my childhood. Of… of small adventures. Going into the woods, even if it was just the wild jungle of my own backyard, was always the beginning of an adventure, and in the summer it always smelled like this. (The rest of the year wasn’t all that different – just wetter.)
Yesterday it rained. It was the first time in a long, long time – only the second time since I’ve been here. I haven’t missed the rain – the sky here is so big that somehow it doesn’t matter if we never get any rain – but it was still nice to see it again. It made the day special. Like fireworks at Disneyland: you know they’re nothing out of the ordinary, but they’re fireworks. It’s special.
The rain here feels like a guest. It’s not like Denmark, where it changes the entire tone of the world; here it just colors the air, leaving the buildings and the ground fundamentally unchanged. It lasted most of the afternoon, and yesterday night was one of the clearest nights I’ve seen. The moon was like a lantern. I could see stars so small they should have been invisible. I gaped up at the sky, a grin of wonder on my face, and breathed in the freshness of the world after rain, surrounded by the underlying dusty presence of summer.
And for the first time since I came here, I saw Orion shining brightly in the sky, just for me.