Annie invited me to visit last Wednesday. Though I had many errands to do, I accepted without hesitation. The Witherspoon homestead is situated among oak savannah, groves of Douglas Fir and hillsides of vineyards and orchards. Hummingbirds swarm around Annie's feeders and butterflies dart in and out of her flower garden. It is not really the Eden it appears to be, but hard work for Annie and Eric to maintain. Still I believe they have made it one of the most wonderful places I know, due to their kindness in the community and creative spirits at home. Just like the hummingbirds that swarm around Annie's feeder, I am drawn to the Witherspoon farm for solace and rest.
The house itself is a delight: Annie's beautiful stained glass creations fill the windows with jewel colors. The walls display artwork of whimsy, beauty and humor everywhere. Photos of family and all the fun they've had and shared with others over the years gather in collages on the fridge and in the hallway.
I never quite know how to make Annie feel as loved as she makes me feel with her warm welcome. I try to return the favor with enthusiasm, following her about, deeply engaged in conversations about books we love, about our children, and what we do dream for the future. I surely do love and admire her big, wild heart. I admire her fortitude, grace and imagination. I admire her community, too.
Neighbors welcome us to pick berries in their hedgerows, or take a dip in their swimming holes, warning us of a cougar who lurks in the best berry-picking spot. We thought we heard the cougar rustling, as we neared the brambly lair. Berries were few and far-between at the other fields, so sang at the top of our lungs and picked unmolested. Our only true foes were squirrels.
Squirrels don't seem dangerous, but they damaged the foundation of Annie's house, where they dig out storage space for their acorns. I have seen squirrels rampage in my garden, so when she told me she'd like to ice Squirrel Nutkin, I didn't protest. Farm life requires a different attitude toward cute critters than Beatrix Potter's. Annie is a good if regretful markswoman. One less squirrel to chew at the house's moorings, and perhaps the others will stay away. Annie buries him in his burrow, so as to warn the others away.
After the sunset and the soft twilight, we enjoyed a delicious Eggplant Parmesan cooked from Annie's garden bounty. I carried home much delight: apples, squash and some of the blackberries we picked together. Upon leaving, I met a possum. She slinks across Annie's dirt road, her pale fur glinting in my headlights. I said goodbye to the breathtaking dome of starlight, followed by the new moon, who kindly makes herself visible everywhere: even among the crasser city lights. A wonder of a day. . .