I was born to a divot of open land, partially swallowed by blackberry bushes and sloping forest, bookended by tall canyon walls on the edge of the hot central valley in northern California. In the summer, the earth was brown and yellow, a swath of dust and spindly star thistle; in the winter, a potent emerald framed by the rain-darkened limbs of bare trees. I was born to river summers, dirty feet, purple-stained fingertips and tongues, cicada song and bright moonlit nights. And I was born here the way everyone is born everywhere: by a combination of pure chance and intention; by a long line of choice and circumstance stretching through each ancestor’s actions until it produced me. It is incidental and arbitrary, an accident of so much movement before me, and yet it is me. I can’t explain myself without explaining where I came from. Home is bigger than a place I was born; it is the basis of myself.
That a place can come to define a body seems mystic, yet culturally we practice this definition daily. We’ve divided the world by lines, and within these lines we’ve etched meanings and categories, assigning differences and definitions to what we find in between. And as a result, we are born into monikers that we come to embody — American, Californian, northern Californian, almond-country Californian, rural Californian. When I fell into the world I fell into these denotations and connotations, growing up into them like a tree into a gap in the canopy. I came to understand the world through the guise of what it meant to come from where I came from, and everyone else did, too. We relate to each other and our surroundings by living our labels, even if that means denouncing them.
In a general sense, this means I am defined by common things. There are 300 million people in America, 38 million in California, 88,000 in Chico, the town whose outskirts I was raised in. I have specific things in common with all these people, things that we share by absolute accident. But each time you narrow the category, the commonalities thin out, leaving a unique being with nothing but a story of home. What we all share most is this arbitrary uniqueness defined by the places we placed our child feet.
I am canyon walls. I am horseback rides. I am vegetable gardens and dirt roads. I am long dusks, that hill we sledded down the rare times it snowed and that family of sparrows that came back each year to the nest in the eave above my parents’ bedroom window. I am the walnut tree with limbs perfect for climbing. I am blackberry peach cobbler, sour plums and green pears. I am the accident of my birth, the fortuity of home.