Quail Diaries: Reflections on an unopened notebook

Confession: I have not opened the notebook since it arrived.

This is what it looks like. It is pale—sun bleached—and crusted with the red/grey clay that is the soil in the bluffs where my quail live. I’ve brushed it off some, but I do not want to brush to hard because I am worried about taking off some of the paper with the crusted mud. There has not been much rain on it for it is preserved a bit like a body in a dry climate, desiccated but intact.

When I opened it (in San Diego), it cracked and clumps of the clay/mud fell off, along with a puff of dustier soil. I do not remember it smelling of anything but I probably sealed off my noise as I was looking at it. (I am very easily put off by smells, and the scent of human decay is something that disturbs me—I automatically close my nostrils from within so as not to breath in scent, even if there is no real scent of decay to breathe in.)

Do I believe the notebook? The first page with its large 1972? It’s map of the southwest of U. S. and northwest of Mexico, with the escape route noted (in case we need to go to Mexico). There is a strong part of me inclined to believe it is a fabrication. Although, who and why a person would have fabricated it, and then left it, with some strange sort of patience, hidden on a hill under some chaparrel, near a suitcase, scraps of clothing and shoes, hoping someone would find it someday, is hard to imagine. This story, of a fabrication, is less parsimonious an explanation than the suggestion that the notebook is a true journal, made by an older child, while he/she followed his/her parents around, waiting out the “statue of limitations.” (And there is a question, he or she—the notebook is genderless).

Why do I have trouble seeing it as this sort of “true” document?—because it is too Hollywood. It disturbs me, but that is not what keeps me from believing in it. My understanding of the world has been constructed by a middle class, relatively safe (apart from the scalpels of doctors and dangers of more verbal and emotional assaults) upbringing. The sort of active extremities of a family in hiding belong to Hollywood. I can be emotionally caught up in them, empathize with the characters and feel a residual sense of being inside the world of the film (if it is a good film, that is) even after the movie. But it is still a fiction. Despite all my attempts, I am still naive and privileged–although lately, the miasma at my back feels like hardscrabble apocalypse.

There are many reasons I have not opened it—and I hope I will crack it when we are moved, over the next few weeks, into the house we are renting during our remodel.

(Yes, we are remodeling, and my hands are cut and bruised from trying to dig up all of our plants and save them—as well as trying to move the worms and other invertebrates we find in the soil. I cannot let go. Please don’t ask me to run through what it feels like to envision the destruction of some of our yard—unkempt and wild as it is. I have not come to terms with it. The earth is a body and the worms are her friend.)


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