When I was four, my family lived in Soldier Summit, Utah, a forlorn place high in the Wasatch Mountains. Population two or three dozen people, tops. Our house was heated with a coal stove. It had running water but no indoor toilet. My father had been working as a dispatcher at the railroad station there, but now he’d gone into business in Heber, a small town by most standards but a metropolis compared to Soldier Summit. Heber had an actual grade school where I would begin kindergarten that summer.
In the spring, shortly before we moved, I went outside to play after a rain. Like many storms in the mountains, it came up suddenly, exploded in a downpour, and then dissolved into blue sky. The world looked clean and new. The sage brush on the slope above our house lost its dustiness. Dandelions the size of silver dollars grew in our muddy yard, the fiercest yellow I’d ever seen. Even today I have trouble thinking of dandelions as weeds. They’re cousins to the fabulous blossoms that surrounded me that day.
Rivulets flowed in the rutted path downhill, so full of sunshine it hurt my eyes. But I looked anyway. I couldn’t stop looking. A feeling welled inside me — deeper than happiness, sharper than excitement. The sunshine was inside me, flowing through me like the bright water, and I was larger than my body. I grew as large as the sky. I thought, I am — something beyond naming that flew away like a bird as I reached for it.
Though I could hardly read yet, I think the writer in me was born then. I’m still reaching with word after word for things unnamed.