In the woods of North Idaho, black bears and velvet-antlered moose didn’t scare you as much as wood ticks did. Stories you’d heard of ticks gone fat with blood, hiding in hairlines and tender warm spots, scared you almost as much as ones of their botched removals. Tweezers and steady hands pulling on the parasite until the thorax breaks off leaving the heads, still buried in skin, behind.
The town you are from isn’t on a map, doesn’t get a city name or post office. An unincorporated area, tucked into the woods between two small towns, your home un-town. The people who know you now would drive past it, blink, and miss everything your life was. A lonely brown sign, blending into the trunks of Ponderosa pines, reading “Sportsman’s Access,” the only sign of life.
Two weeks before you left, your Mother told you, “You can take the boy out of Idaho, but you can’t take the Idaho out of the boy.” For months, you feel her words in you, biting into your neck. You had dreamed of getting out for as long as you had dreamed. You had felt unwelcomeness like a second skin since you could remember, had hoped for some place else for nearly as long.
Here, among fields of strawberries, corn, cattle, and tulips, you are as far from Idaho as you ever have been, and as far from belonging as you’ve always felt. Hiding under the Cascade Mountains, pinched against Puget Sound, you thought the past would shed like the heavy jackets you don’t need in this land of mild winters. But you still feel the bumps in your skin, calluses over the heads of parasitic insects.
As a child, you think of going out to the woods to cry, tucking yourself under the dry, flaky limbs of Douglas Fir trees, their spiky cones and needles pinching at any exposed flesh. What you hadn’t noticed before were how the limbs hung low, their forks like fingers, resting on your shoulders. What you hadn’t noticed until now were the ways the land had tried, in its own way, to love you back.
You are the child of the dirt of flyover country. From the high desert of the Treasure Valley, to the mountains of the panhandle, you’ve lived, you’ve moved. Picking up pieces of mint farmland, shreds of fir bark, purple heads of knapweed, and styrofoam cups of worm dirt and yellow-green lake water. Holding them in you, too deep in the skin to get out.
KEEGAN LAWLER is a writer currently living in Washington State with his family. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review, Homology Lit, The Offing, and the ‘Home is Where You Queer Your Heart’ anthology from Foglifter Press. ‘Country Queer’ is an essay from his current memoir project, titled ‘Fairyboy.’
Art: “Primordial Soup” by Aleksandra Chechel, Acrylic on Canvas Board