Recalling Deer-Stained Meadows

when I bolted barefoot, free as a feral bobcat . . .

Margie Willis


View of San Antonio Lake from my childhood bedroom window . . . photo by Margie Willis

My best childhood home was just-built when we moved in.

A rustic three-bedroom ranch house made from rough adobe bricks to capture the cool and ward off the triple-digit heat. As the baby of nine kids, I finally had my own bedroom. A picture window overlooking the fifteen-mile-long lake.

The roar of a jet boat would snag my attention. I’d glance up and watch the wavering white ribbon of a skier crisscrossing the boat’s wake.

Hundreds of times over my teen years, that would be me out there.

We lived in the house that Monterey County Parks Department built to shelter the Lake Superintendent (dad) and his family. San Antonio Dam had been built a few years prior and San Antonio Lake had not yet filled up for the first time.

Vegetation grew right down to water’s edge, instead of that glaring white chalky bathtub ring around the reservoir. Inundated trees were still dying.

Our house was hidden in a scrub oak grove and the surrounding hillsides were dry golden grassy and gradual. A thick rope swing hung from a huge live oak where I watched deer gather every evening in a meadow as big as four football fields. The deer were not alerted by my presence or the occasional car driving by.

My older siblings refused to move from the bustling San Francisco Bay some three hours south to this hot touristy hellhole in summer. Talk about boondocks. This was beyond the backwoods.

My existence was as close to pure solitude as one gets, growing up.

The older kids flew the coop and my only brother that moved to the lake chose to stowaway in a tiny travel trailer parked out back. My parents, after twenty-odd years of smoldering and loathing, expertly avoided each other. Either they weren’t home or they were checked out.

All there was for an adolescent kid to do was wander for miles on end.

I memorized every barely-there creek and each scattering of cow bones. I named my frequent haunts, like Dry Bones Creek