I have always had tendency to wander, a constant restlessness, forever following an intangible ache through sleeping valleys and soft mountains and rivers too wild to cross safely. It happened when I was young once; me, running after a butterfly, my grandmother certain I’d been stolen away. Perhaps I had been, in a sense, lured in by the green growing things until they grew in me.
It was obvious even then, that I wasn’t made to be still. My grandmother kept saying I was a bird born as a girl, wrong in a beautiful way, that the wanderlust was in my blood. “Fly south for the winter,” she’d tell me, both as permission and an I love you.
So I did, eventually, because I couldn’t survive inside my sadness.
It was quiet mornings in Paris at first, ordering everything cinnamon at a cafe by the Louvre, and then Berlin, where it was loud and bright and swallowed me whole.
Then Southern Spain; a rescue and rehabilitation ranch for farm animals just outside Mula, narrow cobblestone streets and yellow houses giving way to winding roads surrounded by lemon trees and beautiful ragged mountains. I stumbled over the language there, in those streets, used my Spanish messily at Saturday markets where the locals sold hand painted bowls and asked about the ink on my skin.
I remember someone in the old town asking “What is for you in the badlands?” in broken English and not understanding what I meant when I said myself.
I’d meant I was searching, turning over rocks on the road to see if I’d dropped a piece of myself or a even feather there in another life, desperate to stop feeling lost and start feeling right, but he’d frowned with his whole face then (“Estás perdidó? Deja que te ayude!”) and tried to give me directions.
That first morning I woke with a yellow dawn under an orchard of orange trees, a piglet sleeping under my hammock, and for the first time, I felt truly alive. Finally.
I filled 5am with laughter, caught a rickety shuttle bus into town just to send my grandmother a postcard that simply said I think I found it because she’d know what it meant, and she’d worry less at the sight of my ridiculous handwriting.
I spent every day after that dirty: alfalfa in my hair, muddy snouts on my thighs, wearing dust as a second skin. Arms aching from fetching pails of water from the well to the horses, then the goats and back again. Palms raw from tacking up fences, splinters in my thumbs. Unable to recognize myself. This, my excavation.
It was 2am one night, and I sat with seven strangers around an open fire, just listening to them talk. They all had so many nice stories; childhoods spent in oceans, why they were vegan, how they’d graduated from prestigious universities, how they just couldn’t settle down in a city in Atlanta. “How did you end up here?” someone asked, and I’d been tapping away at an old ukulele thinking how beautiful the sky was without light pollution to drown it out.
So I told them the truth. It went something like, “I tried to kill myself, but I’m healing here and I know this place has changed my life.”
I emerged whole, as if contained within the valley was the missing piece of the jigsaw to make me complete. This piece contained my empowerment, the confidence I found at on clifftops and on the walls of castle ruins.
Because that is the true essence of Jacob’s Ridge. Magical, somewhere holy which saved eighteen horses, forty pigs, six goats, four donkeys and me.
There’s a German word, Fernweh (I have it tattooed on my shoulder) which means a homesickness for an unknown place. Except I know exactly where home is, now.
Dannika can be found in Southern England trying to perfect her green thumb, reading too many fantasy novels, and more often than not, acquiring injured woodland animals. She encourages you to take a peek at Jacob’s Ridge, and should you so desire, seek her out on her Tumblr.