Berry patch (L) and brook (R) behind me
Yesterday I stood in the driveway of my brother's house that sits where a small apple orchard and fruit patch thrived when I was a child. The brook is to one side, West's hill the other and, if I glanced next door I could see the old homestead itself, now looking like someone else's house altogether. My mind's eye and my memory filled in remembered details - the bent old apple trees that looked like horses to my sisters and me to which we attached rope stirrups and reins; the thorny patch of blackberry and raspberry bushes and the stout blueberry bushes; the brook that ran along the edge of our property line before dashing through what we called the tunnel to the other side of the road where it widened into a satisfactory small pond; the giant pine across the street where we kids would crouch for hours building miniature moss and stick houses and roads lined with pine needles where imaginary pioneers lived and traveled through the bear-infested, never-ending pine woods themselves.
When I was very small, I would pretend I was mere inches tall. Rocks became mountains, moss an impenetrable forest, a runnel of rainwater in a roadside ditch grew into a roaring river. If I sat still long enough and was quiet, the imagined scene became real and I entered the parallel dimension with ease. It would take a sudden loud noise or a tap on the shoulder to bring me back and I always returned reluctantly. By the edges of the brook, beneath the trees of nearby woods or among the cornstalks in the meadow near the house, I would lose myself in play, bothering to go home only when my stomach rumbled loud enough to rouse me or the ringing of the ship's bell on our porch calling us kids home penetrated my awareness. I always kept the house in view, though when I was hunkered down I believed no one from home could see me. For an introverted child, this state of affairs was ideal.
I am too stiff now to hunker down and too tall to go unnoticed as I walk along the brook's edge. And I am far too big to fit through the culvert and splash into the pond. On all sides the reeds and marsh grasses and bushes have encroached until there's hardly a pond at all. In my memory, my mother is beside me, helping me find a few good-sized stones to toss into the water. "Rocks help clean the water," she'd say, and we'd throw our finds as far as we could, watching the ripples make their way to shore.
Turning from the brook, I am assailed by another memory. Coming back from a visit to a friend's house one late winter afternoon, I stopped at the brook to listen to the water talk to itself as it splashed through the tunnel. When I looked toward my house, the kitchen light came on. I knew my mother was there, making supper, and I was flooded with such a feeling of contentment and safety that I was near tears. Just the way I am now as I recall that feeling of utter happiness.