I used to love this northern rugged place. For me, there were no distractions from the solitude. I was almost invisible as a child in the summer home where my grandmother ran her household with such precision and utter sameness that the silences around those routines gave me a freedom and an aloneness that was real but never lonely.
There were no clubs and no connections that I ought to be a part of. No guilt for feeling different, for maybe being different. No awkward social interactions. No worrying that I wasn’t showing up, or was staying too long, or not staying long enough, or talking too much about too little, or not talking enough or saying the wrong thing about something too intimate, or not being intimate enough – well, no that wouldn’t be a problem. Politeness can be terrifying. You never know what is going on underneath, what will be said when you leave.
But when I was young I had only the sky in this place, the soggy earth, the mint and moss, the rotting trees interspersed with Lady Slippers and Larkspur; the rain both quiet and ferocious, and frequent. When I walked I could feel the cool oiled earth of the dirt road beneath my feet, always barefooted as my mother demanded for my health.
I was a ragged child with messy hair and banged up knees. But it didn’t matter as it does now. I had no friend then to remark with surprise that I wasn’t wearing sweat pants today. Back then I walked alone for miles along the edges of the woods, in the puddles, caught frogs and crayfish in the brooks and bogs where the tadpoles used to be. I watched the cool mud oozing through my feet, the cold lake water that washed it off. I could jump from rock to submerged rock, catching crawfish in a cup. And in the woods by my grandmother’s house the trees were still young enough that moss grew in abundance, like a pillow top mattress. I would lie on it, looking through the trees into the bluest sky while my fingers massaged its dark greenness. A branch cracked, birds sang. A chipmunk caused a minuscule rumpus and was gone. The trees swayed, the leaves created a feathered lullaby.
I used to jump from haystacks three stories high, smelling of goat. Leon was the goat man over in the big barn by Eligo Pond. He and the goats smelled the same. He was a very quiet man who looked as if he had very quiet thoughts. I felt safe with Leon.
I wandered alone mostly, often for miles. And I dreamed of nothing in particular except the feel of things, the smell, the color. Standing at the top of one of Teddy Herbert’s hills I could see all the way past Cousin Jane’s house, with its strange and fancy people to the lake with its color of dark coldness, the waves coming and going all helter skelter, duping the sailors with their flightiness. I could see the distant village, the beach and beyond up to Stannard Mountain where the colors turned purple in the evening dusk and the world looked mysterious and amazingly large.
I would stand there with everything else so far away, but with my own feet rooted in the soft hay covered field, the woodsy breeze brushing the hair playfully against my face now and then. I would stand there silently, unmoving for long periods of time and experience a million things, a million safe, soft, and peaceful things.
And yet today, no one who had passed by as I watched the early Spring stream splashing it’s exhilarating way over rocks and stumps, listened to my own footsteps as they tromped along the now sandy road, as I closed my eyes and took in the smell of the pungent earth and felt sun on my face, would have understood why it was that I cried.