poured out before bed
There is this place, this special place from my childhood, that I think on every so often. I’d quite forgotten about it, or rather, had neglected its memory of late, until the light dropping through the blind this morning illuminated a piece of it for me. In the morning sun, the geode on my night stand cast a delicious peaches and cream iridescence on the wall and lamp, taking me back to a simpler time: summer, at my grandparent’s farm on the bluffs. Such a time of great freedom and equal wonder I have never again experienced. Besides the presence of two people with marvelous stories of remarkable lives, with great passion for teaching, learning, and living, and who regarded me – lucky me! – with affection and respect, I was surrounded by a vast and beautiful countryside. The sheer substance of the community biomass cannot be understated, and on frequent walks I would ask about this plant, or that frog, this butterfly, or that jack-rabbit. If he didn’t know, couldn’t tell me a story about the species (a rare occurrence), my grandfather would pull down a set of large books, and we would search for the creature, pouring over shiny color pictures and yellowed pages of text. Even if we couldn’t find our object, we would learn about similar organisms together, and I would hear stories and musings from one of the greatest voices in my life.
Once a visit, I, my siblings, my father, and his father, would don our best work clothes, gas up the 656, secure safe riding spots on the grand old tractors wheel well and hitch, and set off for “the special place.” Bluff land is by no means flat, and we were headed for a steep hill which keeps a very low ravine. I remember the feel of warm, diesel fragranced air buffeting my baby-fat round face, and admiring the scarred work gloves my grandfather wore as he worked the buttons and levers and wheels of the tractor. I remember the tickle of tall orchard grass and flowering wild-carrots on my ankles, the perfume of honeysuckle and sweet clover in my eyes and nose, the red winged blackbirds dive bombing our parade to ward us from their nests. I remember the relative cool when we entered the thick woods of the ravine and traveled down a narrow, century old logging trail, how on a few occasions we stopped and ceremoniously ushered a hoary old snapping turtle claiming the road into the brush. Then suddenly we would break into a small clearing, hemmed in secretively by dense woods, seeming to overflow with brilliant humid-hazy sunshine. Here the children ticked off a higher level of excitement on the thrill scale and scattered off the machine to pick the black-caps and raspberries that had claimed this space. Thus full, perhaps scratched, and always purpled we left the tractor in the meadow and marched down a trail just wide enough for single file procession to our final destination.
And here it was. A dried river bed, narrowed by the advancement of sapling poplars and middle aged maples, littered with last autumns leaves. And poking from beneath the mat of dried leaves – a heavy smattering of gorgeous broken geodes. Many as large as a grown man, these glittering rocks jutted out at odd and fantastic angles, making traversing the river bed hazardous to ankles, but much like a playground. Every so often one might find a piece small enough to fit in a pocket for a paper weight, or to carry with two hands to pricelessly edge grandma’s flower beds. A short walk up the river bed, the hill swings in and becomes a vertical wall where the river once held it back. Walk this wall for a few minutes and one finds a large patch that was first hollowed out not by any force of nature, but at the hands of man. The old sand quarry has now been worn to fantastic frilled ledges by rain water and wind, and a few humans have also left their mark – names of men long gone, with dates from the late 19th and early 20th century slowly wear away as the surface sheds. The sense of awe I felt at just being in this place, so full of history and beauty, was overwhelming, a joy and indescribable ache which I feel even now, hundreds of miles away, at its memory. Filled with it, I detect the exciting smell of dank rich earth and fallen trees, see the faces of the ones I love. And I feel the same gratefulness and cheerfulness that mark the character of those I love most, realize that this “special place,” full of the power of nature and time, has also the power to grant me perspective and peace.