From age five to age eighteen I lived there exclusively, after that, only during college breaks, and then for several months after getting my first audiology job.* Let’s call it thirteen solid, formative years. Back then, before cable companies saw fit to extend service to the small population “up on the hill” and long before the town put in water lines that made development boom, we thought of it as “the boondocks.” We lived on ten acres, mostly wooded, with a creek (pronounced crick, if you please) running at the bottom of the ravine. I don’t remember not knowing how to capture squiggly salamanders in my cupped palm or how to identify the flat roof of the crayfish’s house and how to safely extract the creature for inspection. At night, I’d lie in bed and imagine my escape from would-be kidnappers. I’d evade them through the crick: I knew every solid rock to hit, every slippery spot to avoid, I knew every tree and every side gully. Sometimes, during the day, like an Olympic athlete, I would run the drills I practiced in my head at night. I knew those ten-acres like I knew where all the treats were kept in the kitchen cupboards. I had my Thinking Rock, high on top of a slope looking over the ravine, where I’d sit when I felt hurt or mad. We had The Stage, a piece of shale that stuck out over the water, where I’d sing and perform with my best friend, Chris. You’d think I’d remember if that’s where we dared each other to our fist kiss – with no one else around to witness. But that might have been under a snow-laden hemlock. Maybe it was both.**
I was home for my mom’s hip surgery – canceled and rescheduled because of a blizzard – and so my stay stretched from an original 4 days to the longest I’d slept in my childhood bedroom since 1998. Nine days. On my mom’s dusty snowshoes, pulled up from the basement, I traipsed trails through my old forest friend. I stopped to favorite hemolocks and cherries, thick with age, that had fallen across the ravine into impromptu bridges. I peered into their hollow, rotten trunks. How small ten acres seem at adult speeds, adult attention. Walking along the southern property line, an old friend surprised me. I almost didn’t recognize my Echo Tree; it had been so long and we’d changed so much. Isn’t that how it always is? The branches had grown out of my reach; many were dead. Had my clambering shortened their lives? Had branch one been there back when I used to climb; was it dead even then? Perhaps. But I remembered how good it felt to amble from 2 to 3 and 4, then up to 5 and 6. The way the long, oak branches would tremble all the way out to their tips as our dog watched me from below. I itched to scamper up there again, but it was impossible, out of reach. I hooted from ground level, too embarrassed at the sound of my own loud voice – there are more houses now; more people around – to notice if my voice returned to me. I used to sit in those oak arms for ages, hollering to hear my voice. I’ve always been my own best listener.
*my brother, just 10 months older than me, finished his Navy service at the same time and was living back home for a brief period. So, after five-and-a-half years empty-nesting, my parents had both kids back in their childhood bedrooms. At least jobs were involved, and college-degree acquisition for my brother. Regardless, it didn’t last long.
**Before you go believing in the idyllic image of my childhood wilderness, let me state for the record that there were more than a few elderly septic systems whose faulty leach fields filtered into this lotic shangri-la.