I used to belong to a group where we would be given a quote and we were supposed to write about the first memory that came to mind after we read the quote. We not supposed to write as though we were looking back at the memory, but rather as though we were present in the story at that moment. I sometimes struggled with that task. The group often told me it was as if I were holding myself back, like I was an observer of my own story. I was probably in fourth or fifth grade at the time this happened.
We are walking in the woods after lunch. My grandfather always seems particularly pleased when we do this. Sometimes, just the men get to go on these walks. When we ask where they are going, they always say they are going to see a man about a dog. But today, all of us are going--Mom and Dad, Paw-Paw and Granny, Linda and Timmy. Granny is finishing up in the kitchen and then we can leave.
Sometimes we go and check the hog pens to see if there are hogs in the trap. Most every time we check the fox feeder to put corn out or to see if they have eaten the corn that was left for them. Paw-Paw always has something going on in the woods. He loves the woods. He will usually point out tracks in the sand for us to see. Fox tracks, rabbit tracks, dog tracks, deer tracks, hog tracks, all kinds of tracks. He can't see that well, but he can see those tracks.
Once he cut a branch off a dogwood tree and told me if I would scrape the bark away, the branch would turn pure white, just like if it had been bleached. I saved it and took it home and scraped the bark away and sure enough, it is pure white, pure white.
Today the grownups are talking about the corner lines and about the old spring that used to be back by the creek. Paw-Paw keeps that cleared away so the water will continue to flow. I can't quite understand their fascination with the spring. It's just an old hole with water constantly coming out of the ground, like a house that never gets clean, it is always muddy around there.
I don't understand the fascination with corner markers either. We are walking through briars now, getting all scratched up. Mama and Granny, who are in their dresses, are stepping high to avoid getting their legs all scratched up. When we finally get to the corner marker, all it is is a concrete stick pocking up out of the ground. But the adults all know where these markers are, and they stand around talking about who owns the property that meets up at this marker.
There are also stories being told about how you can follow the road and cross the creek "back there" and end up at Aunt Ella's house. Thankfully, we are not going that way today. We are turning around and heading back to the house. As usually happens on these walks, they are all telling stories now.
Daddy starts talking about how they used to bend a young sapling down and get on it like a horse and then let it go and they would "ride" the sapling. That sounds like so much fun! I'm asking if I can do that now and the grown-ups are all acting like they are not sure I can. I am wondering now if Daddy made this story up or what. Finally, after my persistent begging (I can be very persuasive, this I already know about myself), Daddy and Paw-Paw are looking for a suitable tree for me to ride.
They have found one now and both of them bend the tree over so I can get on it. I am so excited about getting to do this. I straddle across the tree and receive my last-minute instructions to hold on tight, no matter what. I can't wait for them to let go of this tree so that I can go flying through the air. I wonder what it is going to feel like. . .
Well, that was not what I expected to happen. I am on the ground with the wind knocked out of me. That has only happened to me one other time. I hate when that happens. The grown-ups are looking at me with concern and are trying to help me up. Someone is dusting off my backside. What a stir I have caused!
After a few moments, my wits are recollected and I can now breathe normally again. We are heading back to the house now, and analyzing my failure to launch. It seems my biggest problem was that I forgot to hold on tight. When the tree went up, I went down and hit the ground, hard. I probably should have bent over closer to the trunk of the tree and hugged it harder than I did. I don't much care what went wrong. I don't think I'll ever want to try that again.
And here is a poem I wrote about the day the surveyors came to survey part of the land that we were selling (after both my grandparents had died) with another look at the corner markers and the Artesian spring.
Surveying the Land
Sitting on a stump by the rippling stream,
barely a foot wider than my stride.
Just wide enough to keep me from following the procession
led by the machete wielding land surveyor, who whacks
his way through briar and thicket,
seeking the corner marker to our wood.
Were it not for the steady whack, whack, whack
of the machete and the warning caw of the crow,
I would be at peace, wooded by the shimmer of water
and the rustle of leaves, meditating on a quiet winter day.
Thoreau on his pond, Emerson in his woods. The surveyor works,
carving away a piece of my I still hold tightly in my heart.
When I was a child, my grandfather led the way on this land,
past the Artesian spring that bubbled from the ground,
stopping at each land marker as though they were sacred monuments,
testimony to places where God touched the earth,
setting boundaries on our own slice of Eden.
The sound of tree limbs being severed by a man
snatches me back to the present. Birds squawk
mournfully above my head, while the briar branch tears
flesh as I pull it idly through my hands. Looking down, I am surprised
to see blood marking the place where I released grandfather's
memory and walked away empty handed, stripped
of land that meant so much to us both.