Among the Pine and Berries
I begin to feel anticipation in the curve of the road, the feeling that sometimes makes me believe in angels or a guiding presence which seems to propel me, move and direct me to places I have never been. It is a feeling of deep kinship with this planet earth.
I'm driving through the outer parts of the suburbs, in the direction of the mountains of Hunt Valley. It is early spring and like me, the earth is partially awake. The trees are showing a little green and the lawns and flowers are rejuvenating daily. It is the time of new growth, young sprouts and buds.
I began the day's pursuit with the sole ambition of finding garden rocks for several of the new flowerbeds. I had a vision of what I wanted, and to insure this would happen, I said a little prayer. Although I do not consider myself any specific religion, I often pray for some guidance even if it is to just guide me through a single difficult or dull conversation.
It seems natural, I suppose, to pray for such things as rocks for your garden, for the grocer to have fresh strawberries or even for the car ahead of you to stay in its own lane. At the least this is the gist of my "religion". It is a casual relationship with God, and I don't think he minds. I pray for quite impossible things as well and when I do, I have the idea that God is quite good enough to forgive me.
This morning's drive was settling, the fresh beauty of the day was reflecting in the trees, the pines and the great rocks near Ashland School. I fell in love with the rocks along the border of the school grounds, the warm colors of iron oxide, the coolness of quartz and the flirtatious, reflective and refractive way the mica glints, as I drive by.
As the car finally rounds the curve, I see a road ahead, just to the right. I know this is "my road" because I feel it, even to my bones. I am excited with new discovery. I am the explorer and the discoverer of this road. In my heart, there is the feeling I have been brought here, to discover this place. A hidden knoll, made sacred somehow, maybe by this morning's prayer.
Slowly, I release the accelerator and begin scanning the scenery. When I see the half -hidden lane, on the left, I pull over. This is my "paradise found". I came, as if intuitively, to this place I was meant to see and know. I open the door of the car with determination and walk to the edge of the woods.
I look through the trees, down the slope to where the pond used to be clear and blue. What remains of it now is a shallow bit of overgrowth dispersed around a green and yellow, stagnant swamp of algae and pollution. The thought of this seems to hurt me, and I feel a small twinge near my heart. But, the air is clear and scented green and the fragrant, moist earth begins to soothe the pain. I begin to notice the wildness of the Creeping Myrtle and the remains of a long forgotten farm.
I can see where a house once stood in its Queen Anne glory and know my feet are planted where the stables and the horses were once bridled. What I see is invisible to the human eye. As I begin to feel the land, I think, this is the spot where she decided to leave her husband and take their children, a daughter and son back to New England.
I begin to see more of this "invisible family" as I move about, feeling the earth. I see the woman was blond, her husband was dark. Both were thin and in their mid- thirties. The children were opposite; the young girl was fair like her mother, while the boy appeared thin, pale and had dark brown hair. He seemed sickly and I feel great concern for this one.
I feel the mother's tension, her fear and pain and realize her husband was quite an intolerable man, also with issues of ill health. He was wealthy, abusive and a tyrant in business as well as his home. He was often away for several weeks at a time and virtually ignored his family while he was home, keeping himself locked in the library.
Scanning the ground again, still breathing history, I turned to retrieve the equipment from the trunk of the car. I gathered my shovel, gloves and rake, shut the trunk and return to search the ground carefully for indications of rock.
I soon found a small "gold mine" where the ground dips sharply into a culvert. After prying for a few moments, I begin to loosen the embankment of rocks, testing for size and weight, so as not to split my shovel’s handle.
The afternoon passed quickly and though it was the end of February, I felt as though it were the middle of August in no time. Sweat gathered and dripped from my brow as my arms and hands tightened and resisted the weight of the rocks.
Through the afternoon I’d managed to gather thirty or thirty five rocks, during that time, my mind drifted back to the people that walked and lived on this land. I could see various activities almost as if I were recalling the scenes from personal experience.
I noticed a housekeeper, who appeared to be somewhat of a nurse to the young boy. She was a small, dark haired woman who was not exactly plain or pretty. I saw the husband writing at a desk, in the middle of the afternoon. He seemed intent and it appeared the work was an accounting, of sorts, more like ledgers he was attending rather than personal correspondence.
Continuing to work, moving from spot to spot, I found a small area where the rocks were placed in a particular, stilted and concise arrangement. They seemed to be covered with a thick layer of dark earth that indicated nearly a fifty-year span, probably placed by descendants of the original family. This was maybe a garden, I thought, but it seemed odd being positioned in a northern direction from the foundation.
A few buddless jonquils, caught my eye, my thoughts again, drifted to the young woman. She was dressed in a pastel blue dress, sitting in the boy's room; I noticed the leaded glass of the sunburst window, above the head of his bed. She was on an upholstered chair and the daughter was leaning near, with her arm resting on the chair. The woman was reading from a children's storybook. It seemed to be a peaceful, yet disparaging scene... the boy was ill and when the housekeeper came through the door, the mother and daughter left the room.
I began to load the rocks in a small wagon to pull them closer to the car. While I was struggling with the dips and digs of the ground, I saw the woman pleading with her husband; she stood just inside the door of the library. He appeared angry, slowly removing his glasses and placing them down, beside his pen. He started to rise, but sank deeper in the chair. She returned to the upper rooms and began packing. It was evident she was preparing to take the children on a vacation or to a spa. I was aware of her desire to take them to a healing environment.
Mysteriously, I'd reached the clearing at the shoulder, of the road, to unload my rocks. Some were sizable; about twenty-five to forty pounds. I took them from the wagon, one by one, tossing them on the ground with wide swings of my arms.
I wanted the visions of this family, to stay in a controlled realm where I would not cascade into the whys and where, etc…to just accept the scenes and savor the experience as it is meant. I tipped the wagon to remove the debris, thinking it would take at least three more trips, back and forth to the car, to load the rocks.
On one of the return trips to the "gold mine" I clearly saw the woman standing beside an Arabian horse. She seemed apprehensive about the money her husband had spent to purchase this horse and a few others. I realized they owned racing horses and caught the concept that her husband was an avid hunter.
Struggling with a few more rocks, I began concentrating on the shape, size and coloration. I felt the need to take back a few treasures for the new pond. I'd built the pond and wanted to landscape the area with flat, colorful rocks, Asiatic Lilies and Japanese Irises. The "treasure" rocks needed variation in color and be mostly flat for stacking. As I dug, if they were satisfactory, I’d toss them into the pile on my right.
I had a sudden thought, the woman loved jonquils and lilacs, and this idea became very strong, as I bent down and braced my feet against the incline to toss another rock toward the pile. I looked, with an expectant gaze, but there was no evidence of lilacs that I could see. Perhaps someone had moved them, just as I’m moving the rocks. I had a vision of her smoothing a blanket as if it held something precious, as if she were stroking the arm of a loved one. I watched her clutch the fabric to her breast, smooth it and place it into a trunk.
I was satisfied I'd gathered enough rocks for the new beds and felt a great relief , knowing this woman, like me, was comforted by small things; jonquils, soft blankets and lilacs. I felt comfort she was able to take leave without great disruption. I learned a secret, perhaps her husband never knew. I learned the small boy in her arms, was not his son. He was the son of her lover and it was to him, she was taking the children.
I loaded the car, making sure the weight was evenly distributed. After loading the equipment in the trunk, I reflected, for a few moments, on the afternoon. Was I moved by angels, guided to this place for a purpose...or, were the visions my imagination? Is there meaning behind these visions and thoughts?
It might all be nonsence, I am a romantic by nature... maybe, in my mind and in my heart, I need to contrive sagas; to invent something desirable for this, less than desirable place. I jotted a few notes, perhaps for a sonnet, a poem or a story and placed the papers (face down) on the dashboard.
I knew as soon as I started the car, I would return to stroll among the pines and berries, if for nothing else but to collect more rocks and gather my thoughts.
Deborah Russell © 2001
Published: March 2002, Q&P