In the heart of the suburbs stood the playground of dreams: a monolithic wooden castle, a stronghold for make-believe. We could spend hours in the castle, chasing each other through the labyrinth, working up the courage for tall slides, swinging from the monkey bars. To jump back into the minivan, breathless, was a great joy.
For quiet children, though, the best joys are those which speak softly. Behind the wooden fortress stood a ring of trees, with a sorrowful field beyond. Surely it was a small scruff of nature, but at the time, this secret hideaway felt limitless. Here was my sprawling woods. Here was my prairie, rough and wild (nevermind half of it was a drainage basin).
The bunches of leaves and pine-needle carpeting muffled the castle’s joyful shrieks, such that a little girl could pretend to be far away. As a pioneer, she could touch the edge of a place as it was thousands of years ago. By virtue of one clump of trees, or a tuft of weeds, she could throw her spirit around to all the Earth’s forests and plains. Her tether was many miles long, but delicate — to melt into the universe is to peer carefully through peripherals. Focus too hard in one direction, and all you are is a kid standing alone in the trees, wanting.
For eight weeks, we were under the influence. We were intoxicated by the contrast of sunny days and cool nights; lava flows and lush rainforests. We would sit on the lanai and watch as distant storms blurred the horizon and allowed the ocean and sky to become one. We’d lose track of time and talk about how incredible it was that the sun had been replaced by a sliver of moon. A single dog would begin barking in the distance… followed by another. Three more. Ten more. Twenty more, until our neighbor’s pit bull joined in the evening chorus.
The morning would demand our labor. We’d plant a row of red caturra with the most carefree precision. Dig. Plant. Fill. Water. Repeat. It’s the kind of routine that a person can get lost in and fall in love with. Before long, our hands would take over and our mind would find itself wandering down the dusty road toward the cliffs. Next, we’d jump and throw our weight into the ebb and flow. We’d scream with excitement and brace for impact.
Some days we’d put our best thumb forward and hitch a ride in the bed of a rusty red pickup. A kind stranger would carry us three quarters of the way to our destination, but never from door to door. That would be too simple. We’d find ourselves on the side of the road again, back at square one. That meant it was time for an afternoon snack.
However futile our journey, our destination never failed to disappoint. There was no tour bus. There was no guide. There was only a blister on our feet and a smile on our face. But we made it on our own time and by our own accord.
There are places on this earth that never change. You could return year after year and find things just as you left. They exist in a sort of vacuum where time is no object. The hands on the clock move at the same speed, but their significance is more or less irrelevant. You find yourself waking in the middle of the night unsure if the sun is about to rise or fall. You get Tuesday confused with Friday and Saturday mixed up with Monday. And the best part is that none of it matters. Not one bit.
These are the moments I live for. The one percent that feel longer than the ninety-nine percent; the places that ask no questions and the people who set a steady pace.