Monday, February 15, 2010
Who Did You Used To Be?
I saw myself this morning. Not who I am, but who I was.
I was out walking, jogging a little, hoping to fry those creepy little Lyme spirochetes into vapor when it happened.
I passed a home that I believe is someone's summer cottage. It has a huge field in back that is overshadowed by the frosty Catskill mountains. And in that field, not far from the house, was a tree. In that tree was a girl.
It was sunny outside, but cold. She was bundled up in her snow jacket, her gloves. She sat on a large branch, her back against the trunk, perfectly still. She was looking at the mountains.
I felt a thrum inside, a resonance of recognition, and it all came back to me.
That was me. I'd forgotten.
We had a small cabin on gorgeous farmland in the land that time forgot - the Leatherstocking region of New York. It was a three hour drive from our home in New Jersey. My parents built the cabin when I was about five; it became my favorite place on earth.
Beside the house was an apple tree. Below it was a stand of birches. The apple tree overlooked a pond and what you might call a healthy hill...it was a mountain, but we were so far up its side that it didn't seem overpowering.
As soon as I was big enough to climb it, I sat on the one branch of that tree that was parallel to the ground for hours. I was hidden from view, able to see the world, to watch the fish hiccup to the surface of the pond, see the woodchuck amble through my mother's vegetable garden, see the hawks circling overhead.
When I was older, I found a higher perch in a nearby stand of birches.
The birch trees below the house created a little hideaway in which I also spent a lot of time. From there, I could look up at the house and across the lower field.
A third stand of birches in the neighboring field created a bigger, and more private place to sit and think.
And then there was the well.
The well cap was about a foot off the ground on the side of the house. It had a space between some sort of drain and the edge that was just the right size for one small foot. And I cannot tell you how many hours I spent atop that well, balanced on one foot, looking at the world.
What was I thinking? I couldn't say. But I know that time was important to me, it was something I loved. I wasn't lonely and I wasn't bored. I was thinking.
That girl this morning reminded me. And as soon as I remembered, I remembered something else that hit me with a jolt.
I don't know if every parent does this, but I spend a lot of time trying to understand who my children are, where their personalities have come from. It's not because I don't like who they are; on the contrary, I find them completely delightful. But I thoroughly enjoy discovering places where we intersect, things where I recognize myself, not because I encouraged them in that direction, but because that's apparently a part of their hard wiring.
And I remember who else loved to sit in trees. My son. As soon as he could climb, he was up in a tree, sitting for hours on end. Sometimes he took a book with him, but usually he was up there alone, just thinking.
When the kids were small, my parents still had that cabin upstate. They let us use it. It's as much a part of my children's childhood as it was mine and we were all heartbroken when it finally had to be sold.
One of the first things I remember doing when the kids got steady on their feet was showing my son the well cap. He adored it. I have photos of him out there, balanced on one foot, the other resting on the nozzle as I'd done for years.
His sister suffered herself to be put in a tree for a photo, but it just wasn't her thing. She was an explorer, but she didn't seem to have that same affinity with trees and heights.
My daughter and I share many traits; my son is sometimes harder for me to puzzle out. But I remembered this morning that in this thing, we are alike.
And I find myself thinking that I need to spend more time hanging out in a tree.