I’m sitting by Maude’s head as she lays asleep on the cool tile of the front porch, stretched out in the shadiest corner to escape the summer sunshine. She wakes up at the sound of my voice, yawning and blinking and wagging her tail as if to say, I thought you had forgotten me! After a minute she rises to her feet, stretches, and vigorously shakes her whole body. She steps over to me, tail wagging in joyful greeting, and licks my hands and arms as I rub her ears and slip a leash over her head.
We descend the brick steps together, past the fragrant flowers that line the patio and into the yard exploding with greenery after the recent rain. Maude sniffs and inspects anything and everything with immense curiosity and energy, stopping only long enough to take a drink from the garden hose.
Maude trots slightly ahead of me as we begin our walk. The sun has just started to set, and it’s pale rays wash over us as we pass the goat’s pen and hear the sound of their contented chewing. The path ahead of me is worn smooth by the tires of countless cars that have rumbled to and from the farm over the years, smoothing and pounding the dry earth. The grass is tall on both sides of the smooth path, and I can hear the low hum of cicadas all around me, warming up for their evening symphony. The familiar sound of their song is something that I’ve heard every summer night for as long as I can remember.
Blackberry bushes are hidden here and there among the grass, their thorny branches reaching out as if to defend their fruit from the groping fingers of humans. The thorns are hard to avoid, and we often gain cuts and scratches while attempting to pick the sweet berries. It’s always worth it. The fruit is sweet and rich and a little bit crunchy, and every summer the wild blackberries are an anticipated and coveted treat.
The rocks that cover some parts of the path are bumpy under my feet. They remind me of an incident that occurred several years earlier when I was learning to ride a bicycle.
I had seen my sisters riding down the driveway on their bikes and had decided that it looked like fun. I wheeled my bike the top of the driveway and climbed onto the leather seat, sucking in a breath and then beginning to pedal as hard as I could. Dread began to rise in my throat as I rocketed at breakneck speed down the hill, the world blurring around me, tiny bits of gravel spinning in all directions, the effect of gravity making the rubber wheels spin faster and faster andfasterandfasterandfasterand –
I hit a bump and flew into the air, landing hard on the rough rocks and giving myself two very painful skinned knees.
I didn’t try that stunt again for quite a while.
Maude comes to a sudden halt, jerking me back to the present. A cat is blocking our path, his fur bristled and eyes narrowed at the sight of the approaching dog. Maude’s ears perk up and her tail begins to wag at the prospect of a chase. She advances toward the hissing cat in a bouncy, taunting sort of way. The cat hesitates for a moment, then scurries off the driveway and into the trees with a final hiss of disdain. I hold tightly onto the leash to keep Maude from pursuing the cat and dragging me into the thick woods. After a moment, she gives up the pursuit and we continue on, the cat’s footsteps fading away into the brush behind us.
We plunge into the cool shade of the pines and oaks that line some parts of the path. I inhale deeply and recognize another trademark of summer – the array of smells. The countless miles of greenery around me have a strong scent – sharp, almost bitter, but slightly sweet. I’ve never been able to describe it well, but as the pine needles crunch under my feet, the tangy scent overwhelms me and I realize that it is simply the smell of the earth, growing and changing and constantly creating new life in thousands of forms.
We reach the end of the driveway and come to a stop at the gate. The green paint that covers the metal is rusty in some places, and in others, the paint has rubbed away to show the former layer of faded red. The family that lived here many years ago put this gate here. I imagine it was once shining and new, but I like it better how it is now. Creaky and ancient.
Most of the concrete underneath the gate is now covered with layers of dirt and pine needles, but a small bit of it emerges in the corner of the path. If I look closely, I can see initials carved into the rough surface. The letters were written a long time ago, by a child of the farmer that lived here before we did. I can almost see the boy in my mind’s eye, kneeling in the grass and carefully etching the letters of his name in the still-wet concrete underneath the gate. Maybe his siblings were playing nearby, fishing in the pond or splashing in the creek to stay cool in the heat of summer.
I slip Maude’s leash over a fence post and she settles down to wait for my return. I climb over the gate and it clatters loudly as I swing off the other side and land on the gravelly ground. I step forward to the edge of the road, glancing to the left and right to make sure no cars are approaching. As I look to the left, I see a group of slender deer gathered in the tall grass farther down the road. I stare at them and they gaze back at me, their enormous brown eyes wide with curiosity and surprise at my sudden appearance. We quietly regard each other for a moment before they bolt across the road with a clatter of hooves and a flash of white tails. They disappear into the pine forest on the other side.
After a moment, I step out into the road. The crunching sound of my shoes against the asphalt is startlingly loud in the enormous silence of earth and sky and trees. I reach the other side, flip open the mailbox, pull out the stack of mail, and flip quickly through the magazines and newspapers. I smile when I see an envelope with my name written on the front in large, familiar handwriting.
“I got a letter,” I call across to Maude. She looks up from the beetle she is inspecting and wags her tail, politely acknowledging the sound of my voice. The unnecessary words echo up and down the silent road for several seconds before fading away.
I slip the letter into my pocket, hurry back across the road, and swing myself up onto the gate. I remain sitting there for a moment, the stack of mail in my hand, watching as several turkeys emerge from the trees. They chatter noisily to each other as they swagger across the road, narrowly avoiding a dusty pickup truck that appears out of nowhere. It races towards them and they scurry quickly into the trees. The loud roar of the truck’s engine pulls me from my daydream and I clamber down from the gate as it rumbles by. When I reach the ground, Maude greets me as joyfully as if we were apart for several hours instead of several seconds.
I gather Maude’s leash in my hand and gaze at the initials in the ground. My mind wanders once more to the children that once stood where I am standing, lived where I am living, and played where my own siblings and I now run and shout.
Where are they now? Do they remember this place?
I want to remember.
I want to remember the tranquil silence of the pine forests that surround me, tall and ancient and majestic. I want to remember Maude, my best friend, who is nudging my hand with a cold nose to remind me that she’s here and she wants to play. I want to remember the excited shouts of my siblings as they race down the driveway on their dusty bikes. I want to remember the shrill cries of the woodpeckers and the haunting voices of owls as they hunt in the night. I want to remember the wide-eyed deer and the tangy blackberries and the cicada’s summer symphony. I want to remember the overwhelming calm of sitting alone on the rusty gate and watching the beauty of the earth and trees and sky as they grow and move and change.
I w a n t t o r e m e m b e r.
I feel as if my soul is overflowing with thoughts and memories and questions. The sun sinks lower in the sky and paints the world with faded colors and I stand alone among the towering pines, lost in thought, a forgotten envelope in my pocket and forgotten initials at my feet.
This is just how I want it to be.
I pray that I’ll never forget this place.
My dog Maude and I walk down our long driveway and check the mail together almost every evening, and on our walk yesterday I decided I wanted to write about how much I love just being alone with so many miles of trees and sky. It’s really amazing. 🙂 I hope you enjoyed this story – it’s all real, from the wild bike ride to the initials carved in the ground. I really love my home. ❤
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my writing!
What’s one thing that you love about your home?