Flumes Volume 2: Issue 1, Summer 2017 - Page 69

Ash trees and maple stand out against the occasional hickory and dogwood. Honeysuckles, daylilies, and anemones throw up brilliant sprays of cool glossy green and hot bright color. Sometimes, where the river meets the ocean, I experience again that waking dream. I become again eight years old, running with my cousins, canvas shoes squeaking in the muck, and the sounds of the shoes pulling free echoing the frogs and crickets and fast-moving night birds. The sky above us filters pink and purple. Ducks and wood storks lift their wings over the still water of the deeper marsh. Squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and their predators push through the brush. A car radio plays softly in the distance, and the smell of unfiltered cigarettes drifts down the with the music. Aunt Dot calls our names with weary patience. In a while, my uncles come stumbling back out of the night with buckets of bullfrogs and deep grunting laughter. By then we are all lying around on blankets eating from bowls of buttermilk and cold cornbread, watching the stars blink out above us, listening to my aunts whispering gossip and lies. It is a dream full of safety, love, sheer physical pleasure, and the scent of a ripe and beautiful landscape, a landscape that has all but disappeared. Only for the duration of the dream does it become again painfully real. If that landscape were not safe somewhere, would my dreams survive? Could my stories live in a world where children never ran free in that place where all my hopes were first shaped?

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When my son runs down the hill through the trees, shouting for Mama and laughing as freely as only a baby can laugh, I cup my hands in stubborn hopefulness, making to him the promise my mama could never keep to me. I

will make this place safe for him, bring him back to this landscape throughout his life, this wild country of beauty and hope and mystery. Each time he calls for me from those trees in the dusk, I promise again. Each time praying I can keep my promise.

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This essay appears in the collection "Skin" which is available on Amazon Kindle

This essay first appeared in A Geography of Hope, A benefit collection for The Last Great Places Project of the Nature Conservancy. (Pantheo/Vintage: New York, 1994).

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