Thursday, November 10, 2005


It was autumn in New England, and the last of the hummingbirds made a hasty stop at the wild flowers growing nearby before heading south for the winter. A stand of tall, fragrant pine trees lined the rough, rocky shore of the river, and it was mine alone to enjoy. The swift, swirling current formed white-capped waves that threw gray globs of lifeless jelly fish onto the shore. Here and there, decaying skeletons of crabs were scattered around the beach; most were small and green, their legs – still attached – swaying to the rhythm of the tides. Large horseshoe crabs formed a deadly oasis; fortified by large spikes standing straight and tall at the base of the shells, a warning to beachcombers and gulls alike to stay away.

I sat down on a log taking in the view; the smell of salt in the air a reminder that the river spilled into the ocean only a few miles downstream. This was my sanctuary, the perfect place to escape my nosy brother and sister, who were probably rummaging through my treasures at this very moment; a place known only to myself. The sound of the water lapping at the shore was briefly interrupted by the sound of a tugboat, guiding a tanker through the channel to the ocean, where it would depart for an unknown destination.

A long stick peeking out of the water caught my eye, and I gingerly made my way into the water to pick it up. It was a thin branch from a pine tree and I quickly removed the remaining needles and wispy branches. I liked the sound they made as the sticks snapped off in my hand, even though it stung a little. Pine tree branches made great sticks for poking things, and they smelled good. I didn’t much care for the black signature the pitch left in my hand, so I quickly washed my hands in the cold river. Still, it was a good stick for poking jellyfish.

I wanted to reach down and touch one of the gray globs. Did it feel as soft and smooth as it looked? My mother always warned me not to touch the jellyfish because the tentacles would sting like a bee – only worse. I bent down to get a closer look, my bottom nearly touching the water from the waves created by the boats as they passed. I didn’t see any tentacles, but decided not to touch it after all. I nudged it a little with my sneaker. The jellyfish was rubbery, and I liked the way it felt, giving slightly under the pressure of my Keds. By now the water squished between my toes, so I walked the length of the beach to dry my sneakers, down to the big rocks that jutted out into the river, blocking my way, forcing me to turn back.

One day I decided to share my sanctuary with my best friend, Renee. I showed her the path I found through the woods. It straddled the field behind our houses, and was always bursting with wild strawberries and blueberries throughout the summer. I told her of the hummingbirds and chattering blue jays, and of course the jelly fish.
Approaching the river, we saw two strange boys tending a fire. They were much older than we, and little red flags of alarm went off in my head. I could feel my neck stiffen as they addressed us. “Hey, looky here!” The boy poking at the fire looked up. “What do you think we should do with them?” he asked and they both began laughing. Renee and I turned and ran as fast as we could back through the woods, to the safety of home.

Even though I didn’t understand what the boys were talking about, or why they were laughing, I never went back to my spot by the river. It was tainted – no longer mine alone – so I found another spot deeper into the woods. The sad remnants of a rusted tractor sat at the edge of a small brook. I sat down and leaned against the base of a tall pine tree. The sunlight streaming through the canopy of pines made the water glimmer like diamonds, and I could almost see the fairies hiding among the lady slippers and toadstools. The brook had awakened a creative force, and it surged through me as the river surged toward the open sea.

I never went back to my place at the river’s edge, but it is the place I return to time and time again in my mind. As an adult now, when the pressures of the world become too much to bear, when I long for home and the unmistakable smell of salt spray in the cold air, I return to the river – my sanctuary – my Atlantis.


Post a Comment

<< Home