When my childhood house went cold—not the oxygen and nitrogen, but the mood, the atmosphere around my parents—when that froze into stasis, into wariness, into step-lightly-quietly-invisibly, I would retreat outside where I could breathe without inhaling daggers of ice. I could walk, exhale, stand still and let the fluid air move past me, that river-wind, the water-breeze. To the river I walked to watch geese waddle, fish jump, crayfish snap. I climb my tree. I sink into her branches, her cradling limbs; this bough won’t break. I follow the turbulence of the waves as the river tumbles past boulders and semi-submerged logs. Ripple, spiral, swirl: the action and ease of flowing water. Too soon the earth turns away from the sun and I can’t stay by the river forever, so I tuck the images inside me, nestle the sights and smells into the nooks of my body. I nurture that river within and carry her with me: to school the next day, to my home when it grows chill again. I carry those river experiences all the way into the future to draw upon when needed. This river never runs dry.
The path between two houses was clear. It did not seem to belong to either house. Tucked on the far side of a small cul-de-sac, the asphalt path led down a hill. Would I be trespassing? Would someone see me? Where did this path lead? The last question tipped the scale in favor and I strolled down the path.
I followed the curve to the right. Buckthorn was so thick, the view of the lake was obscured. The path led to the water’s edge and a wide vista opened up. Sun shining off the lake surface, trees on the other side.
My breathing slowed. I opened my palms out to catch the lake breeze, so it could sweep my angst, my anxiety, my concerns away for a moment. I basked.
When I turned back up the path, I noticed the asphalt trailed into the thicket. Overgrown buckthorn clogged the trail, but a hint of path remained. I followed, the twigs grabbed at my coat and hair. I swept the spider webs aside with a broken branch I picked up. I followed. Bits and chunks of tar and asphalt poked through the soil and leaves. Where had this trail come from? Why was it uncared for? Why had it been allowed to become nearly impassable? How far did it go?
A few steps further on, there was an opening at the shore. I sat on the leafy trail. A muskrat swam away, the fur of her head wet and sleek. A heron at the other shore took flight. I didn’t mean to disturb these creatures. I felt I had stumbled upon a secret place, a hidden, long-untouched place.
After years of living in my house, I discovered this side of Red Rock Lake, two blocks from my house.