Monday, June 14, 2010

The Thickets of Memory

A riff on Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel.

Once upon a time we lived in a tiny white cottage on a property called The Millrace. It was named so because of the crumbling remains of the water gates and because the remnant hollow of the race ran the length of the property. A conservation area along a creek protected many acres on one side of us and a vast corn field occupied the other.

Ours was the last house at the end of a street. Situated as it was on the boundary between village and country, between urban and rural, our property was a wonderful place to raise children to a knowledge and appreciation of the natural world. And to teach them not to fear dark woods at night.

We taught them to identify birds and nests and trees and animal tracks. We examined old overgrown stone foundations and gathered raspberries. We collected fossils from the creek bed. We dug yellow clay from its banks, moulded it in imitation of Indian pots and platform pipes and sundry other items and fired them in a bonfire in the back yard so they could understand a primitive but effective process. We showed them how to survive and escape if they fell through ice.

One child said later that geology 101 was a breeze--she had already learned all about ox-bows and Ordovician shale from our forays along the creek.

Our place, with its hawthornes and lilacs and willows and apple trees, where foxes ran in moonlight, contained a certain magic. One wintery day we saw a partridge in a pear tree.

And one day the children discovered this fawn hidden in the tangled brush at the very back of our property. One of them carefully snapped this photograph.

It reminded me how bits and pieces of our lives work their way into our stories ("O ghost...come back again.") The old cemetery beside Lillie's white house where Dumbarton chases wraiths in Dark and Disorderly stretched its narrow length along our street.

Our little cottage is gone now, swallowed by development ("gone and by the wind grieved")

A BTW: Most of you already know the tale, but this morning, Dark and Disorderly appears in Dear Author's weekly First Sale feature.


raine said...

Your little white cottage sounds wonderful. :)
And yes, I suspect there's more of us and our histories in our stories than we think.

Bernita said...

Raine, it was very cramped inside--in the kitchen, one didn't take a deep breath and open the oven door at the same time--but it was wide and wonderful outside.

Charles Gramlich said...

So many elements from my childhood showed up in my Taleran books. The map of that world is essentially the map of the farm where I spent my first 18 years.

StarvingWriteNow said...

LOL at your comment "one didn't take a deep breath and open the oven door at the same time"... sounds like my kitchen right now!

laughingwolf said...

great bit of your history, love it!

as kids, sis and i lived in small quarters as well, with all kinds of things to explore outside, same as yours did...

Bernita said...

Charles, I like that!
I suppose we do it because we feel it gives our stories certainty, a form of accuracy.

And the things I managed to produce in that kitchen, SWN, bread and pickles and jams, raspberry vinegar and ketchup...

Thank you, LW.
Outside they could be alone if they wanted to.

fairyhedgehog said...

Your Dear Author piece is very moving.

I'm so impatient for the 28th!

Bernita said...

Thank you, fairy.
I will be more disapointed than you if you don't care for it.

Demon Hunter said...

The cottage sounds cool. :-D I think we all write from some experiences--even in fiction.

Barbara Martin said...

I think it's a common element of writers to put bits of their childhood or life into their stories. I certainly do, although it tends to be more environment and location (i.e. mountains and creatures).

Fawns discovered by accident is a precious moment. Until you mentioned the photo was of a fawn, I had only thought the spots were some trick of the light.

Bernita, your story will do famously.

Bernita said...

Tyhitia, I'm sure we do, and sometimes the oddest things.

Having lived among magnificent scenery as you have, Barbara, you have an exciting background on which to draw. Mine is much more pedestrian.
The fawn is very well hidden, isn't it? The children thought it wise not to go closer.And you are right, that moment of discovery will be a precious, special moment to them always.
Thank you.It's kind of you to say so.

Anonymous said...

And in those thickets, they will forever walk.

BernardL said...

The little cottage will never be gone now.

Bernita said...

Jason and Bernard, thank you for such lovely thoughts!You almost made me cry.

(Who said manly men can't be sensitive!)

SzélsőFa said...

what a lovely bunch of memories you have!
it makes me see the importance of parents giving an actively inspiring, random and rich enviromment for their children.
the fact that one of the kids may become a writer someday is just an additional bonus :)

Bernita said...

SzelsoFa, thank you. Our children were a joy.
One summer, we took day trips to a number of historical sites/zoos/museums within driving reach.