When i was nine, I was as insouciant a saucy wench as you can imagine. I had no idea I was a child – I almost never thought of myself as any age at all. This was mostly due to the fact that I was home schooled and had little contact that year with any other child but my sister. Actually, I was in my twenties before I realized that I was young, so perhaps it had nothing to do with being home schooled. But I digress – and I will probably do so frequently, so please bear with me.
As I was saying, when I was nine we lived far out on a dirt driveway in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where they raise grass seed for all you compulsive lawn-keeping types. Great, waving fields of grass, let go until they come to ripeness, then harvested for seed.
We lived on a leased acre of land bordered on two sides by great, rampant hedges of blackberry vines, too thick for anything but a mouse to squeeze through. There was a small gap in the hedge near our mobile home, where you could walk through into what had once been either a road or a railway bed, and if you took a left turn and went off down it at an angle away from the house, you would come to the railroad itself, and at 8:30 every night, and 11 in the morning, a freight train would rumble its way past our house.
On the other sides, the house was open to the great grass fields, stretching off to the highway on one side, to the distant tree-lined river on the other, and the woods bordering the wildlife sanctuary on the other. From the beginning it was the sanctuary that drew me. It had been, once upon a distant time, homesteads, and there were still thickly scattered the fruit trees and flowers that bore evidence to those intrepid people. More recently (although still forty years in the past) it had been a military training camp, so across the land were neatly laid a pattern of straight, paved roads, and a man-made lake. Also there were foundations for the long gone Quonset huts that I think must have been there, and one open basement to some grander building.
This was my playground. I was out there all the time in the spring, summer, and fall. The weather was mild enough, I had not yet heard of giardia, so I drank the clear stream water with impunity, and I ate whatever I could find, for already I knew what was good, and what was not, thanks to the tutelage of my Grandmother Kemnow and Euell Gibbons. There were cherries, in the spring, lovely yellow Queen Anne’s first, and later, dark almost black Bings. Also, in the spring, the whole place blossomed with daffodils and narcissi of every descriptions, naturalized for who knew how many years.
I loved the beauty of it, and the freedom to roam without fear of meeting people, companioned by my dog, and sometimes a baby goat. Later, when it was summer, my sister would come with me on occasion, but she was not as happy as I to be entirely away from people, and although we had many adventures together, the sanctuary was my domain.