My grandmother owned a small farm in New England, originally settled by her grandparents many years before. It sat up on a hill, with views of distant mountains, in a lovely country setting. The house was situated on a dirt road about a tenth of a mile from a main highway. My parents’ property bordered the dirt road abutting my grandmother’s property and our long driveway met the main highway. Due to the danger of speeding traffic, I was never allowed to walk along this highway, but I could walk through the woods to visit my grandmother.
I can’t remember when I first got permission to go–perhaps age 5 or 6–but I never went with an adult and no one had walked with me prior to my first solo walk. I decided I wanted to do it. Once I started, I continued to go on a regular basis several times a week in the fall, winter, and spring, but rarely in the summer as I spent summers away helping with my parents’ business.
I can vividly remember how I would set out from home and unlock the back shed door which opened to a fruit orchard. Often a gust of wind would swing it open, slamming it against the wall of the building. I would grab it with my tiny little hands and push my whole body against the door to close it and fasten the lock. From there I walked through our old orchard with its pear, cherry, and apple trees. I climbed over the stone wall, under a barbwire fence, and then I was in the woods.
The woods were dense with a mix of red cedars and evergreen trees. The only direction my dad gave me was to go straight to the big pine tree and then keep going until I met up with the cow path. This I did, sometimes stopping for a minute or two under the wide branches of the white pine tree, then heading straight until I met up with the trail. Then I walked along this cow path, which was eight or ten inches deep in places; it had been firmly packed down by the cows on their way to the watering hole, a small man-made pond. Sometimes I would hear the cows coming, as one always had a cow bell on a collar around her neck. I would step aside between the trees and let them pass.
On I hurried until I came to the cattle gate which separated the two properties. It was an old-fashioned gate, with cedar poles twelve to fourteen feet long going across, stacked as high as eight feet tall. The cross posts held up the rails and the whole gate leaned over, making the climb up treacherous, especially if wet. It was like climbing a wall overhanging towards you. The rails were loose fitting and would turn when I put my weight on them; I used my arms and legs to scramble over the top, then gingerly turned around and climbed down the other side.
From here I could see my grandmother’s house and barn. I walked though a field, where sometimes I was greeted by another cow or two. This field was fenced in, and there was a gate to unlock, so I always checked to make sure I locked it behind me before going on, as the cows were watching me with a keen interest. Then I checked the vegetable garden as I walked around the clothesline to the well curb in the dooryard. I could hear the chickens clucking from a distance and they would scatter as I crossed the yard.
If I had hurried and was thirsty I would stop at the well, pumping the handle a few times until the water came out of the head. I would take the metal cup, rinse it with the cold water, fill the cup, and drink–oh so cold and fresh! I would sprint across the driveway, up the steps, push open the screen door on the porch, and hurry into the kitchen. I was at my grandmother’s house.
-July 15, 2014