When I was a child, I used to imagine (as we went for long drives through the countryside) that every copse of trees, every shrub-surrounded grove of thick grass, could be home. Perhaps I should explain; I was not a particularly sad child, certainly not neglected or abused, from a very typical middle-class family growing up in a very typical middle-class world. Perhaps it was my fascination with literature that gave me such fanciful ideas. Perhaps just the boredom of miles and miles with nothing to do but stare out the window at the passing scenery. I would imagine myself as one of these 'wild children', living off of the land, or perhaps a gypsy, telling fortunes and stealing chickens from the nearby farms. These fantasies would get very elaborate, to where in the 20 seconds or so that my 'magical spot' remained in view, I was imagining how I'd move this tree trunk there, or build a fort there, hang a cloth this way. What I'd say my name was, my story was, if anyone found me.
Which was all childish silliness really, as I never actually considered running away from home to live in a forest or field or any such place. It was more of an idle distraction, a short excerpt into another world. Lulled into daydreaming by the drone of conversation coming from the front of the car, my mind would wander over the landscape, placing myself amongst a varied tapestry of settings as the car clattered on.
There was one place in particular though, where a stream curved through the corner of a farm to the treeline that usually marks the boundaries of different land-owners. (My father used to tell me that the reason that property lines always had trees and underbrush was because long ago there had been fences there. The birds perch on the fences and where birds perch, birds poop, thus depositing seeds and such into the straight rows along the fenceline). Years pass and the original fence falls into disrepair but the lines are clearly drawn. Kind of like nature taking back over but still respecting the boundaries of man.
This particular place had a cluster of evergreen trees in an almost perfect circle, with the little creek flowing through. Though it seemed as if the creek had changed its bed more than once as the entire area was scattered with the perfectly smoothed river rocks that I imagined I'd build a wall out of. To my eight-or-nine-year-old-self it seemed the most magical of places, especially when we'd drive by it in the evening and the sun would reflect off of the water. I dreamed myself an Elf in my private patch of forest, fashioning a bow from sapling branches and building a fort that I would then defend. I dreamed myself like a bird that would weave the evergeen needles into a fantastic nest touching every treetop - which was very impractical but in my imagination it sat above the grove like a great green crown, never withering, and I'd make a spiral staircase leading up to it from the rocks. The laws of physics were never really relevant to my 20 second musings as we drove on by.
Of course - I grew up - as all children must, and later learned to drive myself, and the magical places became just scenery on the way to wherever it was I was headed.
Since then I've watched many other landscapes go by - jagged snow capped mountains, scorched deserts, orchards and oceans, swamplands and seas. Places whose reality is far more fantastical than anything I could have imagined in the rural farm lands of my youth. I've swam through coral reefs and looked down from mountain peaks at miles of my own footprints, shouted at the great waterfalls and delved through unexplored caves. But I've never been able to shake the memory of my special place, off highway 464, in a town so small you'd miss it if you weren't headed there intentionally.
I'm writing this from 8,000 miles away, give or take, from that place that may no longer exist, and I feel a strange yearning for it, and a compulsion to go, bringing nothing but my bare hands, and create my childhood paradise. I ask myself what is so wrong with where I am, that I feel so compelled? Why now after all these years?
I lower my eyes and stare out the window, watching unfamiliar trees blowing in an unfamiliar wind, but no answer comes.