Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Beyond Piggott's Pond

"I'll race you to the gate." I challenged, figuring this would be an easy win.

"Which gate?" she asked.

“The one beneath that large maple tree at the edge of the hay meadow… the one just beyond Piggott’s Pond.” I confirmed to be sure we both had the same understanding.

“Why do you call it Piggott’s Pond?” she questioned

“Because it’s next to Piggott’s house.” I answered and sounding as if the reason should have been obvious.

“Can’t you think of a better name than that?” she argued.

“Can you think of a better name?” I challenged.

“I suppose not.” She conceded.

“Well then…” I said, considering the subject ended.

“Have you ever gone through there?” she asked, now pointing across the open area and toward the trees on the edge of the far side of the small pond.

“Sure! Many times!” I boasted.

“And the Piggott’s don’t mind?” She wondered

“No, I don’t think so.” I said.

“Why not?” She persisted.

“The pond’s not really on their lot. They just like to think it is.” I stated.

“I’ll wait for you under that tree.” She said, and then she sped off without warning. 

Immediately I took-off determined not be left behind and outdone.

We recklessly raced in a winner-take-all manner across the rock-strewn lot, dodging bushes and tall prickly weeds. Upon reaching the edge of the pond we stopped, bent over gasping to catch our breath.

“Why did you stop?” I asked

“To let you catch up.” She retorted

“Catch up? I’d have been first if we had a fair start.” I countered.

“It was a fair start.” She claimed insistently.

“What?” I asked, probably sounding incredulous

“I started first and you weren’t paying attention.” She explained in manner that meant I should be satisfied with her explanation.

“A race doesn’t start like that.” I argued, believing she had broken unwritten rules about races having a fair start.

“How do you get around from here?” She wondered, deliberately changing the subject

“Ah…so that’s why you stopped.” I concluded.

“Well…I don’t come to these places every day the way you do.” She commented.

“Just follow me.” I instructed.

“I can see things swimming in the water.” She whined a little, sounding somewhat uncertain.

After pausing and turning around to look where she had pointed, I dismissed, “Those are tadpoles. They’re harmless.”

“I don’t think I want to go through here.” She said, now sounding uncertain about what she was doing.

“Here! Look at this!” I exclaimed while bending down and then waved my hand above the water.

We watched the tadpoles quickly scatter in response. For an instant a dragonfly skimmed and hovered above the pond’s surface but quickly darted away when we moved.

“It looked like a tiny helicopter.” She remarked in astonishment.

“See! There’s nothing to be afraid of here.” I stated resolutely, as if the issue had been settled.

I picked up a small flat stone and threw it side-arm to make it skip off the water’s surface. The stone bounced four or five times and then disappeared into the pond.

“It’s easy once you get the knack. Here! Give it a try.” I suggested while handing her the next stone.

“I’ve never tried this before.” She revealed.

Before I could offer any more advice, she threw the stone downward rather than sideways, hitting the water near our feet. The stone noisily slapped the surface and sunk, splashing us in the process.

“You’re supposed to throw it side-arm like this.” I berated while going through the motion to show how a stone was supposed to be hurled to make it skip.

Oblivious to my actions, she said, “I’m not supposed to get wet today.”

“Rather late to worry about that now, don’t’ you think?” I answered glibly.

We looked at each other for a moment and then laughed. Who would be the wiser after we dried off?

“What are those over there on the other side?” She asked while pointing.

“They’re cattails.” I confirmed.

“Why are they called that?” She inquired, her curiosity piqued by the name.

“Maybe because they’re supposed to look and feel like a cat’s tail.” I explained.

“Let’s go over there. I want to see one up close.” She insisted.

“Follow carefully so you won’t get wet.” I suggested.

“Rather late to worry about that now, don’t you think?” she repeated, mimicking the manner in which I had made my comment earlier.

We stepped and hopped on top of stones and skirted around the edge of the pond that was farthest from the Piggott’s house, just in case they did mind our passing through.

“Those are from last year.” I explained, noticing the decayed grey-brown colouring and that fluff was coming loose from the cattails.

“They’re too far out in the water to reach.” She decided.

“Let me try… I think I can get that one.” I said, pointing to one near a large rock that was protruding out of the water like a tiny island.

“Be careful.” She warned.

Backing up a few paces, I ran, jumped over the water and deftly landed upon the rock. Using my pocket knife, I cut low to leave a long stem on the cattail. A moment later in triumph I held the cattail high like a scepter. A little bit of the cattail fell loose and floated away like dandelion fluff.

“Here, hold on to this while I jump back there.” I instructed, while leaning over as far as I could to hand off the cattail.

“It doesn’t feel anything like a cat or a cat’s tail.” She commented rather disdainfully.

“Doesn’t really look like one either” I added.

“…and this fluffy stuff keeps falling off.” She complained, sounding disgusted.

“Let me have that. I know just what to do with it.” I remarked

Holding the cattail by the stem, I slammed it hard against a rock. The cattail exploded into a cloud of fluff that flew everywhere and stuck to us like lint.

“Yuck!” She cried out loudly.

“Wasn’t that great!?” I exclaimed with glee and delighted with the result.

“This stuff’s in my hair and on my clothes.” She whined; she was upset.

Did you see the way that fluff flew everywhere all at once? I asked happily and oblivious to the mess on the two of us.

“Why did you do that?” She challenged as she was pulling bits of fluff from her hair.

“Because I knew it would do that.” I answered and threw what remained of the cattail on the ground.

“My Mom’s not going to be happy about this.” She stated rather glumly.

“Rather late to worry about that now, don’t’ you think?” I said deliberately, trying to mimic her earlier mimicking of me.

Saying nothing, she gave me a strange look and then resumed pulling fluff off her clothes.

“Let’s go!” I said.

“Aren’t you sorry? She asked.

“Sorry for what?” I questioned, wondering why she was asking.

“Sorry for what you just did” she elaborated.

“Not really.” I replied.

“No?” She questioned further in a tone of disbelief.

“No.” I confirmed as if what I did was no big deal.

“Then I’m not sorry either.” She stated strangely.

“Sorry for what?” I asked.

She bent down, picked up the spent cattail and said, “For this!”

Before I could say anything else she hit me on top of my head with the remainder of the cattail, scattering more fluff and then she ran off through the trees toward the meadow.

Stunned by the surprise of her action, I just watched first and then followed. I wasn’t going to win this race. 

Beyond the far side of the pond and just over a tree-lined stone wall was a large hay meadow that had already been mowed twice since the start of the growing season. An old, weathered-to-gray wooden gate was on the far side of that meadow next to an ancient maple tree with many large spread-out branches that sheltered the gate like a canopy.

As she was clambering over the stone wall I was able to catch up. Clear of the wall, the two of us raced recklessly through the knee-high hay and across the meadow toward the gate, neither of us seeming to gain an advantage over the other and take the lead. We reached the tree and the gate at the same time, finally stopping to catch our breath.

“That was mean.” I commented.

“You weren’t sorry.” she replied.

“Well I didn’t hit you with it.” I stated to emphasize my point.

“Rather late to worry about that now, don’t you think?” she said, again repeating and mimicking my earlier comment.

“Maybe.” I conceded half-heartedly and said nothing else.

The beginning of autumn was not far away. Some of the maple’s leaves had already turned bright red-orange and had fallen. We stood at the gate saying nothing else and looked into the woods where the trail led.

“I’ve been here a few times but never been beyond the gate.” She finally said to break the silence.

“I went in there once but not far.” I revealed.

“Were you scared?” She wondered.

“Of course not.” I insisted confidently.

“But it’s rather dark in there.” She commented.

“Not really after you’re in there.” I continued.

“Where does the trail lead to? She asked.

“It just goes through the forest and then a swamp and ends at a main trail.” I detailed from my having been there before.

“That’s it?” she asked, sounding as if she had been expecting something more.

“There’s another meadow like this over there but I didn’t go beyond the junction.” I explained.

“Where do you think it leads to?” She questioned and now sounding curious.

“I’m not sure really, but I’m sure if you turn left at the junction, it’ll lead to the river.” I surmised.

“I won't go to the river.” She stated emphatically.

“One day I’ll go down there.” I declared.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I want to. That’s why.” I insisted.

“Can you climb this tree?” She asked, abruptly changing the subject.

“No.” I stated with conviction.

“Why not?” she prodded.

“Too difficult!” I reasoned. The real reason was that I hated to be high off the ground; high places terrified me.

“I can climb this tree!” She boasted with certainty.

“I doubt it.” I dismissed right away.

“Because I’ve done it before.” She added.

“Really?” I challenged, shocked by her revelation.

I had always thought of her as a bit timid about most things but at times she did have a spontaneous, unpredictable and very defiant nature that could surface and completely astonish me.

“Sure! Just watch!” She bragged and proceeded to show me how to do it.

She was just able to reach the lowest branch by standing on the gate-post, and then like an experienced gymnast she effortlessly lifted herself up on to the branch.

“It’s easy! Come on up!” she exclaimed, now standing on the thick branch and looking down at me.

“Easy for you maybe but I’m staying down here.” I insisted.

“Come up here!” she demanded.

“No.” I stated emphatically.

“You probably think I can’t guess.” She remarked.

“Guess about what?” I asked carefully.

“That you’re afraid of heights.” She surmised.

“That’s not the reason.” I countered, vainly trying to hide my weakness.

“Are you going to deny it?” She cross-examined like a lawyer.

“No.” I replied, hoping to put an end to this subject which was making me uncomfortable.

"Here! Watch what I can do!" she announced, again abruptly changing the subject.

She climbed higher into the maple tree, climbing as high as she thought it possible. The palms of my hands became sweaty from just watching.

“I’ve never been this far up before!” She exclaimed with excitement.

“Be careful!” I warned.

“I thought you didn’t care.” She responded in a teasing manner.

“I don’t.” I answered.

“I think you do.” She argued.

“If you fell I wouldn’t know what to do.” I logically explained.

“Should we find out?” she offered and sounding serious.

“No!” I yelled. 

Her unpredictable nature made me nervous.

“Hey! I can see the river from up here!” She exclaimed.

“You can also see it from the ground.” I reminded her, wishing she would come down.

“Not from down there.” She pointed out.

“What else can you see?” I asked, now curious about what was beyond the limits we knew.

“I can see that other meadow!” She announced.

“Anything else?” I asked

“Some mountains in the distance.” She replied.

“I know about those. One day I’m going there.” I stated with a determination that I was one day going to do so.

“Really?” she questioned, sounding somewhat surprised by my answer.

A few moments later she carefully climbed down, hung by her hands from the lowest branch and dropped to the ground making a rather heavy thud; she did not move.

“Are you okay? I asked while moving toward her when she did not get up.

“I knew you cared.” She answered with a sly smile and then jumped up.

“I always thought you were afraid of everything.” I admitted, astonished that she actually had climbed almost to the top of the old maple tree.

“I hate only two things.” She claimed.

“What two things?” I wondered.

“Bugs and yucky things.” she stated.

“Tadpoles too, I guess.” I teased deliberately, remembering how timid she had seemed at Piggott’s Pond.

“Those are yucky things! And so’s everything else at that pond!” she exclaimed insistently.

“Let’s go in there.” I suggested, ignoring her last remark and pointing toward the trail beyond the gate.

“I can't go past this gate.” She said, walking up to it.

“Who’s going to know?” I challenged.

“Me! You! This tree! The gate!” she detailed as she quickly pointed in sync toward each.

“Well I won’t say anything.” I promised.

“Neither shall I.” She confirmed.

She stepped up on the bottom rail of the gate, hooked her elbows over the top rail and faced the dark woods. I stood beside her on the ground, also resting my arms on the top rail of the gate facing in the same direction.

“Shall we go over?” I asked.

“No.” She said, and then stepped down.

“I’m going anyway.” I announced and climbed over the gate.

I waited a minute, expecting that she would climb over the gate also but she did not.

"Are you coming?" I finally prodded because she had not moved.

"No!" she confirmed decidedly.

"Then I'll see you later." I said, turned around and then started walking into the woods.

The Oddblock Station Agent