I debated myself on whether this was something worth posting to dA, and eventually decided that I would just post it as a journal rather than a deviation. Here is an essay of sorts written very recently for English 311 (aka Exposition), as part of an assignment on meaning via description--some of you may note parallels between this piece and the most recent Cycles of Calm entry, for which this essay was a good warm-up.
-The Winding Way-
Fairyland is real. I know this because, as a child, I made regular trips into that country during the summer. My family lived on the border between here and there, in a neighborhood of the sort favored by poets and new families: a small neighborhood, where everyone left cookie baskets on each other’s doorsteps at Christmas, and where, during Easter, we would spot deer watching us from the fringes as we gathered eggs, waiting for us to finish so that they could get back to the business of eating the best seedlings in our garden.
As expected, I spent much of my time outdoors as a child, as this was before the Internet became more than a word (or the place where my brother spent all his time, for reasons I would later understand all too well) to me. At first, I spent my time building miniature grass forts and tying dandelion rings in the front yard, but my imagination soon outgrew our lawn, and—due to it being a safe neighborhood—I was permitted to head up the hill to play with a neighbor’s golden retriever. She was too old and sagely for my antics, though, and soon I grew bored again, and began to wander ever further from my house.
To the north of the neighborhood lay woods, and a trail surrounded by tall grass, which the adults forbade the children of the neighborhood to enter alone on account of the wild animals that lived there. We could take the path, though, under the supervision of an adult or one of the older children. I made a friend (who I still remember vividly) who counted as something in between, either a young adult or an older-older child. In either case, he was qualified to accompany me along the path in the late summer afternoons, to walk with me until the sky deepened and the first fireflies began to glow.
How far along the path we walked varied per day, and there was plenty of path to walk. The first part of the path wound, riverlike, through abandoned fields, through seed-heavy grasses that swayed above my head. Passing by, we would hear the barking, chirruping, or squawking of the animals that dwelt behind the grass. We never stopped in the first section of the path—instead, we would amble onwards to where the forest began, to where the old, old mulberry trees grew. They belonged to no one, and so we were free to pick mulberries and eat them under the trees while listening to the animals. My friend knew much about the animals who lived there—which voice belonged to whom, what food each of them liked—and often, we would stop there, and he would tell me their names.
Sometimes, though, we would walk onward, leaving the fields behind and venturing deeper into the pleasant shade of the forest. The forest itself was half-wild, but friendly, and though its vines patterned the path, its trees never completely blocked out the sky. Here, the barking and squawking gave way to chirping and trilling, and my friend would pause, head cocked, to listen for and name this or that bird. Each time, he would mourn that I could not see them. He brought along an Audubon squeaker, and kissed the edge of his little finger—a tactic that he swore worked everywhere else, despite how ridiculous he looked—but no birds answered the call. Only once did we spot one, a tiny, loud-voiced swallow with a brilliant red chest and throat, who flew off shortly afterwards.
Many clearings dappled the woods towards their end, and here and there we could glimpse an aged bench or a leaf-covered slide. Further along the path laid a meadow with a small barn and a wheelbarrow out front, both of which were always, I remember, in excellent shape. We never saw the family to which they must have belonged, and so when we walked along the path and saw the wheelbarrow resting in a different spot each time, I imagined that it had a life of its own. My friend said nothing to disprove this. Instead, as the trees gave way to homely gardens and mossy ponds, we talked about more mundane things—my classmates, my teachers, the oppressively short recesses, the onset of that academic tax called homework.
He would listen patiently to all I had to say, smiling—enough to encourage, never enough to patronize. “I think you’re doing great,” he would say afterwards. “Keep it up—you really are doing better than you think.” They were words I always took for granted, back in those days. Further ahead, the path crested upwards, almost too slowly to notice, and then we would find ourselves atop a hill, watching the path drop away and snake though the meadows. In the distance, on the other end, there sprawled the darkly glinting roofs of another neighborhood. Here was where we always stopped, sometimes to take in the view, always to eventually turn back and head back down the path, back through the woods, back through the fields to our neighborhood. There was no reason for us to go further.
I spent two summers visiting that path before my father found a job at a major teaching hospital. Then we moved, my family and I, and for years I was shut up in a gated neighborhood where, both within and outside its walls for miles beyond, the trees grew only in neat rows and fountains dotted the lakes rather than fish.
One day, when I am free to buy flights of my own, I may return to my Fairyland and walk along the path again, seeing what has or has not changed. The mulberry trees, I am certain, will still be there, still bearing their best fruit on the branches that are too high for me to reach on my own. The neighborhood that I watched from the hill, too, will still stand—I cannot speak for the wheelbarrow. The fields may be ever more overgrown, or their wildness may have been trimmed back. But they will still be there, creaking in the wind.
But there are others I am not so certain about. My memories may have been distorted by time, as I remember a raccoon we saw with jagged black stripes, and frogs that wore lilypads for hats. I remember butterflies larger than I have ever seen elsewhere, and a creature with fur—hair?—as green as a lime, that dove back into the grass as we passed by. I do not even know if I remember my friend correctly, or even if I am remembering him at all—if I am not imagining him instead. For when I remember him, I remember him—a young man—with silver hair.
It is all real to me, though. It is as real as the house I lived in after we moved away from that neighborhood—real as the gold-flecked black marble countertops, real as the elaborate, twisted, wrought-iron railings, real as the enormous picture windows flanking the living room, from which I would sometimes hear a thud and through which I would see a bird lying in the grass with a broken neck. It is as real as the unlit closet I would, late at night, find my mother crying in, sometimes because of my father, sometimes because of me. It is all real, necessarily so.
And it will continue to be real, even if—when—I return. I do not expect to see raccoons with spiky fur, or butterflies larger than my hand. I do not know if I will see my friend, though I will stand under the mulberry trees and try to remember all that he told me. I will stand there, between the forest and the fields or upon a hill, listening to a sound like howling, and remember that it was all real, real.