1967. I was shorter then. Chunky, plaid skirt, scratchy wool sweaters and cold, cold nose at school. We lived just down the street from what to my 10 year old self was an immense unpopulated area. Fields and woods. A stream. Trees that we could climb in, sit under and explore, explore. The map of that place is etched in my mind like the maps of fantasy lands at the beginning of massive novels written about elves and trolls. . .
One cold crisp spring morning we set out on a mission. Sticks in hand, we marched down our short suburban street wearing knee-high rubber boats, dungaree pants, blouses and shirts buttoned up, spring jackets with mysterious crumbs and bits of lint in our pockets. Our sticks were weapons; they were wands; they were our armor against the cruel comfort that was the natural world.
We were allowed to be out back then. In fact, our mothers had shut the doors of our brick suburban houses, sent us into the woods with more than permission, we were actually told not to come home until lunch.
We spent the morning exploring, my brother and me. Tromping, stomping, hitting trunks and rocks with our sticks, feeling the crispy still partially frozen earth beneath our feet, spongy yellow grasses, matted from the snow over the winter, now melted, now beginning to show small green shoots that would soon grow high and turn the open fields into jungles of tall grass. Still able to see into the woods, see the rocks on the forest floor, fallen branches, old rotting trunks. We walked along the brown mud paths, circling always, never straying too far from home. Our inner compasses never strayed, still set towards the cozy warmth of our mothers’ yellow and turquoise kitchens.
We came across a swampy area.
There are baby frogs under there I told them authoritatively.
More correctly, eggs that were about to hatch into tadpoles. I knew because the year before we had brought some home in a bottle and watched one of them actually grow legs and almost become a frog. . . before it died from our neglect. . . in its warm rotting water. . .
Hungry and bored, and perhaps put off by the possibility of another lecture from his big sister, my brother headed home.
I stayed behind. I was not finished yet. I needed a bit more time alone in that wild, real place, some ancient pagan impulse stirring inside me. . . still allowed share space in my brain. Still viable. . . not pushed too far down yet.
I stood on the edge of the pond. The ice still covered it, thick enough. . . I thought. So I stepped forward, the toe of my rubber boot testing the strength of the ice. Pushing down and forward. . . lifting my other foot, placing it in front of the first, moving out onto the white, solid, now mushy ice. . .one step forward, and another. . . feeling the sponginess, but compelled to move forward slowly. . . not because I wanted anything, only because I needed to test the ice, I needed to feel the excitement of taking a risk, feeling the same stirring within me that I did when we swung so high on the swings that the swing set began to wobble.
One more step forward and then I started going down and down. I sank slowly, gradually, gracefully, inevitably into the swamp beneath me. The ice didn’t crack, it was so soft, it simply opened up beneath my feet. My boots slowly sank into the icy softness, down and deeper, the freezing cold water now pouring into my boots and filling them up. . . the water wasn’t deeper than my thighs, but it was oh so cold. Freezing cold.
I wasn’t afraid. I knew instinctively it would not engulf me. I knew it was not deep. And so I was able to think of more than my own survival. I thought of the creatures whose habitat I had crashed through like a giant from above. I thought of the poor little tadpoles I was disturbing below . . . their cold, reptilian world now invaded by a giantess who had so thoughtlessly stomped on heir home. . . destroying their natural order. . . bringing the light and sun into their dark world before it was time.
I don’t remember pulling myself out or even emptying my boots . I don’t remember the squishy, sloshy walk home. All I remember is my sorrow at waking up the tadpoles so patiently waiting to be born.