Goodbye to Home – December 25, 2002

Snow is falling, hard and fast. The pine trees in the backyard, which have stood since before the house was built, are swaying in the breeze, ponderous heavy things with their boughs weighed down, brushing the ground. Inside their branches are clear circles of ground covered with dried brown needles and sheltered from the wind.

My mom and I walk outside, camera in hand, to record our frolicking and prove that we were here, together, when it snowed. We snap pictures of me beside a bare shrub, each tiny branch outlined in snow. Beside the chestnut tree that made a mess of every picnic we ever had with its spiny seed pods, now bare and stark against the driving storm. The sky is white with a hint of turning to grey. My mom turns to go inside and I am seized by a whim. “Let’s go back,” I say. “Into the woods.”

So we do. We step around the pine trees and cross the back lot, with its white carpet of snow flanked by low trees and bushes. I make my mom stop to take a picture of these sentinels, and again when we draw near the woods.

It has been years since I was in these woods. I grew up here. When we moved, when I was eight, the back lot was overgrown by shoulder-high reeds and grasses, and a carpet of poison ivy made every step treacherous. My sister and I found we were joyfully immune to poison ivy, and we tramped through the lot into the woods, where skunk cabbage grew along the banks of a small stream, dotted with rocks and fallen branches, and then beyond to an island, another stream, and a hill that led up to the railroad tracks an acre or so away. When Lyme disease became a feared foe in our state, we tied back our hair with bandanas and did the obligatory tick checks upon coming inside, and we went less to the woods and stayed more in the backyard, lounging in hammocks and reading or just staring out the window when it got too hot in the summer or there were too many bees.

Now, it is winter. There are no bees. There are no ticks. I see a squirrel in the far distance, crossing through the trees. The ground is wet, but there are paths through, by criss-crossing branches and gripping on to trees to support oneself. Snow blows into my eyes and hair and settles on my eyelashes and cheeks. I laugh and stare back through the storm at the pine trees hiding the house from view. The stream is running high when we reach it. We cannot cross, or our boots will be soaked through, and our socks, and our jeans. I stand on the bank, take a picture of the river and then of my mom, lean against a tree trunk and feel that I am home, this is my property, this beautiful place, and it makes me happy.

My mom cuts back toward the house, yelling behind her not to wait too long. I shout an affirmative and pause in the woods for a moment, listening to the storm and the silence and staring through the trees at nearby condos lit for the holidays, then out across the stream where I played and caught tadpoles. I do not know if I will be here again; certainly not when it is snowing. My parents are selling the house after the holidays; they have said so repeatedly, and I am beginning to believe them. I will have to keep this place, the way it looks now in my favorite season, in my head, so I can go back when I need to. I press my hand against the tree that leans out over the water, whisper, “Good bye,” and turn around and tramp toward home. There will be embers of a warm fire, and hot tea, and cookies heated to perfection in the microwave. It is getting dark, and the wind is picking up.

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