Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GATHERING (07/14/16)
TITLE: The Cave, the Boulder, the Patch of Trillium
By Jan Ackerson
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The first few days are full of noisy adventure. Shelley shows Thad the shortcut to Luke’s fishing hole and watches over him as he splashes in the shallows, trying to capture an elusive bullfrog. She teaches Addie how to whistle with a thick blade of grass between her thumbs. She rocks baby Charlie on the porch when his parents and siblings leave on their trail bikes, humming a heavy metal song from her teenage years as if it were a lullaby. When Charlie awakens, she takes his whole fist into her mouth and makes buzzing sounds.
After several days have passed and the family has settled into the rhythm of cabin life, Shelley waits until the others have left, then heads for the woods with a heavy canvas bag hooked over her shoulder. She carries a simple lunch: crusty bread, a leftover drumstick, a bunch of red grapes. Her thermos is full of hot sweet coffee. Shelley plans to be gone for most of the day, but she’s sure that won’t be a problem. Tess and Dan are taking the children on an all-day outing to a nearby city where there’s a children’s museum and a water park.
She starts down the trail that leads from the cabin into the deep woods. After twenty minutes or so, she stops at a familiar place: a cave so tiny that it hardly merits the name. It’s carved about five feet into a small rise in the land, and it would be easy to miss. But it’s just the right size to spread a blanket—Shelly stoops down and touches the smooth dirt floor of the tiny cave, remembering. It’s entirely possible that Tess was conceived in this place.
Farther down the trail, she comes to a clearing where the trees are sparse. Improbably, there’s a boulder in the clearing—Shelley remembers perching there with Luke, silent, as a family of deer tiptoed into the clearing to enjoy an evening meal. She climbs the boulder now—not as easy to do without Luke’s hand—and watches the phantoms of the deer.
Near the shores of the lake, about a mile from the cabin, Shelley finds a patch of wild trillium. Here, sweetie, I picked these for you…Luke had been horrified to learn it was illegal to pick the white flowers, but they’d laughed together as they hid the evidence of his crime.
She naps for a bit under a familiar tree, eats her meal, takes off her boots and socks and wades in the lake, not worrying that her rolled-up jeans are dampening. When the stippling in the trees takes on a late afternoon quality, she heads back toward the cabin, filling the canvas bag with sticks as she walks.
Halfway there, she’s met by Tess, red-faced and sputtering. “Where have you been? We were worried sick.”
Shelley shrugs. “I thought you’d be gone for hours yet. Why are you back? Are the kids okay?”
“The museum was closed for renovations, can you believe it? And Thad got stung by a bee at the water park. He’s fine, but Addie was freaking out, scared to death of every little insect she saw after that, so we just packed up and came home. What are you doing out here?”
Shelley takes a deep breath. “I was just gathering…”
“Oh, mom. You don’t have to gather kindling!” Her daughter reaches for the canvas bag hanging on Shelley’s shoulder. “Let me take that. You know Dan brought firestarter logs, you’ve seen him use them. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” says Shelley. “I was just taking a walk. I’m perfectly capable of taking a walk by myself, you know. I’m not currently in my dotage.”
Tess snorts at dotage, and Shelley reaches to smooth her bangs out of her eyes. Together, they walk back to the cabin.
It wasn’t firewood I was gathering, my precious daughter. The cave … the boulder … the patch of trillium … the tree … the shores of the lake … I was gathering memories of Luke.
She kisses her fingertips and holds them up to the breeze.
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