Caught. Hiding in my new secret place. My body went all tingly with fear.
“What are you doing under there?”
I crawled out from underneath a bunch of impossibly yellow bushes. I had been hiding there everyday after school. I wanted to keep hiding. I stood up feeling my heart pounding. Here was an old man in work clothes his belt tightly drawn around his waist. I was afraid to look up at his face.
“Do you know who I am?”
I shook my head no staring at my dirty shoes thinking my mother is going kill me for getting these shoes irrevocably scuffed. She is going to kill me for trespassing under a bush. She is just going to kill me.
“Where do you live?” I pointed down the hill and said, “1574 chalk road.” In the nicest tone his gravely voice could muster he told me that he was Farmer Chalk and that my house was built on what used to be his farm. Now I looked at this face. “The road you live on was named after me. That’s my house and my barn.”
I thought to myself if I’m absolutely polite and outwardly curious this could be ok and my mother will not kill me. And so I was. And I asked a million questions and discovered a million things. How big was the farm? What did you grow? What’s in the barn? Do you live alone? Do you have any children? What are their names? Why did you sell your land? All the way up to Erbs Mill Road. Corn and barley and hay: animal feed. Yes, there was a family called Erb and they had a mill that ground the animal feed. A tractor, thresher, tiller, plow, bails of wire for the fences, shovels and picks lots of rocks, no chalk. His name was Willard. His wife’s name was Earla and the girls were Ester and Willa. Earla kept chickens. We used to grow tomatoes and greens in a garden over there in front of the barn. No boys? No boys.
“I sold my farm so you could have a place to live, and besides there weren’t so many animals to feed anymore.” Farmer Chalk seemed a bit sad about that and I thought how could we get more animals. How could I fix that.
When he asked again why I was under the forsythia bush I told him it was because it was beautiful and did he know that when you’re under there the long branches made an arch like a tunnel and of course he didn’t know. He was too big to fit. I told him, “I like to climb that tree.”
“That’s my tree.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought the tree belonged to nature.”
He said it was ok to keep climbing and he would think of me as a visitor instead of a yardbird. Both sounded fine to me. I walked home wondering about being a bird in Farmer Chalk’s yard.
One day when I saw their truck was not in the driveway I looked around in the barn and I found lots of blue glass jars filled with spider webs. There was a very long thing that looked like ten rakes all connected. It was rusty. The tires on the tractor were bigger than me. Golden white specks and shards of grain and grass hung on everything. A red wooden door left opened invited me to open it wider and a stinky smell of urine and sweet earth hit my face, stinky but sweet.
The land sloped down sharply in front of the barn and that winter after a great amount of snow fell I trudged up the hill from my house with a sled to what was left of Farmer Chalk’s farm. I walked past my tree bare and black against the gray winter sky. As I came around to the slope in front of the barn I could see where others had been sledding. It was so early in the morning no one was there.
Now if it had not been for all my layers and my thick red snow boots I could have been badly hurt. My foot crunched down through the snow and kept falling crunching down. The snow was suddenly up to the top of my leg. I pulled my self up and out of that step only to step down again through the snow through a plate of glass to un-snowy earth under my foot. I kept stepping and crashing, stepping and crashing. I thought it must have been a trap to keep trespassers away. Eventually when the sound of breaking glass stopped I ran home with the nice normal sound of snow under my foot. In the Spring I figured out I had stepped through all of Earla’s cold frames when I saw Willard replacing all the broken panes.
Many years later when my tree seemed small to me I was kissed for the first time in Earla’s chicken coup all stinky and sweet.