Wednesday, June 20, 2012
When the thermometer hits 95F it is sensible to retreat to a relatively cool place with a good book and a tall glass of icy lemonade. The coolest place near my house is a creeks that crisscrosses the village, through alleys, side by side with thoroughfares and a a few rare instances, underneath dwellings built a couple of centuries ago. In my neighbourhood, it flows beneath beautifully sculpted limestone cliffs my to merge with the Potomac river. Along the way, the altitude of cliffs drop dramatically causing the creek to cascade, musically onto the flatter terrain. I think of the music of the waterfall as the voice of the village. In pre-Colombian days, it sang for Delaware warriors and their families. Later,in the Colonial Era, it accompanied the songs of European immigrants as they worked in any of the seventeen mills that made the village prosper. Today, after having been diverted so many times no one knows exactly what was its original course, it can barely be heard above the roar of traffic headed across the river, towards town with shopping malls and supermarkets. It is only at night, when all grows quiet, that it lifts its liquid lullaby rises above the occasional chatter of the owls and the rasping cough of foxes that live in our rapidly vanishing woods.
I have a deep emotional attachment to this village. For better or for worse, it has sheltered me for decades. I am passionately fond of the log house where I have been living for a quarter of a century and where I have struggled to make a garden on land that was once a grazing meadow for the village founder's cattle. A century later, it became the place where local people dumped their rubbish and very interesting rubbish it was. Often, when I dig in the garden after a rain, I come upon rose headed nails, fragments of Flow Blue dishes, slip ware, clay marbles and hand blown glass. I dream up dozens of stories about the people who owned the dishes, these glasses, these toys. Perhaps it was the gun maker who owned the fancy imported dishes. I see him at the head of the table, jovial and rubicund carving up a haunch of venison for his good friend, the owner of the grist mill. His apple cheeked play with the very clay marbles I hold in my hand. Meanwhile, his frail German bride, who suffers from a weak chest, delicately sips a tincture of sassafras this lavender glass bottle once held.In the kitchen, an indentured servant cries because she dropped the the redware platter she bought at the fair earlier in the day against the day when the shoemaker's apprentice will make her his wife. Now the platter lies in a dozen pieces among the roots of lilacs and rosebushes.
Broiling hot weather is a time to dream of other villagers who dipped their toes in this very creek that meanders behind my house. How did those who had no leisure endure the brutal heat? How did they plant, harvest, grind the wheat, bake bread? Perhaps they lived in thick walled houses such as mine where the temperature stays tolerable unless one opens the front door frequently. Perhaps they were hardier than I. They must have dreamt of coolness, all the same, of time spent in British glades or German forests, of icy streams and vast bowls of wine flavored with woodruff. As for me, I avoid exertion, read for hours and listen for the song of the waterfall.