The Best Place on Earth

October 4, 2008
I only had to close my eyes to see the memories in my mind.

A girl stood alone, the wind whipping at her tangled hair and her paint-splattered clothes. Her eyes were closed, lashes brushing her cheeks, and her face was angled up toward the grey-blue sky. She rubbed one bare foot against the ground, feeling the dirt and the rocks against her skin.

There were other pictures. An older woman stirred a pot on the stove in a tiny, narrow kitchen. Icy water dripped from a raised paddle, blurred by the sunlight. A man passed a white box, plump with sweet-smelling pastries, across a dark wooden counter in a dim room .Ruby-throated hummingbirds with emerald capes hovered around a tree. A tennis ball bounced, crushing fallen leaves and ambitious bugs that crawled their way across the dull green clay.

This was the first summer ever that hadn't included at least a week long trip to that house, tucked deep into the woods of the Adirondack Mountains. I had spent the entire month of July--the month that the house belonged to my grandpa's side of the family--on a school trip to Europe and so my family opted out of the family reunion, leaving my grandma to fend for herself on her seventieth birthday.

Originally the idea had only bothered me slightly. It was a tiny twinge of regret surrounded by the whirl of exciting plans and trips that took up those precious three months of freedom. By August, this had changed. Yes, I had been to Europe. I had seen the canals of Venice, the duomo of Florence, and the ancient temples of Greece. And yes, I had spent a week in a house luxurious enough to make a five star hotel seem shabby, in the wild exotic jungles of Costa Rica. But suddenly, it was painful to think about that one missing piece of my summer.

It started with the memories. Anything, from the cranberry scented candle in my bathroom (purchased, of course, at the general store in Chestertown) to the sight of a pine tree, could catch me up in missing those days spent at the lake, lounging on a wooden raft and shivering as clouds passed by overhead.

My class took a trip to an environmental center in the Poconos, one of those expanded summer camps where they taught seminars on nature and put people through insane team building exercises to get them to trust each other. I happily anticipated the day throughout September. There were trees there, tall ones with wide solid trunks and leaves that would just be changing color. There were hiking trails lined with overgrown roots and frogs hidden among rocks and reeds and nights that got dark enough to show off the stars in all their glory. Maybe that would get me through the rest of the year, until next July.

And it was beautiful, in its own way. The air was fresh and the mornings were cool and I saw all the trees my heart desired. But it wasn't really the woods that I missed; it was those woods. It was breakfasts of Taylor ham and sugary crullers, kayaking along the marshy shoreline, hearing my little cousins shriek when my brother and I showed them warty American toads and bright orange salamanders. It was coming down the stairs to see my grandma in her flowered robe, drinking her morning cup of coffee. It was my family, all fifteen of us crowded around that old wooden picnic table while my grandpa made burgers and hotdogs on the rusty grill. It was home.

That night I closed my eyes and wished myself there. I imagined that I was in the loft bedroom that I shared with my parents and my brother, curled up against the half wall that split it in two. There would be light filtering through the little triangular cut outs that hid our space from the family room below, and my parents would be sitting on those plaid couches, arguing with my aunt about whether to watch "Remember the Titans"--our favorite movie, no matter how many time we saw it on TV while we were there--or the much more frivolous "For Love or Money" that she so badly wanted to see.

Slowly the voices would die down and the lights would dim. My brother, on the other side of that half wall, would stop his restless tossing and bumping and drift off to sleep. My mom would lay down next to me and kiss my forehead, whispering "Good night" in my ear. And the waving boughs would brush the roof, singing their lullaby as stars twinkled over head.





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