We hiked along a path that took us into the old, dried-up creek bed from our childhood adventures. But now at 50- and 60-something, we sisters made a startling discovery… :
the places where we had freely clambered down and back up – park to creek to riverside to neighborhood,
the locales for make-believe stories and a symbol in recurring dreams,
the rich terrain for rockhounding, hide-and-seek, dares, and treasure-hunting,
the hiding spot from authorities after benign childhood hijinks,
the secret space where dreams and worshipped sweethearts came alive in our imaginations,
the site for youth groups, family outings, bicycle breaks, and friend-romps,
the place that became embedded in the inner landscape “map of childhood,”
the hillside that seemed almost dangerously steep: only true superheroes could traverse it, we kids said,
the rocks that we hoped would disappear from view under a deluge of floodwater (thirsty souls we were)
… : this area is now caged in, cut off, separated, segregated
by a twelve-foot-high, thick, metal fence with no toeholds or hand-grasps. My middle-aged self still held a fantasy of climbing up, over and down the other side. To prove that the creek bed and the park, riverside, neighborhood could be – would be - reunited by a traversable fence.
From the caged-in creekside, I asked the abuela pushing her little ones in swings on the park side of the fence: ¿Donde está la apertura? Her unambiguous response came clearly, No hay ninguno. No opening to the park? I couldn't believe there was no way out of the creek. But I stood there clinging to the fence, staring in disbelief at the park from my childhood that I now could not access from the creek as an adult. I felt like a monkey in the zoo looking out at freedom. (Though the creek wasn't a bad place to be, it lost something if separated from the parks it adjoined.)
I rattled every chain-and-padlocked gate farther down the creek. I fancied slipping through the gap between two widely-spread gates, but the chain binding them was too tightly held. I hoped I could use a cement wall as a hoisting spot up the fence; the busy road that loomed below talked sense into my desperate desire to be freed from the now-jail of a creek bed.
So that one-mile jaunt eventually turned into five miles of dusty, cobbled hiking – down the creek bed and then back up when every avenue of retreat was fenced off.
A child’s dreams dashed by the fact of a fence. Too tall. Too sturdy-thick. Too slippery. The perfect barrier between what was and what is.
The adult me knows why they built that fence. She understands why neighbors want to protect their privacy. She sees scattered along the once-pristine rock bed the needles and rusted shopping carts, the makeshift beds and mounds of litter, the hidden bent figure in the shadow of a tree, the stinky empty bottles, the wrappings from things I won’t mention - indicators of not-child-friendly activities…
But the little girl in me remembers the freedom of climbing and searching, rolling in cool green grass in the park, wandering aimlessly from friends’ homes to the creek bed to the next park north of there, throwing my bike down in my haste toward the next adventure crawling underneath the wide sweep of a tree branch overhanging the waterless creek.
And I mourn what isn’t, even as I rejoice in the beautiful memories of a nature-filled childhood –
a childhood in which everything was part of the story, everything was part of me:
trees, branches, leaves – dried or budding, rocks too large to carry and stones just right for little pockets, the imaginal river that I wished could’ve moistened the creek bed, the grass stains and ants, the scent of eucalyptus, unrelenting sunshine pouring down on our tableau of childhood reverie.
(Originally posted in Feb 2020)