Updated: May 17, 2020
by Jessica O'Donnell
Though I'm sure we have plenty of winter and snow left to the season, my children were extremely excited that Punxasutawney Phil has predicted an early spring. So, in the spirit of their optimism I'm sharing this piece that I wrote quite a few years ago about one of my favorite places in New England, Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover,Massachusetts. Enjoy!
In summer, lush green globes of fern and boxwood guard rivers of gravel and stone. In winter, everything is hidden underground or wrapped in burlap, waiting for a hint of warmth, waiting for a new beginning. Today, we are searching for signs of spring that we hope will soon come. As we walk through the white picket fence, it is a relief to enter a world where all that is important is exploring and appreciating the beauty that lies in front of us. I follow close behind, but I know that she, my curly haired, rosey-cheeked toddler, is better prepared to explore a place that needs appreciating as this one does. She will help me connect, help me shed the worry from my exhausted mind. She runs ahead, her body at an angle that makes me convinced she could topple at any moment, where will she take me?
“That way,” she points, we go up the side of the white farmhouse, following the brick, lined with yellowish grass that will soon turn green from the nourishment of the sun. Ahead is a wide-open space, with a tree, the tree of my life, standing in front of me. I've come here a lot in the last 10 years. I used to come here to take pictures often, I suppose I still do, but my focus has changed.
There is something so isolating about the thick stone wall that separates this sanctuary from the rest of this chaotic world that we live in. This place signifies many different aspects of my life. A place where I find solitude. A place where I can take a break from the noise of life. A place that I most likely caught Lyme Disease from last year. Well, let's not blame it on the place, it was most likely a pesky tick. But, nevertheless, I am back.
I can remember last summer very clearly. I can feel the bumps in the lawn as we lay back on the blanket staring into the blue sky above. Her baby toes stained by the dirt from crawling around in the freshly cut grass. Her hands sticky from the strawberries she just finished. The smell of the earth. The sun so bright that I close my eyes slightly but strained to keep them open in search of something more meaningful. The branches from the oak tree above us reminded me of how complicated life can be, and how interconnected our world is. From tree, to limb, to branch, to the tiny acorns attached. It's no wonder life can overwhelm us at times. But, I hold her close for I know this moment is a precious one.
I love the feeling that I get when I look around, and it is just the two of us. I am the tourist and she is the guide. I let her lead and I know that soon she will show me the way. We turn a corner and are inside the rose garden. She is captivated by the fountain in the shape of a face, her soft hands graze the cement- and I can imagine the contrast in texture. I see everything differently now. She grasps my one finger with her whole hand and pulls me towards the reflection pool- the emerald glow is mesmerizing. We keep our distance for I have heard that it is deeper than it appears. We cross through the iron fence that look like black lace, a pattern you could easily get lost in. I help her up, last summer she needed both hands, but this year she only needs one. Her pace slows now, all this walking has surely made her little legs tired.
We head towards the vegetable garden, there are no signs of life here, but we know soon the grass surrounding it will turn greener and bring life back into the lush landscape. We see a man working in the distance. We are not the only ones preparing for the lack of chill that will soon be in the air. As we turn to the left we can see something white in the distance. At first glance it looks like remnants of snow. But as we come closer we see that they are actually snow drops, a sign of early Spring. “Wow, I love them,” she shouts as she jumps in excitement. We admire them for longer than it seems we should. I get the urge to check my phone, check the time, check my email. But, I know it's not important here.
The wind picks up and since she doesn't have a hat on I decide we better get back to the car. We head back weaving through the puddles looking at the big white farmhouse. She doesn’t want to leave, she doesn’t feel the pull that I feel, the nagging chores, and errands. Her innocence allows her to be one with nature. I often hope she doesn’t lose the carefree curiosity that comes with childhood. As we cross back over the lawn heading towards the street I am snapped back into reality.
She finds one last puddle and shouts, “Mama, let's cross the river.”
And we both hop over together.