Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings said that everybody needs a place of enchantment. I knew just exactly what she meant, because I had one and still go there--in my memory.
Miss Rawlings was talking about her Florida farm at Cross Creek. I did not grow up on a farm, but for most of my childhood, our house was the last one in a line of waterfront homes. The Florida woods adjoined it, a magical wilderness to me and my two sisters.
In the summers I would pack a lunch, a fishing pole, my cat, and a book and spend the day adventuring in our rowboat. I made stops at my favorite tree, a giant Magnolia that overhung the water and had the most lovely branches for reading benches. My cat liked it up there, too. A wicked girl, I enjoyed pelting unsuspecting skiers with the seed pods, which were the size of my palm.
Sometimes I followed a trail from the tree to an old abandoned homestead, the Crowder place. I dug up many treasures there. I remember particularly the small glass milk bottles. I took one to school for a craft project, and it sits now in our hall bathroom, a strange artifact encrusted with fragments of gold-painted egg shell. Better than the archaeological digs, though, were the rusting hulks of ancient vehicles that dotted the yard. I sat on the springy seats, gripped the huge steering wheels and drove, often pretending to be a delivery man.
Back in the boat, I rowed toward Gap Creek, stopping to frolic on the sandbar that guarded the entrance under the bridge. The water from the creek was clear and cold, the Florida sun bold and bright. I can close my eyes now and feel the minnows "nipping" at my ankles, see the tiny hermit crab trails in the sand alongside my feet. Reeded islands concealed duck nests. I was in another world here, but I could still see our house across the water. That changed as I rowed under the bridge.
The creek was narrow and winding; the trees blocked the sun, and it was often a struggle just to maneuver the boat, often forcing me to pull in the oars, making an "x" across my torso. There were houses along the creek, but I hardly ever saw anyone. Better still, the houses were individualistic, some dilapidated, and I often had the delicious sense of being right on the edge of an unknown danger. Once, upon rounding a curve, I came face to face with a decaying duck that was hanging from a tree by a fishing line, the hook in its throat. Looking at it, I could feel the barbs in my own throat, feel the slow agony of dying suspended above the water. Though I was hot, goosebumps pricked my arms.
Faced with this horror, I turned the boat, exited the creek, and pushed my oars deep into the open water, reveling in my strength as I pulled back and the boat shot forward. Home. I was headed home--to the safety of my own shore, my own backyard, my own family.
Home was the real place of enchantment.