Saturday, June 3

Keeper Of The Water Gems

My three brothers and I were at the near end of two weeks at Crystal Falls. We did not have a car, but we did have the mountainside. We did not have a telephone, but we did have the neighbors. We did not have a television, but we did have the birds, the raccoons, the squirrels. We did not have money, at least none of which I was aware (perhaps our mother had a few dollars.) What we did have was a larder of groceries, a shelf full of board games, a loft of mattresses and blankets, ample opportunity for mischief, four skulls full of imagination, and each other. It was vacation! Frogs and forts and Blind Man's Bluff! Ping pong and hot dogs and tree swings! Crayons and cards and slingshots! Rocks and sticks and polliwogs! Dirt and scabs and mosquito bites! Wandering poking yelling falling quarreling pretending!

Yet I and my experience was a little different from the others. As the eldest of the four, I was at the age between telling bedtime stories and regular shaving, wanting both and desiring neither. The time was pleasant and beautiful and free, but it chafed. For good or no, this one summer would change everything. I remember ghostly snippets of music, an awareness of storied lessons I did not yet understand, and above all, a sense of arrival. Arrival of what, I did not know.

Or, perhaps, I did.

* * * * *

Laughter bounced here, then there, then fell quietly in the forest litter. From someplace unseen, a wraith of music chased its tail around the incense cedars and ponderosa pines: McCartney & Wings, Three Dog Night, The Guess Who. The tattletale chatter of the Steller's jay, the crinkling chuckle of the creek upon logs, the feel of Earth's breath on the skin, the whissh of the breeze through needle and leaf; the air vibrated with sound and life and joy. Summer had sneaked and hinted and teased, playing hide and seek. Now it made a gleeful and triumphant appearance. On this one perfect day, I felt it in my skin and bones and organs, in my self. By unplanned and lucky happenstance, I shared it with a conclave of teen friends on the coarse sand beach of a mountain lake. We enjoyed the treasures of a lazy, silly, youthful afternoon; splashing into the cold waters from a tree-rope, juggling stones and floating sticks, playing, clowning, laughing.

To the east the Sierras shoved icemelt over unnamed stony places, feeding the the small lake. To the west the lake emptied via a spillway to Sullivan's Creek, riffling and plunging through Gold Country, meeting the Sacramento River, courting the Golden Gate, marrying the Pacific. I stood a little apart from the others, knee deep in the cool embrace of last winter's tears, feeling the water live between my fingers. Without thought, I scooped handfuls of the pristine liquid and tossed it toward the sun.

In a brief electric moment, water gems were suspended in air, born of my hands, but cut and polished and perfected by the day, magic made real, time suspended, life crystallized. I saw the summer-curved girls in their bathing suits. I heard the husky happy voices of the broad-shouldered boys showing off in the sun. I smelled feathers and blood and love and granite. I tasted pastpresentfuture, the metallic tang of everything sought, grasped, lost. I felt eternity distilled in that one moment, given to me for no reason other than that I was alive.

In that moment I knew. I knew how to catch a fish. I knew where the indian paintbrushes grew. I knew how to tickle a girl. I knew what color twilight would be. I knew stars didn't need names. I knew laughing was more important than looks. I knew how to tell a joke. I knew how to kiss under a tree. I knew that everything I thought was open to revision, that everything I was taught was probably, but not necessarily, wrong. I knew I would always make mistakes. I knew that nonsense and boys and girls and the open sky were perfect, and damn anyone who said different, or imposed anything on that perfection.

I was a god, young and strong and beautiful. I was stuff made life, creator and viewer of the universe. I was independent of and inextricably intertwined with all else that exists. I occupied that moment, that place, that feeling. That which can and cannot be explained was me. I knew it would not, could not, should not, last. I knew that life would never be as much fun, or as perfect, ever again. That was the arrival.

The Arrival hangs in the Universe's closet, never to be recalled, never to be relived, never to return, forever lost yet deathless. For one shining flashing glinting piece of infinity, for one experience no one else will ever know, for one eternal gifted snapshot, the cosmos belonged to me, and me alone.

I was Keeper of the Water Gems.


Anonymous said...

It sucks to grow up...


(PS it was beautiful)

Bebti said...

I can visualize that entire scene, you painted it well.

We all have our "arrival", for me it was on a perfect spring day in a pasture on a hillside where the air literally sparkled, surrounded by tall grass and birds singing and old logs and cows, with a group of friends and 1 perfect girl...

I would give anything to relive that day just once.

KOM said...

That beautiful short time between knowledge and experience. I remember such heady thoughts...

Anonymous said...

I remember that one, brief shining moment...

Thanks for sharing a beautiful memory.