Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bea’s Novel (4)

On the edge of a mountain lake was a stretch of woods, which, in some deep way, had become her own. When, as a child, she had escaped to these woods, it had been as though with awe she walked on her own heart. In late spring, there were Indian pipes and trailing arbutus and white birch, but what she looked for were wild orchids. She would peer intently through the bushes and around the tree trunks for the flowers that seemed to hide with care from the human eye.

Pushing aside branches that caught in her hair, Sara thought about the Indians, who once had walked there, and remembered fingering the smooth flint of an arrowhead found nearby. Every once in a while she broke off a sassafras twig and chewed it to get the tangy taste of the tree itself. Sometimes she would lie on her back and look up at the sky. Only small patterns of light reached the ground.

It never occurred to her to be afraid. No one ever came into this part of the woods. She wouldn’t get lost. Moss grew on the north side of the tree trunks and that would guide her home. There was method in nature, far more consistent than in people.

As the ground became softer beneath her feet, she would bend and look slantwise for there she knew the orchids would be growing. Sometimes she found one, and one was enough. For a long while she would watch it emerge shyly from the two dark leaves, which spread themselves out close to the ground as a base for the incredible slender stem. The delicate pink flower, paper-like in texture, seemed to float on air, like a boat.

After a while, she would pluck the orchid from the lowest possible point and go directly home. Her mother would admire it, always and ever again, admire each new one, and put it in a vase on the living-room table. But everything about the orchid had changed. She would feel uneasy as she looked at its long, beautiful stem, hidden from view, and its proud head peering somewhat ludicrously over the edge.

Often, since she had come to Washington, she thought of orchid-hunting in the woods near Green Pond. There was a place where she had knelt down and felt the earth. That spot had become a part of herself, and she returned to it as if it might help her find what now more than ever, she was searching for …


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