Long summer days spent with Adriana and Vicky. All of us bored until that day my dad brought up the forts he and his brother and sister would build in the foliage around my grandparents’ house. So off we went.
The path around the pond was overgrown, but that didn’t stop us. The mosquitos were tormenting, but after dousing ourselves in bug spray we trekked on deeper into the woods behind the house. The birds sang their songs. The summer heat beat down. Our voices rang out through the trees as we talked and laughed.
With hands full of building materials, we soon set to work on constructing our fortress. Dead, fallen trees became bridges. We decorated with the bright wildflowers we found. We pushed logs over to form seats for us.
Once our fort was built we kept walking. Soon coming across a stream that bubbled and invited us closer. We kicked off our shoes to go in and cool off, the summer sun was hot on our backs. We giggled and talked about everything under that summer sun. We ignored our responsibilities and escaped into our own little world.
When we came across one dead tree leaning against another, we maneuvered our way up. Swinging our feet, we looked around. The birds chirped in the branches above us. The sounds of our family rang back, reminding us of the real world that awaited us outside of the trees. The summer sun shone through the branches, creating patterns on the ground.
“It’s like our own little world chicas,” I tell my cousins. “Where we don’t have to be students or neat little girls,” Adriana says back. We soak in the sun for a while longer before heading back towards the pond.
The water glitters. Turtles poke their heads above the surface. We hear splashes every once in a while as one falls from a floating log to the dark water. We stand on the banks, catching frogs and getting dirty. We laugh when Vicky slips in the mud and as we crack jokes the sun moves across the sky. We don’t even notice.
The blue above us fades into reds, yellows, oranges, purples, pinks. We don’t notice as we climb trees, getting sticky sap on our hands and blisters on our fingers. We go higher and higher, aching to touch the tip top of our trees. We take breaks and sit on branches that are sturdy enough to hold our weight. All of us in different trees, yelling across about whatever topic comes up. Boys, friends, school, futures, music, books, movies. Whatever crosses our mind we talk about in those woods.
As the summer continues, our paths become more defined. On rainy days we play in the mud. On days where it’s almost too hot to be out we sit with our backs against trees and our toes touching the sparkling pond. Some days we go exploring. We lift up branches, watching bugs squirm and crawl around. Some days we pretend to be characters in books we’ve read or movies we’ve saw. Some days we are lazy and have picnics, with feasts of junk food and soda. And some days we just daydream. Daydream about the future. About the past. About right now.
Our younger brothers and cousins try to follow us, but we tell them to find their own spot. We crunch over fallen pine needles and pine cones. We make bouquets of wildflowers which are mostly just weeds. We sit on our tree and swing our feet as the summer goes on.
Late nights we catch fireflies. We watch them in our glass Mason jars that we’ve poked holes in so they can breath. We watch as their ends light up and they fly around before we let them go so we can do it all over again. We sit and admire the moon’s reflection on the pond. We breathe the fresh country air and all agree it’s better than always hearing the rumble of cars or sounds of the city. We lean against each other, swatting at mosquitos that buzz in our ear. We listen to the loud voices of our family as they sit up closer to the house, talking and laughing.
As summers went on, the woods left their fair share of marks on us. Blisters from climbing trees. Scrapes on our knees from our explorations. Tan lines from our tennis shoes and shorts. Sunburned cheeks from constantly being outside with no sunscreen because we didn’t think we needed it. And the mosquito bites. It was like they never went away. With our fingernails we pressed crosses into them to make them stop itching. We constantly smelled of bug spray. The sap stayed on our hands for days no matter how long we spent in the bathroom before meals scrubbing at it.
When our family would call us to meals, they’d laugh at how dirty we looked. We’d just grin before piling our plates with food because the heat of the days and running around took all of our energy. We’d pile our plates high with rice, barbequed ribs, chips, guacamole, burgers, hotdogs, before eating quickly so we could head back out.
We’d be in those woods for hours, but time had a different meaning for us in our little world. One minute it’d be bright and sunny and the next the sun would be setting. The hours never felt long enough and we all wished there was a way to make time stretch.
I loved being in those woods with my cousins. I loved the smell of the fresh air. I loved the feeling of the bark of trees on my hands as I climbed. I loved searching for turtles and frogs and whatever other wildlife we could find. I loved playing pretend and becoming explorers or warriors or whatever my mind decided. I loved laughing with the two girls who were more like my sisters. I loved exploring and the exciting feeling that came with finding something that peaked my interest. Mostly, I loved feeling free and not boxed in.
The woods at my grandpa’s aren’t anything special, but they hold all of our memories and secrets. It’s a place for my cousins and I to be free and not worry. It’s our place.