I know so many secret places, and places of so many secrets. They’ve appeared to me sometimes by surprise. Some serve a purpose in my life, to be used as a coping tool, or they may be signs of danger or foreboding. Each has found a place in me, good or bad, where my intuition gives it birth.
There is a hill that my mother’s property covers. It rises behind her home, and behind the lake, and is marked with old logging and hunting trails. I remember the markings from my childhood; red, blue, or white paint spots on trees. They show the way for three specific trails, from the base of the hill to the very top. My older brother and sister and their friends used to play there regularly, but I’ve only explored it in more recent times.
One of these trails holds a secret place that feels like love for me. It’s an impression I got the first time I came upon it, hiking. This path begins very near the brook where my great-grandfather had his still. The trail seemed to lead endlessly up. And though the heat and humidity were against me, the climb was exhilarating, forcefully working off anxiety. I came about halfway up the hill to a level area, where there are three hemlocks. One of them is my friend. It really felt like a reunion with a wise old being of my past, like an old teacher, and I knew it had missed me. This place is now always a resting spot for me, a rest only after my friend has a hug.
Further along, the trail is bisected by an old logging road, barely apparent, overgrown with grapevines and littered with fallen trees. At my first sight of it in over forty years, I had a full vision of being there with my father and my uncle, in a very bouncy, open, old car, and of their laughter as we jostled our way over boulders and limbs. It’s as though those three beings live that ride over and over again, and I was lucky enough to happen upon them.
Another trail, the blue trail, doesn’t welcome my advances. A large hemlock stand at the base allows little light or air movement. The atmosphere is quire forbidding. I very much sense that it is not my place to be.
Not all secret places are out of doors. When I was quite young, my school friend, Sarah, began inviting me to her house for sleep-over weekends. We were about nine or ten at the time. She had a neat house where she had secret places, several little closets to hid in, and three little sisters, one of whom was a baby. Her mom seemed very nice. She showed me how she fed the baby with her breasts. Her dad was grumpy. He’d get drunk, but he came home late. and he only came home on weekends. Sarah always got sick on Saturday, and didn’t want to play. And though she never liked me on Sunday, she always invited me back the following weekend.
Sarah and her family moved across the street to a bigger house when she was twelve. She had an attic she could hide in, and another closet. She showed them to me on my first visit. I still would spend weekends when I could, and we’d play with the chickens or horses. Sometimes we’d go to the little shop down the road and buy candy. There was an old man there who would juggle and tell jokes. At night we would read stories. We both loved to read. She liked Black Beauty and Little Women, and we would read Mother Goose fairy tales to her sisters. Sarah still got sick and moody on Saturdays. She would have me sleep with her sisters, to make sure they’d be safe, while she slept with her parents. She never liked me on Sunday.
Sarah’s family moved away when she was sixteen. I think of her often, and of her secret hiding places that never provided protection.
In the Quabbin, there’s a place I go to now, when the world gets too big for me. I have to ride my bike real hard off the trail to get up and over the steep, sandy hill. I’m physically exhausted by the time I arrive. I’m emotionally exhausted before I ever set out to this place. But once there, in this safe place, with only the beach, trees, and water, I can say the serenity prayer. And, for this moment, all is well. Nothing is bigger or more important than this place and this moment, and I can summon the courage I’ll need before I leave.
Secret places come alive for me. They hold pleasure and pain, history and hope. My intuition is keen now, and I wish I could rewrite some of the story. I would take Sarah by the hand now, and introduce her to my friend the hemlock. And later we would ride our bikes very hard off the trail, and into the Quabbin.