|my childhood patch now landscaped...|
Our small back yard was separated from this wilderness by a low chain link fence, the links of which were spaced perfectly for a small child’s shoe. I try to remember what year it must have been when I first put toe in chain and hopped the fence. It must have taken effort, hand over shaking hand, leg flip, tender straddle, foot onto the concrete retaining wall, and then a small drop onto soft soil. I can’t imagine my mother allowing me to make this jump, let alone having the agility to have done it in my first few years of life. It must have been roughly at age seven when I made the leap.
The Lot was a wonder of nature tinged with humanity, enough to make it hauntingly fun, forbidden, and secretive. The architect, to whom the land belonged, left enormous hunks of marble and granite from some strange project left unfinished. Piles of stones, one which read, “Court House,” were stacked in the far corner adjoining an abandoned house. There were old light fixtures on posts around the field, the kind one would expect around a skating pond or makeshift ball field. There were pre-existing paths, and patches of non-native plants like crocus, blue bells, day lilies, and rhododendron. No one used the field but for an annual mowing, an older neighbor and his arthritic dog, and on occasion a homeless man who would sleep in the far corner. It was for the most part, mine.
I ran the lot one part Robinson Crusoe and one part Park Ranger. I made mazes in the grass and hid from goblins in winter snow caves. I mapped the paths and began recording the species of birds I found, which came to almost 90 before I left home. I rode my bike, shot homemade arrows, climbed apple trees, and buried pets. I took friends there, but more often hopped the fence alone after school or on summer evenings and listened to the click of bats while chewing on the mint that grew everywhere. Overtime, I moved from a childhood romance to an adolescent relationship with this piece of land. I studied the wildflowers and trees, knew where the rabbits burrowed and the Carolina wrens fed. It was a natural coming of age in the middle of Cambridge on a small chunk of land that grounded me in a love of natural history, the outdoors, and the very idea of place to this day.