Remember what it’s like to search for something rare and exquisite–and to find it? The treasure turns out to be not only what you were looking for but experiences during the search, sights and sounds, even echoes of another time. That’s how my walk with Charles to Ramble Brook hunting blue gentians turned out.
We walked up Tulip Hill at my home place, Pinedale, and spent some time in the lonely little cemetery before striking off through the woods toward Ramble Brook. I was intent on finding some, or at least one, blue gentian. Blue gentians grow on brook banks mainly, loving the moist mossy places. They present their beautiful closed blooms in October. Mamma used to send us looking for them this time of year. “They’re very shy,” she’d say. “That’s why they never fully open and simply peer into the brook looking like buds the color of the sky.” Of course we only reported when we found them. Mamma and Daddy both would have been aghast if we’d picked even one. Gentians were quite rare.
Our feet made the fluffy crisp tulip poplar leaves crackle and crunch. I could almost feel the wind in my hair when, as a child, I’d dash through these leaves racing to be the first one to find a blue gentian–or to jump the brook, or walk a foot log, or climb the one-armed oak tree.
The one-armed oak tree was a favorite climbing tree. It was a white oak that had grown on the banks of Ramble Brook. There were other limbs but the one we liked so much was as thick as a tree itself and had grown straight out from the tree only about ten feet from the ground. Once we climbed up we could sit dangling our legs singing like a chorus of birds. We little ones learned from the older ones how to swing off holding to the limb with both hands before dropping to the ground. Then up we’d go again.
Not far from that tree was a wonderful waterfall which was great for summer splashing. Ramble Brook was never a very big stream but was so cool and clear and full of interesting water-rounded stones. There were some mossy stones that were really fun to stand on while our feet dried after a good wading. The brook itself held great fascination for all of us–water lizards to catch and let go, minnows, crawfish (to observe digging themselves into soft silt), and even larger fish sometimes steering silver bodies under overhanging foliage. And, downstream from the log bridge, was another favorite spot: a bank of gooshy, moldable white clay.
We were happy for hours at a time creating bowls, jewelry, platters, and tiny tea cups out of that clay. Sometimes the drying process made our treasures crack and crumble but occasionally a dish, a cross, or a horse’s head would actually stay together for several days.
When walking now along Ramble Brook you can occasionally find little piles of selected water-worn stones near the brook. They’ll be almost buried in mountain asters and leaf mold. You wouldn’t realize, unless someone told you, that those piles of stones were actually collapsed castles of four very active siblings in late 1940’s and early 1950’s. We built them along the cliff near that clay bank and imagined the people who might live there, even planted little trees just the right size for these imaginary little folks. The residents would certainly enjoy a view of the water whispering by. But, sadly, when it rained, our castles all squatted, the clay going soggy, and the stones turning into a disorderly pile.
A good thing to do after playing in the clay was to build a dam. We cleaned all the sticky clay off our hands that way. We built most of our dams in Indian Brook which was beyond our schoolhouse cabin. But that meant walking a good distance with clay drying on our hands. So we did find places where Ramble Brook narrowed enough to make dam building possible. We’d pile big stones across the stream and back the water up to make a small lake. After playing in the deeper water for several minutes, we took joy in breaking the dam and watching the rush of current.
With the memory of our childish squeals in my ears, Charles and I walked onto a nice sturdy foot bridge made by some of our engineering nephews. From there I looked down the brook bed and discovered three treasured blue gentians, blooming bravely in spite of a long drought that has dried the brook so there’s no stream or even apparent drop of water.
October is often a time of drought and this year is no different. Ramble Brook has no merry murmur of water, no splashing waterfall, no water to dam or turn loose to the sound of children’s squeals. There’s no moisture to make the clay malleable. But there were the shy exquisite blue gentians anyway, treasures unbelievable, shining amongst dry brown leaves.
With Charles’ strong arm to help me, I slid and stumbled down the bank to reach those flowers. Though sometimes the gentians present four or five closed blooms on one stem, these only had one each. But the blue was as bright as I’d remembered, bright as a bluebird perched on a single bare limb. I took great pleasure in snapping some pictures.
But, as I said to begin with, finding the treasure was a thrill, but the good walk with my husband was really the best part. And all those memories of our good play times along Ramble Brook were wonderful, too. It was as if once again I were walking a log, climbing a tree, making pottery and catching water lizards. And I have pictures to remind me that, though I’m not so agile any more, blue gentians do still bloom along Ramble Brook.