This winter I’ve felt a touch of sadness in the dark afternoons. It hasn’t been too disturbing, and it generally goes away after I do my rowing machine workout and sweat it out. Still, it got me thinking that I probably ought to take a few minutes to check in on my younger selves in their imaginary refuge of Channelwood.

I found Queenie, the most melancholy past version of me, cocooned in thick blankets and sitting quietly on the empty sands of a beach. The cliffs and bay curved away toward a cloudy horizon. A chilly wind blew, carrying an occasional raindrop along with the ocean’s salty scent.

Seashore photo on a cloudy day.

(Image credit: Ihor Hlukhoi)

Although I hadn’t brought any blankets into the scene for myself, that omission was easily remedied by picturing a heavy quilt appearing around my shoulders as I greeted my younger self.

“Hello, Queenie, how are you doing today?”

She blinked up at me from her nest of blankets, only her face visible, cheeks reddened from the cold.

“I’m just being.”

The waves rolled in again, just a little closer this time. A thin strand of seaweed got caught on a pebble, disrupting the otherwise smooth expanse of sand.

“Would it be okay if I sit here for a few minutes just being, too?”

Queenie had gone back to looking out over the sea, and I was starting to wonder if she meant to answer me. Then she gave a small nod, as if she’d decided that no words were necessary.

I arranged myself and the quilt on the sand next to Queenie, with everything but my face protected from the cold wind, as she had done. I felt comfortable enough. We sat there in silence, listening to the ocean’s soothing, repetitive flow.

After I’d been sitting there for a while, I began to notice that each wave sounded just a little different from the one before. They came swirling in with more or less force, and some of them rolled back out more slowly than others. The beach wasn’t as smooth and featureless as it had looked at first glance, either. The strand of seaweed that I’d noticed earlier was not the only one, and there were shells, driftwood, and other small things scattered all over.

Even when the daylight began to fade and the little details became less visible, the glowing sunset colors and their reflections on the waves spoke to me of infinity. As Queenie and I gathered up our blankets and turned to go, I took a deep breath of the fresh sea air, wondering how I could ever have felt that one winter day was much the same as another.

A snowy Saturday morning left the grass and trees covered with plenty of the white stuff. The ground was still too warm for any snow to stick to the roads, and by Sunday it was all melting. I browsed through late autumn landscapes to choose one for my digital art display. After a while, I settled on this image of a brook with colorful autumn trees in the background.

Photo of brook with autumn trees in background.

(Photo credit: Jim Lukach)

My younger selves in the imaginary village of Channelwood approved of the choice, or mostly so. Seven-year-old Ponch had put on a warm coat over her dress instead of her usual poncho (no doubt begrudgingly). The coat’s weight and thickness did not deter her from skipping across a narrow ford where flat-topped stones spanned the brook.

“That water is cold,” warned twelve-year-old Sara, sitting on a blanket in the grass, as she glanced up from the needlework in her lap. A marshland scene in progress, with very realistic cattails, decorated a large square pillow. “You wouldn’t like it if you fell in, would you?”

“Mother hen, cluck, cluck,” retorted Ponch, flapping her arms rudely. She lost her balance for a moment and teetered precariously above the brook before making her way across.

On the near bank, my five-year-old Peter Pan alter ego, wearing a favorite green jacket, was building a fort out of twigs and moss. A formation of smaller twigs with yellow leaves looked ready to launch a pebble from a catapult, while the defenders stood behind a palisade with brown leaves for their uniforms.

Sara turned toward me. “Did you come here to play?”

I thought about it and realized I didn’t have a good answer. “Well, maybe. I just happened to show up here, and I’m not really sure what I want to do.”

“That’s the trouble with being grown up,” Sara told me sympathetically, as she took another neat stitch. “You get so used to doing everything on a schedule that you forget what it’s like going out to play.”

I meant to dispute that point, but before I had my thoughts clear on what to say, I went off to do some household chores. After that, I was busy for much of the day. Monday morning showed up before I knew it, and by the time I got back to composing this post it was Wednesday afternoon.

“Well, okay, it’s true that schedules can get in the way,” I had to admit. “But I certainly haven’t forgotten what it’s like to get outdoors and be active. I go rowing with my husband most days when the weather permits, and we also run road races like the Turkey Trot.”

“That’s not the same as going out to play.” Sara gazed toward the other side of the brook, where Ponch had sketched a hopscotch grid in the dirt with a sharp stick and was tossing a pebble into it.

“When children go out to play,” she continued, “it’s a free-flowing adventure, in which they never know what they’ll discover. They may expect to play tag or marbles, but then they decide to join in when they see someone playing hopscotch or soldiers. They don’t feel obligated to keep on with it for very long, either.”

On my left, Peter already had abandoned the little fort and was sprawled comfortably in the grass, about to doze off.

“And that’s another difference,” Sara observed, following my gaze. “A child feels perfectly free to lie down for a nap when the need arises. If the pretend battle never happens, there’s always something else to do later.”

I tried to remember the last time I’d taken a nap on an ordinary day when I wasn’t recovering from an illness, and I came up blank.

“Of course, what I’m doing right now is different from going out to play, too.” Sara put down the pillow and reached into her yarn bag, taking out various brown and green hues, which she inspected with a careful eye. “I may discover something unexpected, such as that a turtle has decided it wants to peep out from among the cattails. But when I start adding the turtle into the picture, I’m committing myself to finish it, unless I decide to rip those stitches out entirely.”

She chose a muddy green and threaded her needle.

“Arts and crafts are also good for a healthy mind and soul, but they are more structured than play. The mind has to be given time for playful wandering, without need to reach a goal, so that it feels safe enough to let creative thoughts come out for a romp whenever they’re so inclined.”

August 2, 2022 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

On Monday morning a light rain was falling, so I chose a rainy-day image for the art display that hangs on a wall of my dining room. The weather forecast on my phone was predicting more rain later.

Photo of leafy green trees on a rainy day.

As the day went on, however, the sky cleared. By late afternoon, it was sunny and warm. I went rowing with my husband, taking it easy and just relaxing.

The rainy-day picture was an obvious mismatch when we sat down to dinner. I thought about displaying a sunnier view, but by then it was already late in the day, so there didn’t seem to be much reason to look for a different image.

“I’m glad you didn’t change the picture. That’s my favorite kind of rain.” My seven-year-old younger self, Ponch, peeked out of my subconscious to comment. She was wearing her usual poncho, which covered most of a red-striped dress, and white knee socks with penny loafers.

“Hi Ponch.” I glanced back at the picture. “What do you like about it?”

“My favorite rain is when it’s just sprinkling a little, so you can walk around and feel the rain on your face, but it’s not so much that Mom says to come back inside and put on a raincoat.”

“I have a raincoat for rowing. Mostly I don’t wear it, though, because I would be too hot, so I just go out without it and get wet.”

“Well, you’re grown up and nobody makes you wear it.” Ponch sounded just a bit envious. “Your boat looks like it would be fun. Maybe I can row it sometime?”

“It’s too big for kids your age.” I smiled. “But I am a future you, so I can promise that you’ll have plenty of time to row it when you are older.”

Clear sky all through Sunday and light reflecting from snow filled my home with brightness. The higher angle of the sun showed that springtime wasn’t far away, and I felt mostly recovered from the cold I’d caught last week. Still, I felt lethargic and couldn’t stir off the couch to do my rowing machine workout as early in the day as I’d planned on doing.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear a little voice whimpering, “It’s all too hard. So exhausting and painful. It’s always too much to push through, and it never, ever stops.”

The voice belonged to the unhappy younger self I called Queenie, who had been resettled—with reasonable success, I thought—in the imaginary 1890s village of Channelwood. She had told me she was happy there, with young friends to keep her company. The village, located on a far-away island, was a quiet and peaceful place where my younger selves and their companions were free to take care of themselves without interference from the outside world. They didn’t have to contend with other people’s expectations or do anything beyond ordinary farm work…

Hmmm. Maybe I hadn’t given that quite enough thought.

I pictured myself appearing in Channelwood’s kitchen outbuilding around midafternoon. The three older girls, in long dresses and aprons, were all hard at work preparing dinner. Sara was chopping carrots, Ella was rolling a pie crust, and Queenie was sitting on the back steps plucking a chicken. The back door opened onto a view of bare trees, gently sloping hills, and a shallow creek.

Shallow river with bare trees.

(Image credit: Barney Moss)

“Okay, team meeting.” I gestured toward the kitchen table, on which had appeared a teapot and four cups, along with the tin of assorted butter cookies that I had promised Queenie over a year ago (and forgotten about until now). “Wash your hands and come get your tea.”

The girls looked at me curiously, as if they didn’t quite understand what I had in mind. Sara poured hot water from a pail on the hearth into a basin that already held cool water; there was no indoor plumbing here. When she’d gotten the temperature right, the girls washed with an apple-scented bar of homemade soap and gathered around the table.

“I’m not sure I went about this entirely right when I brought you here.” Taking the lid off the cookies, I put the tin back down for the girls to help themselves, which they promptly did while I poured the tea for everyone.

“That is to say,” I went on, “although you’re all safe here and there’s nobody around to bully you or make unfair demands, you still don’t have much time to rest and relax because you always have so many chores.”

Ella took a sip of her tea and shrugged. “Having chores—well, that’s life, isn’t it?”

“Unless we were princesses.” Sara, with a dreamy look, chose a square butter cookie from the assortment and set it down neatly on the edge of her saucer. “And then servants would be doing the chores, and we’d always be kind to them, making sure that they were healthy and well fed because that’s what good princesses do.”

Queenie, picking up a round cookie with swirls of chocolate, didn’t quite snort derisively in response to that, but she looked as if she would have if she hadn’t thought better of it. “Ugh, who’d want to be a princess. They have to learn court etiquette and attend fancy formal events, and nasty people would gossip about the least little mistake. No thanks.”

Frowning slightly, Ella took a breath and then, letting it back out without a word, let the silence lengthen while she poured another cup of tea.

“All right, this is how I see it.” I set down my teacup and looked from one girl to another. “We don’t have any servants, whether or not we might want to, and being self-reliant is a lot of work. This island is not totally cut off from the outside world because a ship comes by every few months with supplies, but even so, you’re obliged to do much more for yourselves than most people—either in the 1890s or a century later. I didn’t give this situation nearly enough thought when I first imagined what this village would be like.”

Then I turned to face Queenie, who was nibbling her cookie and still looked sulky. “And in particular, there is no requirement to do almost everything for yourself, pushing on until you’re exhausted every day, to avoid becoming a victim of gossip or other nastiness if you make a mistake. Those aren’t the only two choices. In fact, the world is full of infinite possibilities. Believe it or not, there are plenty of scenarios in which life is easy and other people are happy to help you. I’ve been remiss in not bringing that to your attention before now. As your future self—or your fairy godmother, if you prefer—I’m about to correct my error.”

I wasn’t costumed as a fairy godmother with a sparkly magic wand, but it didn’t take me long to decide that one could simply appear in my hand. Visualizing a large and ridiculously gaudy silver wand covered with gemstones, I waved it a few times and announced, “There, that’s much better, isn’t it?”

The basin in which the girls had washed their hands was gone, replaced by a capacious kitchen sink. A wood-burning stove had taken the place of the hearth, and a half-open door on the other side of the room revealed a bathroom suitably equipped with plumbing. Everything was in an old-fashioned style that was my best guess as to what might have been available in the 1890s, although I hadn’t actually researched the subject because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of my thoughts by doing so.

“Channelwood’s new water tower is over that way, behind the trees.” After pointing in the general direction of the window above the kitchen sink, I set my imaginary wand down on the table and helped myself to a cookie.

“This ought to be nicer,” said Ella, her tone a bit doubtful, “but now we’re going to have to learn how to do our cooking with that stove.”

“No worries, it shouldn’t take long.” I smiled at her and then turned to Queenie. “And if there’s a day when you mess up and burn something, it’s no big deal. Nobody here will say nasty things if you make a mistake. It’s just practice, that’s all, and practice is information. We learn from it and go forward accordingly.”

After I left the girls to enjoy their new comforts in Channelwood and went to do my workout (which didn’t go well because of bad pacing), it got late in the day, and I never did finish writing this post. I decided to let it settle for a few days while I considered how to incorporate the advice I’d given into my own life.

On Wednesday after work I repeated the rowing machine workout that I’d flubbed on Sunday, and this time it went much better. Pushing away those “it’s too hard” thoughts, I told myself that I was staying nice and steady, at a good sustainable pace. I was, in fact, able to stay much more consistent all through the workout, and now I’m feeling optimistic about my upcoming online race.

I had a somewhat garbled dream in which I was going on adventures, but I had to do it on a schedule, for reasons I couldn’t remember when I woke up. That brought back a memory of how, as a child, I had thought adults’ carefully planned schedules were beyond ridiculous.

At first, the dream didn’t seem like it meant anything in particular. When it came to mind again, though, I decided to take a few minutes to visit my imaginary younger selves in Channelwood village. I was curious about what they thought of adventures and schedules. The two youngest children, seven-year-old Ponch and five-year-old Peter, were playing on a rocky hillside near the beach.

Although it was winter in Channelwood as in real life, the island’s milder climate made it feel more like spring. Ponch had on the woven poncho that inspired the nickname, and her companion wore a favorite green jacket that suited the Peter Pan persona. A large basket, tilted at a rather precarious angle, rested on the ground beside the children.

“What adventures do you have on your schedule for today?” I made my way down the hillside toward them, half expecting to be told I was asking a silly grown-up question.

“We’re taking care of a baby dragon.” Ponch spoke in a cheerful tone that suggested she found no fault with my choice of words. “Want to see?”

Before I had time to answer yes or no, she already had lifted the basket’s lid just a little, giving me a peek at its inhabitant. Looking back at me was, curled in a corner, what appeared to be a small and very ordinary-looking lizard. The floor of the basket was lined with sand, twigs, and rocks.

Lizard with body and tail curling in opposite directions.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

A shallow bowl, evidently intended as drinking water, had mostly spilled into the corner opposite the lizard because of the basket’s careless placement on the slope. Ponch quickly shut the lid again, before the lizard could get any ideas of escaping—although it didn’t look motivated to do anything but go back to sleep.

“How do you tell the difference between a baby dragon and an ordinary lizard?” While I certainly wasn’t trying to put a damper on the children’s pretending, I did wonder what explanation they might give for the creature’s lack of wings.

“All baby dragons start out as ordinary lizards,” Peter announced, in an earnest, professorial tone. “To change into dragons, first they have to be sprinkled with fairy dust at sunrise. After that, they have to be kept in a basket all day, so that they don’t fly away before their wings are grown. Also, they need to drink a magic potion. Then, after sunset, the basket has to be opened just as the moon is rising. When the moonlight first touches the dragon, the wings grow to their full length, and the dragon flies off to learn the ways of dragons in a far-away land.”

“And then,” Ponch put in, filling out the day’s schedule with more practical details, “Sara will call us for dinner. Because it is still winter, sunset comes early. We’re having fish for dinner; Queenie caught them this morning. Ella makes the best baked fish, yum.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed. “I’d say your adventures have a well-planned schedule. Better than my grown-up chores.”

Ponch gave me a smile in return. Peter’s dismissive shrug, meanwhile, made plain the very idea of being grown up didn’t merit a moment’s thought.

Twas the night before Christmas, and the children were all snug in their beds in the tiny houses of Channelwood village. A mouse was stirring, with visions of cookies dancing in his furry little head. Although Ella’s pet mouse, Darcy, was supposed to be asleep in his basket at the foot of Ella’s bed, he was just pretending. As soon as Ella dozed off, up he jumped, intent on getting to that plate of cookies he’d seen Sara leave on the kitchen table. He was in such a rush that he didn’t even stop to shake off the ridiculous red cap that Ella had put on him.

Usually, the children were tidy enough that Darcy wouldn’t find much besides a crumb or two for a midnight snack. Ella conscientiously fed him a healthy mix of homemade kibble; but of course, no self-respecting pet would be content with that. Not when there were cookies left unguarded!

Scurrying toward the kitchen, Darcy heard the sound of tinkling bells. He didn’t think much about it until he discovered an intruder—a big fellow in a red suit, with a bushy white beard—standing next to the kitchen table and EATING ALL THE COOKIES! Furiously, Darcy stood up on his hind legs and chittered something not at all nice in mouse language.

Mouse in a Christmas hat.

“Well, hello, little fellow! A very merry Christmas to you!” The intruder gave a jolly laugh and bit into the last cookie.

Darcy shook his tiny fists and screeched something even nastier.

“Well, now, this won’t do. Naughty mice don’t get presents. If you want a piece of this cookie, you’re just going to have to ask properly.”

That didn’t seem fair to Darcy; after all, he was the one who lived here. But his greed soon got the better of his pride, and he chirped something that sounded at least somewhat contrite. The white-bearded fellow reached down, with a chunk of cookie and a hearty “Ho, ho, ho!”

Darcy took a big bite. Yum, oatmeal! He closed his eyes in bliss. When he opened them again, the intruder was nowhere to be seen. Outside the kitchen window, bells tinkled again, and the faint shape of a sleigh vanished into the clouds.

Snuggling back into his cozy basket in Ella’s room, Darcy tried to tell himself that he had dreamed it all after eating too much of a very tasty cookie. He couldn’t quite manage to convince himself, though.

Because I still had a little unscheduled vacation time needing to be used before the end of the year, I decided to take off Thursday morning and Friday afternoon from work. Earlier in the week, the weather forecast for Thursday predicted a warm day without much chance of rain, and I thought that perhaps I could go rowing with my husband around noon if it wasn’t too windy.

Although the morning was indeed quite warm for December, the wind was gusty enough that we decided a lunchtime row wouldn’t be much fun. Friday’s forecast looks much better for rowing. I spent a little time doing yoga and exercising on the rowing machine, but mostly I just lazed around, feeling indecisive about what sort of image to put on my digital art display. The morning started out sunny, but clouds were blowing in fast. I finally settled on a lake with a blue sky and some passing clouds.

A lake in winter with tall brown grass in the foreground.

(Photo credit: Antonio Garcia Campos)

The dry brown grass along the shore made plain that winter was near, as did the bare trees across the lake. When I pictured myself taking a breath of the cool fresh air, it felt pretty comfortable; there was almost no wind. The tiny structures on the other side of the lake settled into a recognizable pattern as the outbuildings of Channelwood, the imaginary village inhabited by several of my younger selves.

I heard a bit of splashing, and a stone skipped into view across the water. Turning to my right, I saw Peter, who was me at five years old when I really, really wanted to fly away to the Neverland and enjoy a new adventure with the fairies every day.

“Did you come here to play?” Peter took a step toward me and held out a flat chip of dark gray slate.

I gave it my best effort but didn’t have much success, given the fact that skimming stones was something I hadn’t done in decades. Peter politely refrained from commenting as my stone sank without a bounce.

“Well, playing wasn’t actually on my mind,” I had to admit. “And not much else was, either. I’ve been feeling low on energy because I trained so hard to row faster at regattas this year.”

Peter stopped skimming stones and looked thoughtful for a minute.

“The Lost Boys felt like that sometimes, when they’d had a long day of adventures and had been working hard to learn new flying tricks. Wendy said they needed more sleep, and she tucked them into bed early and told them stories.”

“That’s good advice, Peter. But my mother can’t tuck me in and tell me bedtime stories because I grew up and don’t live in the same house with her anymore.”

Peter thought about it a bit more.

“I’ll have to pretend to be your mother and tell you a story, then. It’s not bedtime yet, but you can lie down in the grass over there next to that tree, and I’ll tell you a naptime story.”

I found a place among the tree roots that wasn’t muddy. Peter gallantly contributed his green jacket for my pillow and gave me a moment to get comfortable before starting the story.


Once upon a time, on a lake very much like this one, there was a duckling who was full of energy and always wanted to play. Instead of staying in line and following Mama Duck like the other ducklings, he wanted to dance on the water, flapping his wings and turning in circles. When he got too far away, Mama Duck quacked at him and Papa Duck pecked him, but he still wouldn’t behave like a proper duckling.

“Little one, you need to do as you’re told,” quacked Mama Duck. “There are hawks, dogs, and cats everywhere, and they don’t want to see you dance—they just want to eat you!”

Of course, he went on dancing anyway, and it wasn’t long before he got too far away from his family again. Trying to find his way back to them, he passed a hawk sitting on a branch overhanging the river.

“Good afternoon, Madam Hawk,” said the duckling (he had, at least, properly learned his manners from Mama Duck). “I would like to show you my new dance, but my mama says that you don’t want to see it and that you just want to eat me. You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

The hawk fluffed her feathers. “Your mama isn’t wrong that I am a predator, but I wouldn’t have any interest in eating a scrawny little duckling like you. I wouldn’t get much more than an annoying mouthful of feathers. A nice fat rabbit would be much more to my liking. So, you may dance for me, young duck, and I promise not to eat you.”

The duckling happily performed his latest dance, and the hawk clapped her wings, cheering.

Just around the next bend in the river, the duckling saw a spotted dog lying on the shore in the sunshine. The dog blinked, half asleep, as the duckling hopped out of the water and came closer.

“A good day to you, Mr. Dog, and may I show you my new dance? My mama says you only want to eat me, but that isn’t really true, is it?”

The dog yawned, showing a large mouthful of sharp teeth. “I might eat you if I felt like getting up, but right now I am too lazy and would rather lie here in the sun.”

Once again, the duckling danced, and the dog applauded with a wagging tail.

Walking farther along the shore, the duckling came across a black cat fastidiously licking a paw. The cat watched with curiosity as the duckling approached.

“Hello, Madam Cat, would you like to watch me dance? You wouldn’t eat me instead, would you?”

The cat blinked once, as if uncertain, and then began grooming the other paw. “Hmm. A duckling might be a tasty little treat, but my owner just fed me, and I’m more bored than hungry right now. Watching you dance might be more interesting than eating you—maybe.”

The duckling gave one more performance and then, seeing that the cat was starting to look hungrier, scooted back to the river in a hurry. It wasn’t long before he found his family again. After giving him a loud quacking lecture on his bad behavior, Mama Duck just shook her feathered head in despair and turned to Papa Duck.

“He’s sure to come to a bad end one of these days.”


I wasn’t far from dozing off as I listened to Peter’s naptime story. That seemed to be all there was to it, though, as Peter turned away and sent another stone flying over the lake, skimming it lightly across the water with perfect technique.

“Did he?” I asked.

Peter turned back to me, looking as if he had forgotten all about the story. “Did who?”

“The duck. Did he come to a bad end?”

“Yes, of course he did.” Peter shrugged. “He grew up.”

The world felt unusually quiet when I woke up to a cool, overcast morning on Saturday. I got myself some breakfast and, while sipping Raspberry Chocolate coffee, set my art display to a painting of spring blossoms with a peaceful lake in the background.

Painting of spring blossoms on an overcast day with a lake in the background.

(Image credit: Linda Apriletti)

My mind felt quiet, too, like there was nothing I needed or wanted to do. That was peculiar enough to make me wonder if there might be something wrong. I didn’t feel like reading a book, browsing on the computer, or writing a story or a blog post. Nothing else was distracting me—no chores or to-dos demanding attention. What was going on here? Had all of my creative energy mysteriously gone missing?

I imagined myself stepping into the picture on the art display, but not much seemed to be going on there either. Just another cool, overcast morning with painted spring blossoms. I looked around for interesting characters and didn’t see any, so I sat down on an imaginary log and gazed out over the pond. A few pink and white petals floated by. A frog jumped on a rock at the water’s edge.

“Doesn’t this give your mind the loveliest space to wander?”

Turning my head, I saw one girl, alone. Sara, cheerful as always, had come up next to me while I was looking at the frog. The path behind her led away into the woods, and I could just make out the tiny tree houses of Channelwood in the midst of the spring foliage.

“Ella and Queenie both have been working hard since they woke up this morning,” she went on, arranging her long skirts comfortably as she sat down beside me. “There’s always something to do. Chores, projects—so many ways to stay busy. People forget that they need to leave space for imagination.”

The frog hopped off the rock and landed with a splash.

“I wasn’t busy at all this morning,” I told her, “and I felt that I had plenty of empty space—but, for whatever reason, there was nothing to fill it.”

“That’s what happens,” Sara replied earnestly, keeping her big green eyes fixed on me. “When imagination hasn’t been given enough space in your mind to wander around and make itself happy, it finds somewhere else to go. Then you have to coax it back, like a neglected pet; and afterward, even more time has to pass before it feels comfortable again.”

I pondered that for a moment, unsure what to say. Then it occurred to me that she was a fictional character, after all; so I didn’t have to come up with an answer right away. Instead, I could put this scene on pause until I had a better idea of where it was going.

After giving myself a day to consider the proper care and feeding of imagination, I returned to the conversation on Sunday morning. The spring flowers picture on the art display didn’t match the bright sunlight streaming into my house from a clear blue sky; but I let it stay there for the time being, just for continuity of thought.

Sara was sitting on the log where I had left her, although she wasn’t in exactly the same position. She had turned her head to watch the bees bustling about on the heavy blossoms.

“They look very busy,” I said, following her gaze.

“Yes, they never stop to wonder what might happen next. I don’t suppose that means they lack imagination, though. Perhaps that one,” and Sara pointed to a bee hanging upside down from a large blossom, “is imagining a warm and sunny day, with just the lightest of breezes under a bright blue sky. Maybe it’s easier for them to pretend simple things like that because their minds aren’t cluttered with worries. Imagination doesn’t come from idleness. What it needs, instead, is regular practice, along with enough space to grow.”

I glanced away from the art display for a moment, and I had to agree with Sara when—in real life—I found myself in exactly the bright, sunny day she had described.

March 11, 2021 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

After a few days of pleasantly warm weather this week, I’ve been wanting to get out somewhere fun and play hooky, rather than sitting at a desk all day. I even dreamed that I was a high school kid in detention for skipping classes.

But of course, no spring break again this year, so instead I went to visit my younger selves in the imaginary village of Channelwood for a virtual vacation. I found the two youngest ones hanging out at the beach: Peter, who was me at five years old pretending to be Peter Pan, and my seven-year-old past self Ponch, so nicknamed because of the woven poncho that she wore over her dress on breezy days like this.

Rocky hill by a seashore.

(Image credit: Aimee Elise)

Ponch had a bag of sunflower seeds and was eating some of them, but Peter was throwing handfuls to a noisy crowd of seagulls. Peter also was carrying on a lively conversation of squawks and chirps with the closest birds.

“Okay, that’s enough. You can’t give the birds all our food,” Ponch declared, pulling the bag away when Peter reached for it again.

“Why not? There are plenty of seeds in the kitchen shed. Queenie grew more sunflowers than we could use, just like she always does with her crops. And if Sara tries to make the best of it again by feeding us another pumpkin and cauliflower casserole full of sunflower seeds, I might change my mind about wanting her to be my mother.”

“Sara is very creative, and she wants the best for everyone. You ought to be grateful that she takes such good care of you. And…”

Peter cut her off mid-lecture by squawking loudly at the nearest gull, which had turned its head sideways to regard both children with a beady eye.

“The gull was complaining that I hadn’t brought biscuit crumbs instead. See, Ponch, even the birds have had enough of Queenie’s sunflower seeds.”

“You’re just making that up. And if you really can talk with that gull, you should tell it to be grateful, too.” Ponch tossed her head in annoyance and only then noticed me standing there. Evidently looking for an ally, she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you think so?”

What I honestly thought, in fact, was that I hadn’t planned on spending my imaginary spring break mediating a squabble between young children. But, in the interest of kindness to my younger selves, I tried to come up with a diplomatic answer.

“When people help us, it’s always a good thing to be grateful,” I said. “But if there are plenty of sunflower seeds, then sharing a few with the birds won’t do any harm.”

“Barrels of sunflower seeds,” Peter informed me, illustrating the point with hands wide apart. “And barrels of turnips, rutabagas, and lots of other stuff besides. Queenie is already starting to plant more. We couldn’t possibly eat them all, even if we wanted to. And of course…”

Ponch interrupted the obvious next sentence about not wanting to. “Peter, you still ought to be glad that we never have to go hungry. You know, there are places in the world where children are starving. If all you can do is complain about having too much food, then you’re just being silly.”

“Don’t preach me a sermon, Ponch. I saw you last night feeding your rutabaga to Ella’s pet mouse under the table.”

“Well, the mouse was properly grateful. It ate the rutabaga and didn’t complain.”

“Huh.” Peter, having created an effective distraction, took the opportunity to grab the bag and toss out another handful of seeds. That prompted a screech from Ponch that was even louder than the gulls.

Feeling grateful on my own part that they were both just fictional characters and I didn’t have any parental responsibilities here, I decided it was about time to cut my virtual vacation short.

After several weeks in winter’s frigid depths, I woke this morning to find bright sunshine and melting snow. To match the light, airy feeling that it inspired, I chose an image for my art display that featured a sunrise over the calm waters of a pond in springtime.

Sunrise over a still pond.

The sunrise photo reminded me of the imaginary pond in Channelwood, the tiny village where I send my stressed-out younger selves to relax. It wasn’t the same area where Peter had been skimming stones in a June blog entry, but it could easily have been another view of the pond. I took a deep breath and pictured myself there, breathing in the fresh air.

Peter and his usual companions were nowhere to be seen. When I turned to the right, I noticed a little girl who looked comfortable in a light cloth poncho over a navy blue dress, with knee socks and penny loafers. She hadn’t been among the visitors to Channelwood before today, but she was immediately recognizable as my seven-year-old past self.

“Well, hello there, Ponch,” I greeted her cheerfully, giving her a nickname just for the fun of it. “What a beautiful morning it is.”

“Mom always wants me to wear the poncho when the temperature is between 60 and 70 Fah-ren-heit,” she informed me, with the last word in a singsong tone, as if enjoying the sound. “And if it’s colder, then I have to wear a coat. The thermometer in the window wasn’t quite at the 60 mark when I came outside, but Mom didn’t notice. And she won’t, either, because she was too busy complaining again about Dad getting a convertible. That’s why I came here, so I wouldn’t have to listen to that. I like the convertible because it’s such a pretty sky blue, and it’s fun when we go to the beach. I want them to quit arguing.”

I found myself wishing I could return to those days of innocence while, at the same time, feeling sorry for my younger self because I knew they weren’t going to last much longer.

“They love you very much and want to take good care of you,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “even if you have to wear a coat sometimes. And when you grow up, that doesn’t mean life has to be a struggle, doing everything on your own. There will be kind people who can help when you need it, because the world is full of them. You just have to look.”

Although I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was trying to convince Ponch or myself, she smiled a little before turning aside to gaze out over the pond—and I felt better too.