When I woke up, it was quite a dark morning even for midwinter, with wind gusts and the occasional snow shower. Until I checked the time, I wasn’t altogether sure that it was morning at all.

With Christmas Eve being a holiday from work for me, the hour didn’t really matter; but I can’t often fall back to sleep after waking at my usual time, so it seemed not worth trying. After getting my breakfast and coffee, I sat on the couch and changed the image on my art display to a sparkly Christmas tree. Then I switched on a daylight lamp, which took away enough of the gloom to make it look like an ordinary cloudy morning.

I decided to exercise my imagination by visiting my younger selves and their fictional companions in Channelwood village. Although the sky looked brighter there as I pictured it, the trees were still mostly bare, and muddy paths stretched away into a windy woods.

Muddy path through winter woods.

(Image credit: Garry Knight)

The scene looked more cheerful when I opened the door to the kitchen outbuilding, which is my younger selves’ usual gathering place. They had just finished breakfast, judging by the crumb-strewn plates on the central table, along with one remaining pumpkin muffin on a serving platter (which I nabbed, yum).

Evergreen wreaths with bright red berries adorned the walls. Fragrant candles glowed on shelves and tabletops. Embroidered ornaments hung from the branches of a potted pine sapling in a corner, along with shiny strands of dried grass that served as icicles. A nativity scene with wooden figurines occupied a table beside the tree.

The children’s faces, when I looked closely, were not as festive. Even Sara, known for her unquenchable optimism, couldn’t entirely repress a sigh as she gazed at the merry decorations.

“Sometimes I miss the crowds of London,” she confided. “It’s lovely and peaceful here in this tiny village—but when Christmas is almost here, I want to see the busy shops and bright lights again. Oh, I’m longing to hear the carolers.”

“Yes, I remember,” said Peter, who was sitting cross-legged on a forest-green rug by the tree. “The city lights always looked so jolly when I flew over with the fairies on my way back to Neverland.”

Ella, never idle for long, had started gathering up the breakfast dishes. “I used to dream that someday I would go to the holiday ball and dance with the prince.”

Still sitting at the breakfast table, Queenie sipped from a half-full mug and stared at the little tree as if oblivious to her companions. The silence lengthened until I thought she wasn’t going to join the conversation, but then she spoke.

“I miss store-bought tinsel, sparkling like fresh snow on Christmas morning. And shortbread cookies in a holiday tin. And, and,” her voice quavered as if about to break, “getting together with family.”

Sara nodded, her small face unusually grave.

Although I wanted to say something that would cheer up this somber little group, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Truth be told, I’d had many of the same feelings myself this year, and whether I had dealt with them any better was debatable. So I stayed quiet, just looking around the room at the holiday decorations, until my glance fell on the nativity scene.

“In my time it’s a lonely year, too,” I said. “But as you know, Baby Jesus had nothing but a manger with the sheep and goats for company. It was enough.”

Sara responded with just a hint of a smile. “Ella carved our nativity scene. She’s a talented artist, though she won’t admit it.”

“It’s nicely done,” I agreed.

“And Peter put the straw on the floor, while Queenie painted the figurines. It all came together very well.”

I turned to say a few words to Queenie, who was just now getting up from the table.

“Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to bring a cookie assortment in a decorated tin.”

The winter’s first snow started falling in my area on Monday. Very little of it stuck to the roads, and I didn’t have to go out anyway because my husband did the grocery shopping. Still, it looked yucky when I took the trash out to the curb, and the lack of sunlight left me feeling a bit gloomy when I brought in the garbage can after Tuesday’s pickup.

I decided to cheer myself up with an imaginary visit to the small village of Channelwood, which I envision as having a pleasant island climate for my younger selves to enjoy. When I arrived, though, it was plainly late autumn even without the snow. The sky was overcast, and the breeze felt chilly. Brown leaves floated in the still water of the pond, not far from where I’d found Peter skimming stones in June.

Still water on a cloudy autumn day.

(Photo credit: Maja Dumat)

Looking at the quiet landscape, I didn’t see my younger selves—or, for that matter, much life at all. No birds could be heard in the drab brownish trees, and no ducks or geese swam by in the pond. The only sign of wildlife was a pile of rabbit droppings. I suspected that some mischievous gremlin in my subconscious mind was having a good laugh at my expense.

“It’s so peaceful.”

The soft voice came from my younger self Queenie, who had come up behind me while I was gazing out over the pond.

“I love this time of year,” she continued. “Nature is clearing away the distractions and leaving plenty of space for us to breathe, ramble, and dream. You were daydreaming just now, weren’t you? I saw you jump a little when I spoke. I’m sorry about that—I wasn’t meaning to startle you. What fun things were you imagining?”

Queenie sounded so earnest and hopeful that I didn’t want to disappoint her with the mundane truth of my mental grumbling about rabbit doo and a drab landscape. Sifting through my recent thoughts for something more positive—and falling short—I told her simply, “I was looking for ducks and geese, but didn’t see any.”

“There were ducks here yesterday morning,” Queenie informed me. “I saw them just as the fog was lifting. Don’t you love to go for a walk on a foggy morning? Everything looks so mysterious and magical. Sara told me that when she lived in London, it was easy to imagine fairies around every corner in the fog. Sometimes their silvery wings would come clear, just for an instant, and then they would dart away again after realizing they’d been seen.”

Once again, I couldn’t help but to feel that my imagination left a lot to be desired. Although I’d noticed the low clouds and mist on Monday when I took the garbage out to the street, my focus had been entirely on getting the chore finished before the snowstorm blew in. Visions of fairies or anything else had been very far from my mind.

“I like Sara’s way of looking at things,” I said. “She makes ordinary days seem fascinating.”

“Yes, she does.” Queenie glanced toward the pond again. “Look, there’s a pair of ducks coming toward us.”

“Where I came from, there’s snow on the ground today,” I told her, much more cheerfully. “After I go back, I’ll pretend that I’m living in a cozy gingerbread house with vanilla icing all around it.”

Queenie smiled. “Sara would like that.”

November 22, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I woke up on a dark, rainy morning and got a cup of Chocolate Glazed Donut coffee from the K-cup carousel on the kitchen counter. That turned out to be an easier decision than choosing an image for my digital art display. I generally pick a different image each morning and try to match it to the ambient light, so that it looks like a window onto a new landscape every day. Usually I match the season, too, unless I’ve had enough of winter and decide that I’d rather see a tropical vacation picture.

Because winter wasn’t here yet, I went with an image of a forest in late autumn—thin, bare trees with only a few red leaves still in place. Something about it left me feeling sad, though; so I changed the picture to a winding stream with autumn trees, some of which still had green leaves.

Winding stream with autumn trees.

(Photo credit: Finn Terman Frederiksen)

This one felt like a better match for my mood. I sat on the couch reading a Kindle book for a while. As the day went on, I spent some time reading blogs and thought I probably ought to write something, but wasn’t sure what. I did a load of laundry, played a game on the computer, went back and sat on the couch again, and thought it was a dull and boring day. Even a cold, damp November afternoon had seemed a lot more exciting when I was a kid…

When I glanced up at the art display again, the winding stream image expanded in my imagination to take in a nearby playground. My 12-year-old self was hanging upside down by her knees from the monkey bars, waving to me.

“Hey there, dull and boring grown-up person! Wanna come play on the monkey bars with me?”

That wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind for exciting childhood adventures, to be honest. I pictured myself walking over damp squishy leaves and standing between the monkey bars and the swings, with my feet firmly on the ground as I looked up at her.

“Don’t you think that’s a rude way to talk to your future self?”

Younger-Me, looking entirely unconcerned, swung back and forth a few times before taking hold of a bar and dropping to the ground next to me.

“You sort of called yourself that, didn’t you? And it’s not my fault so much of your imagination went missing when you grew up. That’s what happens to old people—they get so totally stuck in their routines that they can’t do anything if it’s not on their a-gen-da.” She drew out the last word’s syllables mockingly and then, for further illustration, mimed writing on her left hand with an imaginary pen in her right.

“Kids get bored sometimes too,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but kids don’t stay bored. There’s always something else to do. Or, at least, something to imagine.”

I thought about that for a moment, and then I walked over to the swings and sat down.

“Okay, give me a push.”

October 22, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

The kitchen outbuilding in the tiny village of Channelwood was filled with the delicious autumn scents of apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin. A mostly-eaten loaf of pumpkin bread sat invitingly on the large picnic-style wooden table in the middle of the room. I helped myself to a yummy slice. My younger self Queenie was nowhere to be seen, but her companions Ella and Sara bustled busily about, filling crates with glass jars that held bright cinnamon-brown contents.

“I made a batch of apple butter this morning. We’re taking it to the storage shed now, and after that we’ll take some apples down to the cellar,” Sara explained, cheerful as always. She and Ella each picked up a crate and headed out the door. I took the last crate and followed them.

Walking past a few small sheds on this cool, misty afternoon, I didn’t see anything that looked like the entrance to a cellar. We left our jars in one of the sheds, picked up baskets of apples, and went back outdoors. A leaf-strewn, muddy trail led through a sprawling pumpkin patch just outside the village.

Pumpkin field with trees in background.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“It looks like you’re having a very good pumpkin harvest this year,” I said. “That pumpkin bread in the kitchen was delicious.”

Sara glanced back at me and smiled. “I am so glad you enjoyed it! We’ve had quite an adventure finding ways to use them. Pumpkin bread, muffins and pies, roasted pumpkin seeds, and even a pumpkin and fish casserole. Yesterday I made pumpkin walnut butter; that’s what was in the crate you took to the shed.”

“Too much of an adventure, if you ask me,” put in Ella, stepping carefully around a puddle as the trail began sloping downward through trees and bushes. Around a bend, there was an opening in the hillside with rough stone steps leading into a narrow cave. The girls started down the steps, and I walked behind them.

Ella put her basket on a shelf along one wall before turning to speak directly to me. “As you can see.”

The dim light in the cave—which was evidently Channelwood’s cellar—revealed baskets and crates of ordinary foods such as apples, pears, and carrots. Much of the space, however, was taken up by pumpkins. Everywhere I looked, there were more of them.

“They aren’t native to this island,” Ella explained, “and we never had them until Queenie got seeds from the supply ship last year. When she planted the seeds this spring, pumpkin plants sprang up all over.”

“By now, we’ve all had more than enough pumpkin to last us forever and ever,” chimed in young Peter, who had followed us into the cave. “Even my turtle won’t eat it anymore.”

Now that Sara and I had put down our apples, Ella led the way as we came back up into the fresh air. A light rain had started to fall, but it was still warmer outdoors than in the chilly depths of the cave.

“Fortunately, the ship came by again today,” Ella continued, “and we helped Queenie take cartloads of pumpkins down to the beach. She’s haggling with the sailors now, trading them for something more useful.”

As we made our way back through the pumpkin patch, Sara observed, “But it has been lovely to see Queenie so pleased with the success of her crop.”

Ella just shrugged in response to that. She looked much more cheerful when, after taking off our muddy shoes in the kitchen’s foyer, we found ourselves welcomed with a roaring fire and mugs of steaming hot cider. Queenie happily showed us what she’d gotten from the sailors: more jars for canning, a kettle, sewing needles, matches, and several other household essentials.

“And,” Queenie announced, holding up a large paper packet triumphantly, “they gave me another kind of seeds, even though I didn’t ask for any. I’m very much looking forward to next year’s crop of zucchini!”

July 15, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

After a rainy Sunday afternoon, we’ve gotten back to a more normal July weather pattern around here. The pleasant sunshine brings to mind the long summer days of childhood, rambling through the woods and picking wild blackberries in the meadows.

Blackberries ready to be picked.

(Photo credit: Bob Richmond)

The image that I had on my art display on Tuesday was a seashore animation, which showed waves breaking on the sand beneath a gorgeous blue sky. Although the art display is silent, I felt as if I could hear the rhythmic sounds of waves and seagulls very close by.

Then my imaginary view expanded to take in a patch of blackberries near the village of Channelwood. A hillside, dotted with wildflowers, sloped gently down to the beach on the island’s eastern shore. The sea looked calm on this bright, clear day.

Picking berries next to me was my younger self Queenie, dressed as usual like an 1890s farmgirl with a bonnet, braids, and a long gingham dress and stockings. I didn’t have a basket, but Queenie had a good-sized one, which was about half full.

“I remember how much I enjoyed picking berries when I was a kid,” I said, after I had picked a handful and put them into Queenie’s basket. “Those summer days felt like they would go on forever. Going back to school seemed very far away, and being grown up was almost too distant even to imagine.”

“There wasn’t anywhere you needed to be,” Queenie put in, as she carefully disentangled a bramble that had gotten caught on her dress. “There wasn’t anything you needed to do.”

“Yes. Or at least it seemed that way, which amounted to the same thing.” I looked up from the blackberries and, for a moment, let my gaze rest on the hazy blue line of the horizon. “Of course I needed to be home in time for dinner, and I wore a wind-up watch—that was a few years before digital. I remember winding it before school on dark winter mornings. But that watch isn’t part of my summer memories; the days seem timeless as I recall them now, without anything to measure or limit them.”

Queenie picked a few more berries before she spoke again.

“It’s not entirely true that there is nothing I need to do. I’ll have to get back to the village after a while. Ella wants the berries so she can bake blackberry tarts, and I have some chores to do after that. Right now, though, I don’t feel a need to be anywhere else. Maybe that’s all it takes to have a view into forever.”

June 25, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

After I left Peter at the pond skimming stones in a previous post, I walked up to Channelwood’s well-tended orchards. I found Ella and Sara, in bonnets and long gingham dresses as usual, busily picking apricots. They already had filled two large baskets, and I helped them to fill another. We picked up the full baskets and carried them to a small drying shed near the kitchen outbuilding.

Apricots on a tree.

(Photo credit: Malcolm Manners)

Queenie, who had been pitting apricots and laying them out on drying racks, put down her knife and wiped her hands. I set down my basket in the shade next to the shed, where a stack of empty baskets stood next to a full one.

Sara put her basket next to mine before turning to smile at me. “I love dried apricots, don’t you? And I love picking them on a beautiful sunny day like this. When it’s dark in the winter, they look like tiny bits of sunshine saved to make us happy.”

“Yes, I do too,” I agreed, now feeling more cheerful myself after just a few minutes in the presence of Sara’s boundless enthusiasm. “And I want to thank you girls for generously giving Peter a home and taking such good care of him. I spent a little time with him at the pond, and he looks happy and well.”

“We’re glad to do it,” Sara immediately replied. “Peter is a dear child.”

“No trouble in the least,” Ella chimed in. “Although Peter often acts without thinking—and that’s only to be expected of a five-year-old, after all—he has good intentions and a kind heart.”

I glanced toward Queenie, who was standing silently next to the other girls and had not yet spoken. Staring at the wall of the shed, apparently lost in her own thoughts, she said softly, “I wish…”

Sara, always perceptive and empathetic, turned toward Queenie right away and assured her, “And you’re a dear too, Queenie, of course.”

Picking up empty baskets, Ella and Sara set off toward the orchard again. Ella walked sedately, but Sara’s bouncy gait made clear that she was skipping through the meadow, her long dress billowing behind her.

Queenie picked up her knife and went back to pitting apricots, flinging the pits with unnecessary vigor into a sack at her feet.

“I know that there’s no good reason for me to feel slighted,” she said, half to me and half to the wall. “When I was a child I wasn’t neglected. I always had plenty of food, clothing, and whatever I needed. And of course, Ella and Sara had much harder lives; they both lost their mothers when they were little. I can’t even imagine how awful that must have been. So I’ve had it easy, and I just need to count my blessings and be grateful. You don’t have to tell me that.”

“I wasn’t going to,” I answered. “Your feelings are real. Where they came from doesn’t make them any less real, and denying or minimizing them won’t make them go away. Acknowledge them, Queenie, however you must—and then take a few minutes to go out and skip in the sunshine.”

Now that I’ve gotten more used to a quieter daily routine, I haven’t noticed any of my anxious younger selves popping up from distant corners of my subconscious. Still, this week I thought it might be a good idea to check on my often-troubled past self Queenie, along with her young companions Ella and Sara, in the imaginary village of Channelwood.

I arrived by sailing ship on a pleasant sunny day. After passing through the cool shade of the bayou’s wooden walkways, which Ella always kept tidy and in good repair, I came out of the trees beside a pond. A path, muddy in spots, curved around a tall stand of cattails.

Pond with cattails in foreground.

(Photo credit: Johan Neven)

Hearing a splash, I walked around the cattails and found a small boy standing at the pond’s edge, skimming stones. In keeping with Channelwood’s setting in the 1890s, the boy wore a plain cotton shirt and trousers with suspenders.

“Hello,” I greeted him. “Do you live here?”

The boy looked thoughtful, as if considering how best to answer. About a minute passed before he finally said, “Well, I suppose I do now, ever since Wendy and the Lost Boys left the Neverland and went back to London. Of course I don’t need a family, as I can take care of myself; but Sara wanted to be my mother, so I decided to stay for a while.”

By then I recognized this past self as my five-year-old Peter Pan wannabe. It took a moment for the recognition to set in, though, because in our previous encounter, the child had been dressed in the frilly girl’s clothing that I actually wore at that age.

“Did Sara make your clothes?” I asked.

“No, Ella made them. Ella’s very good at sewing. Sara tucks me in at night and tells me bedtime stories.”

A ripple disturbed the water near Peter’s feet, and a small turtle poked its head up out of the pond. It was holding a flat chip of stone in its mouth. Laboriously, it plodded up the muddy bank and dropped the stone in front of Peter.

“I’ve been teaching the turtle how to play fetch with stones,” Peter explained. He rummaged in a pocket for some squishy brownish blob that he fed to the turtle, telling it, “Nicely done! Good work!”

After eating its reward, the turtle started making its slow way back toward the pond.

“Ella gave me some dried apple,” Peter told me. “The turtle seems to like it pretty well.”

“I thought turtles ate worms and bugs,” I said.

“They’re not very particular. I have a few worms and bugs in my pocket too.” Evidently remembering his manners, Peter reached toward his pocket with grubby fingers and went on to say, “I have more dried apple. Would you like some?”

“No, thank you,” I replied, perhaps with a bit too much haste. “But it was kind of you to offer.”

“One must always,” Peter declared virtuously, “be kind to a lady.”

Sometimes when I go to bed, I visualize myself in a tiny house high in the treetops in Channelwood, the imaginary village that serves as a refuge for my younger selves. One night not long ago, I was picturing myself in a comfortable bed there, with moonlight streaming through the open shutters of a window with no glass.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I was just about to doze off when the thought occurred to me that Channelwood was still very sparsely populated. The village had only three residents, and the last time I added a new character was in 2017.

While I was sleepily wondering what other characters might suit the story, a little hand reached over the windowsill. Then a head came into view, with bangs and barrettes, soon followed by a body in a frilly dress and white stockings.

“Hello,” I greeted this unexpected guest, whose appearance at the window showed impressive tree-climbing skills, given how high above the ground we were. “Nice climb.”

“I didn’t climb, I flew,” my visitor replied grandly, sliding with ease through the window and sitting cross-legged on the rug. “With fairy dust. You may call me Peter.”

Recognition struck me right away. This was my five-year-old past self, who had loved playing at being Peter Pan and had wanted to fly away to the Neverland instead of going to kindergarten. It wasn’t because I disliked the school, nor was it about wanting to be a boy—although I do remember thinking it was kind of unfair that people couldn’t just pick their gender every morning when they woke up, like choosing clothes for the day. Rather, at five years old, I just wanted to fly with the fairies.

“Very well, Peter,” I played along. “What brings you to my window on this fine night?”

“I was playing tag with a fairy when I got my shadow caught in a tree. By the time I had it untangled, the fairy had forgotten all about our game and was nowhere to be found. Fairies are such scatterbrained creatures. After that I saw your window, and I decided to look in and see what I could discover. I always love new adventures, and midnight is such a wonderful time for adventures, don’t you think so?”

“Yes, in the moonlight things look magical,” I agreed. “Sometimes I imagine that I could step onto a shining staircase and walk up to the moon and stars.”

That fantasy was met with a dismissive gesture. “What for? Who needs stairs when you can fly? If that silly fairy hadn’t wandered off, I would sprinkle you with fairy dust and show you how. It’s really very easy.”

“Maybe next time,” I said.

Just then I heard a loud hooting outside the window. Peter smiled, with moonlight glinting from tiny white teeth, and jumped up from the rug.

“That’s the owl from Neverland. She’s lonely, now that her babies have grown up and left home, and she wants to play jacks with me.”

I couldn’t resist asking the obvious question. “How can owls play jacks, when they’re birds and have no fingers?”

“Owls practice scooping up jacks with their wing feathers until they’re very good at it—better than most humans. She can’t beat me, of course,” and Peter turned to the window and crowed defiantly.

The owl answered with more hoots, which sounded rude enough that they couldn’t be anything other than bird trash talk.

“She’s getting too full of herself. Time to take her down a peg,” and just like that, Peter swung a stockinged leg over the windowsill and was gone.

“Goodbye,” I called after my odd little guest, “and thanks for visiting.”

More crowing and hooting, which soon faded into the distance, were all that I heard in response.

Two women who row with a different club kindly helped my husband and me with our boats and oars at a regatta recently, when we didn’t have anyone else from our own club there, and we were in a big rush because our single and double races were scheduled very close together.

We decided to buy gift baskets to show our appreciation, with apples and other fruit, which we gave to them when we saw them again at another regatta this past weekend.

While I was sitting at my desk on a workday morning, with gift baskets and other cheerful things on my mind, I heard a sad little voice in my thoughts, far away in the distance.

“I was in pain for a long time.”

The voice definitely belonged to Queenie, my troubled younger self who had been wandering around in my thoughts for the past few years, wailing that she was always in pain. Something was different this time, however. I realized after a moment that she was using the past tense, which indicated more emotional distance and capacity for self-reflection. Queenie, it seemed, was finally starting to grow up.

Because I already had gift baskets on my mind, I decided to pop in and visit Queenie in the imaginary village of Channelwood, bringing a virtual basket of goodies with me.

Photo of gift basket wrapped in plastic with purple ribbons.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

It was a chilly autumn night when I arrived. A sliver of moon didn’t give me much light to navigate the narrow little walkway that led to Queenie’s tiny house. I held onto the railing, which was slightly damp, with one hand and the gift basket with the other.

Up ahead, the inviting glow of candlelight seeped through the curtains. I arrived at the door and knocked, feeling just a bit silly about being so formal with a character who, after all, existed only inside my head. Still, considering all of Queenie’s fears and insecurities, I thought it best to respect her personal space.

She came to the door wearing a robe over a nightdress, with her hair wet and tightly braided. Maybe she had been caught outside in the same rain that had left the railing damp. If so, I thought she probably was comfortable by now. A firepot blazed cheerfully in a corner, warming the room, and apple-scented candles in sconces brightened it further.

“Goodies for you,” I said, holding up the basket.

Queenie stepped aside to let me enter. “Thanks. Is today a special occasion?”

I was about to say “Not really,” because it wasn’t a holiday or other notable event on the calendar. Then I thought about it and decided that today really was special because Queenie looked so much better.

“Yes, it’s always special when friends get together and have a good day.”

Queenie had to smile at that. “I’m reminded of Winnie the Pooh.”

“There’s a lot of wisdom in Pooh Bear’s fuzzy little head,” I agreed, standing just inside the door.

“I would offer you a honey jar, but we don’t have any here,” Queenie informed me. “We did find some wild honeybees not far from here, though, and Sara has been thinking that she might take up beekeeping.”

“That’s ambitious of her,” I said. “Don’t worry about offering me any food; I wasn’t planning to stay for very long. I can see that you’re getting ready for bed, and I wouldn’t want to disrupt your evening. I just wanted to wish you a good night.”

As the scene faded and I came back to my present-day life, I still could feel the warmth of Queenie’s cozy little house all around me.

On Friday after work I started feeling gloomy, as if there had been many times when nothing would go as I wanted it, despite my efforts. To cheer myself up, I got a cup of vanilla caramel tea, and then I sat down to relax for a little while. The gloom didn’t seem inclined to go away, though.

Hmm… maybe the present-day me wasn’t the one who needed cheering up.

I visualized an old-fashioned tea service that had two settings in a floral pattern, a basket with a loaf of hot bread wrapped in a white cloth napkin, and a jar of apple butter. Then I pictured all of that sitting invitingly on a wooden outdoor table in the imaginary long-ago village of Channelwood, and I looked around for my often-troubled younger self Queenie.

Tea set for two with floral pattern.

At first I didn’t see her, but then I heard a grunt not far away. Turning around, I saw Queenie in thick cotton gloves, busily cutting up a small tree that had fallen across a nearby path. She had sawdust all over her gingham dress, her bonnet was askew, and a ferocious scowl made plain what sort of day she was having.

Then she saw me and tried to get her face arranged in better order. “You know I didn’t mean it,” she said, before I had even greeted her.

“No accusations here,” I told her mildly, with a nod toward the table. “I’ve just brought some tea.”

A severed branch fell to the ground with a thunk. Queenie put down her saw and took off the sap-stained gloves, not looking much happier as she did so.

“It’s not fair, at all,” she complained, throwing the gloves into a pile of branches, “that when I have a bad day, which of course I didn’t want, you show up to remind me that I’m also making my future selves miserable. Why should I have to be responsible for what goes on in your life? It’s hard enough to deal with my own feelings, without having to worry about yours too.”

A cool breeze blew in from the cliffs above the beach, smelling of salt and washed-up seaweed. It set the leaves to rustling and carried the cry of a lone gull, high and plaintive.

I started to say something, thought better of it, and instead picked up the teapot and poured for both of us.

“Actually, you’re right,” I acknowledged, after a minute or so. “And, you are doing much better when it comes to recognizing and expressing your feelings. You knew exactly what was bothering you just now, and you were able to put it into words and explain it to me clearly.”

Queenie sat down across from me, looking somewhat mollified, and took a slice of bread from the basket.

“Well, I couldn’t say much before I came here, you know,” she told me, still sounding a bit defensive. “I would’ve been laughed at or yelled at—or both—if I talked about my feelings. Besides, it didn’t seem like anyone cared.”

“I’m not here to blame you for how you handled things before,” I reassured her, as I put some bread on my plate and took a sip of tea. “All I wanted to do was cheer you up a little, if I could. What made today such a bad day?”

“That tree.” Queenie gestured toward the fallen wreckage in frustration. “I cut firewood all the time, of course, now that I live here in a small village. And usually I don’t mind, but that tree was one of my favorites. It had lovely blossoms in the spring. I pruned it carefully, expecting that it would look even better next year; but we had a storm last night, and now the tree is gone and all the work I did was wasted.”

“But when you pruned it,” I pointed out, “those branches were used for firewood too, right? Or maybe some of them went to the compost heap, if they were small. So you did get something useful out of your work.”

“Well, yes, sort of,” Queenie said grudgingly, “but we always have plenty of compost, and firewood can be found all over. So it was mostly a waste.”

“The tree isn’t completely gone either.” I glanced toward the jagged remains of the trunk. “It still has a few small branches around the base, and next spring there will be more growth from the roots. Give it a few years, and it will be full of blossoms again.”

Spreading another slice of bread, Queenie looked skeptical, but she didn’t say anything else. The gold necklace that I had given her two years ago glinted in the sunlight.

“And of course it’s not fair,” I continued, “to blame the tree for making you have a bad day, when it didn’t want to have one.”

That finally drew a smile—if only a small one—from Queenie, as she poured more tea.