we called it The Clarts.
or perhaps, more accurately, it's what our parents called it, and so it became a Thing.
clarts = Geordie for mud and muck and general untidiness.
Geordie = one who hails from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne....the northeast of England.
it was, with the unromantic hindsight of adulthood, the far end of a building lot. a stretch of undeveloped land -- probably six or seven housing lots long -- which began where the last house ended on a hastily paved cul-de-sac, at the edge of the housing estate where we lived.
the streets were all named after famous battles. we lived at 9 Agincourt. the next street over was Blenheim. there was a short catwalk of a street called Culloden Walk.
it was a tangle of mud and shrubbery that became magic in the eyes and imaginations of a pack of semi-feral children -because those were the days when you played out until the street lights came on. dashing in to eat at dinner time, as quickly as you could without getting grief for rushing your food, and then going right back out again.
"go out and play" was the first order issued after breakfast on weekends and school holidays. it was the next thing you did after satchels were abandoned in the passageway and school clothes were exchanged for playing-out clothes.
we made obstacle courses - for both running and bicycling (although our bikes were actually ponies, so there's that) we played hide-and-seek. we built shelters and lean-tos from odd bits of branches and whatever other spare bits of things we could scavenge from our Dad's garages and the less-savoury parts of the neighbourhood.
i have a scar on my right knee from when i fell onto a piece of glass that was sticking up out of the mud. it bled profusely and probably ought to have been stitched but who has time for that when you're in the middle of an obstacle race? it's a family joke now; how i could've lost my leg to gangrene owing to the laissez faire attitude of my parents in comparison to today's helicopter/micro-managing types who fly into a panic at every cut and scrape. come to think of it, would today's kids even be allowed to play on a disused building site?
when The Clarts got boring - it sometimes did - we'd (saddle our ponies) get on our bikes and go searching for more adventurous locales. if you turned left, instead of right toward the school and the shopping centre, there were old laneways where a tumbledown house revealed broken bits of china and curious enough looking Oddments to warrant extravagant stories of the dire situation which resulted in its decay. the brambles had grown in and there was shrub that grew 'poppers' - a white berry that popped pleasingly when squeezed or stepped on. we climbed and scrambled, burrowed and dug. such wild abandon necessitated frequent and liberal daubing of dock leaves on the inevitable nettle stings.
conveniently, there were always docks growing beside the nettles. ;)
those were the edge-lands that held me while i played, when i hadn't a care in the world and all was joy.
later, there were others.
when we first moved to Canada, there was the vast expanse of an old orchard and surrounding fields at the back of our curving, one-street-long subdivision.
that land is a major highway now, and the one-street subdivision is a densely populated, multi-street affair.
we spent whole days exploring there - climbing trees (i got my leg wedged in the fork of an apple tree once, sending me into a panic over having to have it cut off -- my leg, that is, not the branch of the tree. because clearly i was an overly imaginative child with doomsday tendencies ;). we made picnics of jam sandwiches and apples and lazed by the creek, pretending to be characters from Enid Blyton novels.
well, i did anyway -- my new Canadian friends didn't know anything about such wonders.
the land was different, nothing like what i knew of Home and i was a lonely and very angry little girl.
i didn't want to like it, but it took me in anyway. the strange, sharp grasses and alien smells of a place that was world's away from what i'd known and loved. i remember lying in the long, dry grass, hidden from view, fighting back the tears of what i know now to have been a deep, deep, grief of homesickness, my fingers clenched into the earth, my heels scraping the soil until the sadness leached away.
for a time, anyway.
crickets. rabbits, not hares. minnows in the creek. crayfish and mosquitoes.
the summer days were long and bright and the street lights didn't come on until late.
those edge-lands were my saving grace - those liminal places on the fringes of the regular world. i didn't know it then, of course, that the wild places saved me - from my grief, my anger, my loneliness.
but i know it now.
and they did - all through my life - no matter where i lived i sought them out...found them beyond the dead-end streets, beyond the glow of street lights; places to walk off the darkness and conjure the stories; places where it didn't matter that i was barely hanging on on the inside -- until finally the day came when all i needed to do was step outside my door.
in gratitude, then, on this day of honouring our Mothers - for all that the wild places do and have done for me. it's been no small thing.
i have a firm belief in the reciprocity of nature - it's what gives me hope that despite the harm done, despite the ongoing horrors, that all is not lost. but i'd rather be giving back, be always conscious and aware, be always worthy of the gifts i'm given.
the edge-lands are proof that the world gets on just fine without us, in spite of us.
but they're also proof that there is great love and joy for us, if we would have it, if we would recognize it.
♡ and you, Dear Reader, what of your edge-lands? do you have childhood memories of the wild places that took you in? do you have somewhere, now, that holds you? ♡
inspired by Mother's Day and my current read: Common Ground by Rob Cowen.