In all fairness, Sasha wanted to go to the river. But I said let’s go to the secret place. So we did. Walk on the path, curtains of salmonberries plopped over and around. We pick and eat. Mom, this is mystic yummy land. It is. Sasha in front, Tony second. I chase them. Sasha carries a pole with him. Black metal pole, a former curtain rod from the old house that never got to be.
The secret place awaits. Reeds, leaves, mud. Mud. You can’t understand mud until you get here. Which you can’t because I won’t tell where. We take our sandals off, I almost leave my bag with books and phone behind but swing it off the branch as we head for the mud fields. Better take it with. Open fields of mud. You sink to your knees, it snakes through your toes and the squelching is to die for. Literally. Stick around and you’ll see.
We follow the rivulet then walk to this water hole, run to the next, follow the steps of herons leading to nowhere in the land of nobody. The murky liquid in the water holes is warm. “Mom, it’s so warm… come see…” I think elephants and hippos. Cooling off with mud armor growing on us. A bald eagle swoops over, close, very close, and lands on the tiny island in the middle of sprawled waters. “Did he come for us, mom?” No, it’s fish he’s after. The eagle watches us from afar. Like he knows something we don’t. He does. Like all eagles, he looks smug. Proud.
Tide’s coming in, look! Look! Tongues of water lick the endless mud fields. Coming from all directions, foamy water advances and I’ve never seen it this close. Mud rats we are but now it’s mud show. Majestic. The eagle watches as the water closes in around him. A feathered daredevil but how could he not be one.
We plan for a mud fight in the morrow. The boys relish the thought. Water slides in. Tony builds mud bombs. “This is how you do it…Guys, come watch.: We gather round as he picks a handful of mud… you dip it in the river of death (it is that blackened from the silt we stirred). He adds some moss, some clay from where our feet sank. I watch the feet marks. Holes. Deep. Sasha’s, Tony’s, mine… they fill with foamy water. It takes a couple of seconds for the first to fill. Then the next. Water rolls in, eerie sight. Quiet. Fast. I stare. It moves so fast. “Mom, you’re not looking, the bomb…” I look, but the water… “Guys, let’s go back.” The mud bomb ready for lunch. “Mom, wait…” No waiting. This way. No, the other way. Water covered driftlogs and rivulets, it’s getting all swampy. Reeds as far as we can see and above them, the woods. We run and sink. Sasha’s tiny legs sink. Tony runs through a former wading rivulet that is now deep. Down to his thighs, he breaks free and throws me a look that screams and freaks out. He doesn’t though. Almost all that muddy field is now covered in water, it moves quick. I don’t like it. Which way, which way? The reeds. We cut through the reeds. They are taller than me and they spew dust. My lungs swallow it but who has time for it. The boys follow, trustful, single line through the reeds. I think, I think and try to make my words come out calm and straight. How? How?
We go sideways thinking we’ll reach the path we know. “An opening, mom, I see it…” It’s nothing, just downed yellowed reeds. We’re barefoot and scared. We see nothing. I down more reeds and the boys follow faithfully. “Mom, we trust you… Sasha, mom knows…” Was planning to see a play tonight. We stop. We hear swooshing through the reeds. Water seeps towards us. “Mom, are we gonna die?” No, oh, come on, of course not.
“Will you make to the play tonight?” Of course, guys, we’re almost out. No, I can’t see the play happening. We’re not out. We’re not, I can’t find my bearings. New strategy. We will head straight towards the woods, at least that’s high and towards where we should be. More reeds, swimming, feet hurt. I think of Sasha’s soft feet. He’s not complaining. Tony had his crocs with, smart man. They fight to keep up, my brave boys.
We laugh when we get to the woods. But stop. The bramble is mean. Old blackberry branches like booby traps on the ground. Sasha whimpers. We move fast. Think, move, move. Not that way. “Mom, I see the path. No, it’s not.” Listen guys, the water stream. The trickle of water is close. We’re saved. No. It’s another stream that ends in a marshy grin full of old bramble teeth. They hurt our legs and feet. “Mom, what now?” What now? My mind is a revolving door swinging crazily fast throwing thoughts out but they hit the ground and die. We can’t walk through bramble. It’s thick, we’re wearing shorts and Sasha and I are barefoot. I pick him up, his pole gets in the way. It has a feather stuck at one end, an eagle feather. I tell Sasha to leave it behind, it gets in the way. He agrees but Tony offers to carry it. The boys make promises to each other, they tell each other good brotherly things. We’re stuck. I remember Tony’s socks and put them on Sasha’s scratched feet. My legs have bloody streaks on them, my feet are full of spikes but we keep going. We walk eastward and find a less tangly patch of forest. We make our way up towards the hill. We reach a crumbly wall of dirt. Roots stick out, we hang onto them. We scream with joy. Laugh loud, my cheeks hurt. Relieved. No matter where we end up, water can’t get us and brambles can’t build skin tents on our arms. We laugh our way up. I pull Sasha up and … we roll onto the most proper green gold field and a perfectly dressed gentleman ready to swing. He looks like a cutout from a magazine. We’re covered in mud, scratched and bloody here and there and barefoot. Tony holds the black pole but we lost the feather. Ha!
The tide came in, you see. We’re not sure where we are. The guy stares. Maybe this is part of the game? No, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t live in Vancouver. The grass is rich and soothing to our hurt feet. I never liked fields like this for environmental reasons but now, now I appreciate the hurtless surface. My feet kiss the grass. Smooth. I pick Sasha up and we walk to the four gentlemen who have never seen this before. They look so clean. I explain quickly. The tide, shoes are floating somewhere most likely, we want to get home. He tells us to follow the path and eventually we’ll reach the entrance to this posh members-only club. Right. We thank, they watch… Good thing I’m a writer, I tell them laughing as we head towards the path. Adrenaline rush over. We celebrate. Tony walks side by side. He turned 10 yesterday. Happy birthday indeed! He’s tall and determined. Sasha is on my back and that makes my feet sink deeper in the grass. Soft, cold. Tomorrow I shall go look for my sandals. I like my Keen sandals. But all that water, there’s no way… but it says on them waterproof. Cheeky, I know. Maybe I’ll find Sasha’s sandals and that bag of grapes too.
Half an hour later we’re all cleaned up and I am heading out for the play. It’s opening night.