Once a grove of white birch flourished here. Weaving and stretching up the hillside and down into the small valley of Nanagut, this place was their home. The unharvested fields wrapped alongside them, chest-high, the color of dried clay.
I remember when Raquel and I would run hand in hand through them after suppertime, make-believing like we were travelers, lost in the encounters that came with new and unfriendly territory. From a fallen limb we'd fashion a bow, flat rocks would be our arrowheads, and we'd hunt the beasts that patrolled the boundaries of our tribal village. In the throes of battle, the creatures cried and attacked, only to be taken down by the heroic war rituals of our people, the Nanagutians - a long-lived and wondrous people, favored by the gods and blessed through our labors.
Were we to become separated in those fields, when the sunlight dimmed and nature reclaimed its land with the shadow of nightfall, we would raise our arms and wave and whistle the only way we knew how: between our teeth, as Grandfather had taught me, and I in turn had taught Raquel. Within moments we'd be reunited, rolling on the good earth, our clothing soiled but our bellies full and our minds at ease. Galloping back to the house, Raquel would always hold her woven hat to her head with one hand, its sole tattered ribbon flapping with the commotion. The frantic nighttime breeze would never take that prized possession of hers.
Now I hold her dear woven hat between my frail old fingers. It smells of cedar and milk and honey, scents that lift my spirits and bring me closer to the heavens than death itself could. Scores have past and I've aged as I should, but my heart has been lonesome all these years. My sweet loving Raquel - her small body held captive by four wooden walls and the dense dirt on which we once left our footprints. This hat is now my prized possession, my treasure. The ribbon is but a dismal remnant of red, and its weavings have long worn thin, but I cherish it above all else. It slumbers in the chest at the foot of the upstairs bed, near the brick I recovered from our house when it burnt and the old journals. Sometimes, on a day like today, I take it from its resting place to hold it close to my face and let my mind turn the creaking wheels of time.
She still sings to me late at night. Her songs deify my home, filling it with life and a magical freedom all its own. As I lie awake, smiling to know she is so near, I catch the aroma of an enchanting sort of birch-flavored incense that eases my eyes and brings about tender dreams.
Those groves we wandered have all but disappeared. Nanagut is nothing more than a raceway for pedestrian values, hopeless pastimes and forlorn memories. They've paved our white groves - the birch, they fought a valiant fight, but lost their hillside perch and became kindling, cords of firewood to be purchased and loaded onto truck beds and burnt. Their smoke colors the day, loosening the sun and washing out its colors. The new youth have never seen the true face of this valley. Their eyes have been tainted with unseen blemishes, filtering out imagination and passion in place of technology and workplace ethics.
But they cannot steal the birch from this old man. My gait may be weary, my hair delicate and silver, and my skin like prunes - but my mind was spawned from memories borne of a happy childhood, limitless daydreams and love.
We shall once again be reunited on the soil of our beloved groves, Raquel. We've much to do under that ocean sky. Just let these old eyes rest a spell.