Every Vermonter knows the out-of-staters think we’re crazy to leave our doors unlocked, the keys in our cars, and the children unleashed, unguided, and undisturbed in the great outdoors…alone. During the summer months where I live, parents only see their children for meal time to consume and bedtime to receive a kiss goodnight. Filthy toes would peep out from under the covers, and parents would immediately untuck their children to make them wash their filthy feet.
In these woods, fields, valleys, and mountains children become attuned to their senses and the ways of physics by balancing across logs, long jumping over brooks, and plastering their bodies with mud just to see if the dirt like our mothers’ told us would give us warts. I am happy to say I have none. Maybe the real reason we covered ourselves in mud was for the heck of it. We could always tell who was local and who was…well…not by the sound of their cars speeding up or slowing down. We first hand observed the Doppler Effect as stunned tourists stomped on their brakes and the echo of this sudden change in velocity pulled their cars to screeching halts gawking faces pressed up against the windows. The locals only sped up revving their engines and honking like maniacs while hanging out their mud splattered, windows slapping the doors and hoot’n and holler’n for three chocolate-covered children.
We know how to play.We know when to run and when to hide, how to fall out of a tree and play dead, and when not to play dead (when I cop car drives by). We naturally learned to play and that athletic play taught us how to get in and out of scrapes in and out of the state of Vermont.
So here I am, an enthusiastic, Vermont hillbilly in California soaking in every ray of sunshine, being pleasantly startled by every skittering gecko, and relishing the abundant luxury of stepping outside and picking lemons, grapefruits, and oranges from my Aunt and Uncle’s trees. First times such as these just mentioned are treasures to store in the great vaults of the mind, and so when I stepped out of the LAX airport last night, I lifted my nose up to breath the outdoor air for the first time in twelve hours of travel, and when I opened my eyes I saw the waving, flittering leaves of the palm tree for the first time. My first response was to just stare at the naked, bare thing and my second was to suppress the urge to climb it. I exclaimed, “Is that a palm tree?” I hurried after my amused Aunt and Uncle resisting the coming irrepressible desire to scamper up over passing buses and swinging doors and LA streets into the dancing arms of that floral wonder. Little I knew, my chance was coming, and it wasn’t for entertainment. It was for do or despair.
New natural sights did not just steal my attention, but the diversity of people did too. Morning came, and I was up with the fog (for the sun follows the fog here). I opened my books on the steps of my new home and divided my already distracted attention between the Hispanic workers who groomed lawns and parabolic, convex shapes. They enthralled me and captured the little focus I had for physics because I focused my attention on the Spanish people who shouted to each other over the whirring of machines. Who knew there were such occupations as professional yard groomers? California may be in a drought, but the lawns are as green as pesto pasta. I looked up and stared into the verde branches above me. How lovely and different are these branches from my own at home. I stepped onto the banister and looked across the street to the workers. Their backs were turned. I jumped and caught hold of the lowest branch, swung my body up and climbed until I could climb no more. From up top I could look into my room a few feet away. Sigh. Back to the books I go. Dropping out of the tree I inspected myself. A smudgy layer of sooty dirt coated my white sweater. I groaned. It was everywhere, that layer of dirt that covered every outdoor surface because the rains never came to wash nature. Now I was taking it indoors into my Aunt’s clean house.
The lunch hour came and I decided to eat more citrus even though I had already eaten two lemons, one orange, and one grapefruit for breakfast. I decided on Lemonade for a drink. Slipping out the door, I secured it behind me and pushed open the gate to the lemon tree. They were orangy but tangy, the tangy tartness that makes one’s mouth twist up and salivate at the thought.
I picked till my arms were spilling over and with a lemon in my mouth and a dozen more in my arms, curled my big toe around the gate, and hopped backwards to pull it open all the while sliding my leg into a better position around the gate. I slipped out, the gate sling behind and hunched up the steps spilling all my fruit at the door of the house. Once again I brushed myself off and tried the handle. It was locked. “Oh! That’s right they lock this door. No big deal” I thought. I walked back through the gate, around the house and tried the next. It too was locked. “Well this one does lead to their bedroom, so of course they would lock this one. I’ll just slip in through the back main entrance” I presumed. Reaching forward I caught it in my hand and squeezed. Locked!
The situation hit me. I wasn’t in Vermont anymore. I looked at my feet. Barefooted, phoneless, and home alone I was supposed to wait five hours until my family came home to save me. No, at 6:10 I was supposed to be somewhere and even I knew there was no way I could walk down Main Street in Whittier California to meet my Uncle at the YMCA barefooted. That was pushing my respect for self button. I looked up again though this time in a short lived moment of pleading despair, and then I had a plan.
I stepped back up onto the balcony rail, and looked back to make sure my lemons were all still there next to my abandoned physics book. “Now don’t go anywhere” they must have thought I scolded. Once more I looked to make sure the coast was clear across the street. The workers were packing up their truck. Now! I jumped and scrambled up the tree without a white blouse on this time. I reached a point level with the roof and hesitated. It was without beams to support it, but I must reach the window. Gripping the tree branch with my hands, I rolled under it and let go with my right leg. I felt for the ledge and for several moments it waved over the steps below. Soon my barefoot felt the scratchy roof, and I cautiously transferred my full body weight over expecting to hear a creak or feel a sag. I let go and clambered up the 40 degree angle roof to the window screen.
What fortune I had opened it this morning! All I had to do was overcome the screen. Squatting down into an athletic stance I dug my fingers under the frame. I had to lift the ring up over the nail. I peeked behind my shoulder. So far so good! For several minutes I focused all the senses I had developed to lifting the latch. Another layer of dust settled over my arms. Just a little more…and with a sudden sigh of release the screen gave way, so I had it clutched in my raccoon like hands. I stood there for a second more hardly believing my good fortune when I heard a shout. “Niña! Niña! ¡¿Qué estas haciendo!? In a split second I threw the screen into the room, fell in after it, and slammed the window. I grinned. Success and a little air punch followed. For the last time, I checked myself over again and primly stepped down stairs. I opened the door, gathered my lemons, and went about my business making lemonade smiling about the words my Grandpa always said, for now I knew them to be true. “You can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl!”