The Pine Kingdom

Image Credit; Kim Daniels / Unsplash
Image Credit: Kim Daniel / Unsplash

I was eleven months old when my mother brought me to a camp in the pine forest. The photo of me sitting on the ground and staring at the trees with my mouth open was lost, but this image is safe and vivid on my mind.

After our first travel to the camp we would go there every summer which explains a great variety of memory pictures. I am running in the grass on the sunlit lawn. I am eating berries picking them right off the bush. I am walking along an endless woodland path. I am playing in the sand with a boy I’m in love with at the age of four. It’s a slide show of my childhood.

One of those memories is about my first acquaintance with ants and unfairness. My mother and I walked in the forest and found a big anthill. My mom told me that ants crawled around looking for food, and I decided to give them a wild strawberry I had in my hand. I put it on top of the anthill, and one of the ants bit me. I cried for half an hour, and I still hold the grudge even though my mom explained me then that I should have simply dropped the berry instead of pushing it on ants to try and convince them how yummy it was.

The camp where we lived was set up near a beautiful lake with grayish-blue mountains rising on the other side. I spent days in the lake and taught myself to swim in the warm summer waves when I was about five. In the evening all kids grabbed little torches and wandered in water near the shore looking for crayfish that hid under the stones. Almost every night campers gathered on the lakeside around the fire to share their stories and worries. Accompanied by the droning sound of their conversation, children watched sparkles fly up to disappear in the dark and toasted pieces of bread pinned to long wooden sticks. The bread got usually burned on one side, but you could not imagine anything more delicious than the black-smoked crunchy crust. Well, one thing was yummier: potatoes baked in the coals of dying fire. When potatoes were ready, we rolled these hot balls out of fire and gave them a minute to cool down a bit, then peeled them, soiling our hands with black coal coating. After that we dropped a pinch of salt on steaming white pulp and bit into it, slightly burning our lips and tongues.

In the daytime we made little boats of the pine trees’ bark and then shipped them into the lake. The wooden boats with leaves for a sail rocked on the waves and headed away. We stood on the shore and watched them disappear in the glittering distance and imagined big adventures. I loved pines and believed they were travelers in their core, and that’s why today, when I look at their tall and straight trunks, when I breath in their spicy resinous smell I feel as if I were on board a ship, next to the solid brown masts that reach up to the sky and stretch its infinite sail.

Childhood memories are indelible. If someone tells me today, “Imagine your favorite place where you feel calm and happy,” I close my eyes and immediately see myself sitting at the foot of a tree, on the soft carpet of fallen, yellowed pine needles. In the realm of my vision, I look up at the blue that shows through the lace of green branches, and I want to stay there forever.


Odd Memory

As a kid, I had a very strange reaction to the news of death. When I heard that somebody had died I wanted to laugh, and my lips created a creepy grin that shocked me, myself, infinitely. I knew it was wrong to smile, but I couldn’t help it, I felt like laughing.

First time it happened when I was in the second grade. The teacher entered the class and stood at the blackboard. Some boys in the back of the room didn’t notice her and kept giggling over some stupid joke one of them had made.

“Who can laugh on such a tragic day!” the teacher suddenly yelled. The boys in the back of the room got quiet, and the rest of us looked up at the teacher in silent surprise. “Don’t you know that a member of the government died last night?”

I didn’t. But when I heard it I wanted to laugh. I didn’t know why, it wasn’t funny, and the teacher’s angry face looked scary, but my mouth betrayed me and started creating a smile. I bit my lip and lowered my head to hide my face so that nobody could see it and think that I can laugh on such a tragic day.

The teacher decided that I was deeply moved by the sad news. She came up to me and stroke my head. That was tough: I wanted to laugh even harder.

Years passed. I don’t smile at the news of death anymore. On the contrary, I get upset when people I love leave this world. But when I think of that day when the member of the government died I still can’t imagine what was in the teacher’s head and why she expected small kids to care about some total stranger’s destiny.


The Daily Post


The Shaky Age Perspective


When I was six all adults seemed to be people from another world, even kids above fourteen were not our, children’s kind.

When I was nine I tried to convince my mom that she was old. She protested, but I knew I was right and couldn’t understand how she could not understand it. We were sitting in front of a TV, and in the middle of our discussion one man on the screen said to another, “You’re thirty years old, you are a young man. Why don’t you do something about your life?”

My mom victoriously pointed at the telly, “You see, thirty is young!”

“Yeah,” I said, “but you are thirty nine!”

When I was fifteen my mom mentioned someone from her work as ‘this boy’.

“How can you call him a boy?” I resented. “He’s twenty five, he’s a man with a beard, he’s totally an adult!”

“Ah, for me he’s a very young boy,” my mom sighed.

When I hit twenty five myself I was shocked. I felt, “That’s it, I’m a grown-up.” I stepped into the world of adults that seemed to be so alien even a year ago. I didn’t have a beard, but it wasn’t too consoling.

Next Monday I will be thirty nine. My son won’t tell me I’m old, not because he is smarter than I was, but only because he is four and can’t count further than ten where, probably, the border of strange adulthood starts for him.

It’s funny to look back and see how the concept of young and old changes. I’m not old, and if somebody tries to convince me in the opposite I won’t believe them, no matter how desperately they try. But I can look at a twenty-five-year-old thinking “Oh, that kid’, and, like my mom years ago, I don’t care if he has a beard.

These days I think I won’t get old, ever. I don’t mean on the physical level, of course, here you meet the power you can’t overcome. But on the inside, there are two stages for me, live and dead, the rest are nuances not worth attention. My belief is that if you don’t let it your soul will never get blind, deaf or callous.


The Daily Post


The Puss in Boots’ Miracle


As a child I loved fairy tales and believed them as if they were non-fiction. Once I read a story about a girl who, after reading Puss in Boots, forgot the open book on the table and went to sleep. At night the cat jumped off the page and became her best friend.

“Wow!” I was fascinated. “That’s a great idea! Which book should I leave open for a night?”

It was a big question. There were so many characters to choose from. Dumbo? I imagined the elephant in our small apartment and brushed off the idea. Pinocchio? I wasn’t a big fan of this liar. Winnie the Pooh? Hmm, he seemed nice, but kind of silly. Karlsson? Well, he could fly, but he would eat all my candies. Pippy Longstocking? She was just a girl like many of my friends and I didn’t like her hair style.

In the end I left the idea of being original and opened Puss in Boots in the middle. I thought if the cat went out of the book once he probably was more experienced than all other candidates. I was a little bit worried that the mouse who was also an ogre and whom the cat was going to eat on the chosen page could come to life as well, but, again, I hoped that, being real, the cat would still eat him.

I woke up in the morning full of expectations. I looked around, but the cat wasn’t seen anywhere. I came up to the table and saw him standing still on paper in the same position as he was yesterday. He didn’t even move!

I was disappointed, but left the book on the table again for the next night. Nothing. Maybe it was because I didn’t forget to close the book, but left it open on purpose? Each detail might count. On the third night I put the book on the table and played with some toys to give myself a chance to forget about the whole business. When my head touched the pillow I knew that I hadn’t pretended well enough and the cat knew I had never forgotten about him. So I wasn’t surprised not to see him next to my bed in the morning, and with a deep sigh I put the book back on the shelf. I lost my hope to witness a miracle.

Today I look back at naive little me with a condescending smile. But the funny thing is that I still believe in the power of the written word. Many books’ heroes are much closer to me than the people I can touch with my hand. I don’t expect them to come off the pages, but I know where I can find them when I feel the need. On my bookshelf.


The Daily Post

Sketching, Writing 101

View from the Porch

I was sitting on the porch when the police car arrived. The fat man in a black suit and two policemen entered Mrs. Pauley’s house and brought her out. Many people gathered on the street to watch the car carrying Mrs. Pauley away. Three months ago when her husband died the crowd was much bigger. Everybody came up to her to say nice words and give her a hug. Today everybody kept silent and stood at a distance.

I wish she’d stay. Mrs. Pauley is always nice. She’s so old she can barely walk on her own, but she bakes the best cakes in the neighborhood. We always buy one at the Spring Fair.

Mom said they will bring her to the home. But she has her home already. Why do they move her to another one?

Dad said they will take better care of her there than her own sons who never gave her a cent, and that’s why she went into debt. I never met her sons. They are always too busy to visit her, Mrs. Pauley says. She has many photos of them on the wall.

I wonder who will take care of her cats while she’s away. She has three, Snowball, Patty and Mr. Fatson. I like Mr. Fatson the most. He can climb the trees and once he caught a mouse. He jumped on it like a tiger! He’s pretty wild. I hope Mom will allow me to take him home. I will play with him after school, and when Mrs. Pauley goes out of her debt she can take him back.

The people started going away. I waved at my friend Tony who was still standing there with his dad, then got up from the porch and went to the kitchen. I need to talk to Mom about Mr. Fatson.


Sketching, Writing 101

Camping When You Are Twelve

On my twelfth birthday my parents sent me to a summer camp. I don’t know if they considered it as a nice present or just intended to get rid of me for three weeks, but I climbed the bus and went off.

My previous camp experience was extremely and hopelessly boring, so I prepared for the worst. But this time it was different.

To start with, I arrived late in the day when other kids were already involved in playing soccer. At my twelve, I wore very short hair, was small, energetic and rarely recognized as a girl. In the hustle of the game there was no time for formal introducing, and everybody decided that I was a boy. No doubts, I looked like one. So, as a boy, I was immediately included into a team that won a half hour later. It was my first discrimination experience, but I enjoyed it!

I became friends with a girl who came to the camp with her brother. On the second day she pulled me into a secret corner and confessed that her brother was totally in love with me. She was delegated to ask if he had a chance to be my boyfriend.

I didn’t really like that boy, besides he was one year younger, but it was the first time when somebody wanted to be my boyfriend at all, so I said ok. Next day I discovered that my friend’s brother was very amorous and I wasn’t his only girlfriend; there were three more. I went through my first breakup and was very proud of myself.

On the third day I fell in love. With two boys. They were friends, and both liked me, and I couldn’t decide which one I liked more. One was taller, the other was smarter. One was funny, the other had curly hair. I happened to be in the middle of the love triangle with no way out, and I stayed in it all three weeks. I was very happy; I think all of us were.

I remember those three weeks as a sunlit summer full of first things, as well as swimming, and playing, and running, and swinging… They were my best holidays ever. It also happened to be my last camp tour and the end of my childhood. Every time I look at the old photos I see my shiny face and feel a bit of nostalgia for something that will never come back.