Jacquelyn White is currently an undergraduate writing major at Ithaca College in New York, but is native to Maryland. Her fiction has appeared in The Copperfield Review and her art history essay "Mata Hari: The Creation of an Oriental Identity" is to be published in Cerise Press' Spring 2013 issue.
(Photo by Gabby Carroll)
The Land of Ghosts
Rocks State Park is one of the only places in Harford County, Maryland worth visiting. The nature preserve contains a number of relatively minor landmarks: Deer Creek, a rock outcropping called the King and Queen’s seat, and a small waterfall. The sights may not be impressive for most, but for Harford County folk, they are an example of nature’s finest architecture. The locals have affectionately dubbed the Park “The Rocks,” and the name is certainly well earned. I am painfully reminded of this as I wade into Deer Creek, feeling sharp stones poking my feet through foam flip-flops. I watch my shins slowly disappear beneath the water’s surface. Below, the riverbed rocks sparkle like jewels. My father would bring me to the Park often as a child, so I had learned a long time ago that – as silly as it may have looked – wearing shoes while swimming here was the most practical option. It was a lesson that some of my childhood friends had learned the hard way the first few times they came here to swim – slicing open their virgin, lily-white feet.
It is the first time I have come home in several months and it feels strange to recall past summers when we would loiter here. But there was no shouting or splashing or laughter. Those sounds that had once masked the chorus of nature I heard now – the pleasant babble of running water, rubbing cricket legs, avian chattering – are absent. Though I had spent most of this summer alone, being in this place without company makes me truly aware of my isolation.
I survey my surroundings as I begin to walk downstream, the water urging me along. Though I have been to this particular part of Deer Creek numerous times, it changes slightly every year. After all, nature – being a temperamental creature – changes her mind and her dress often. The wooden steps leading down to the water are in desperate need of repair, crumbling under the crushing embrace of thick roots and poison ivy. The trees waiting at the creek’s edge stretch their branches out over the water. But the creek is too wide for their fingers to meet in the center, and it is as though each tree has a star-crossed lover on either side that they are eternally reaching for. The reflections of sunlight pass through overhanging branches, dancing on the water in a melted mosaic of greens and yellows. The water bugs make room for me in my travels, skating away on the surface with a graceful flick of their legs like tiny rowboats. It is a hot, humid day – typical of Maryland summers – and the water wraps around my legs like a cool veil.
As I make my way up the stream, my eyes gravitate towards the riverbed. Tiny fish dart away from my interloping feet, the glimmer of their scales distinguishing them from the dancing water plants, the earthen tiles of riverbed stone. To think, my kind – the entire human race – once came from creatures like those!
The creek begins to engulf my knees and I find myself resisting the overwhelming urge to lie down and be carried away by the water. This desire is not foreign to me and I often cave into it. On many occasions my friends had driven me home in sopping wet clothes – as our little summer walk by the stream had turned into a spontaneous swimming party for me, without towel or bathing suit. Water has – and always has had – a strange allure for me. When I float or swim, I feel my hair fanning out around me, my body becoming weightless, my skin soaking in moisture through every pore. I am comfortable and embraced, yet wild and inconceivably free.
Deer Creek held many memories for me: playful days with my father before age stole my interest in family, afternoons of curious exploring with my friends before life began to pull us all apart. Rock State Park is a land of ghosts and these phantoms sing out to me softly, pulling at the wetted bottom of my dress from the corners of my memory. Their weight drags me down and I must fight the urge to capitulate to the current.
But there are deeper memories that linger as well – memories of water that are embedded far deeper in my psyche, to the point where I cannot even call them memories. They are more an innate sense of knowing. After all, isn’t water the root of everything that surrounds me? Water is the life of the fleeing fish, the life of these towering trees, the life of me. Water is my heritage, my oldest living relative. Though I may be moving forward as I walk up Deer Creek this day, my thoughts are walking through my life in reverse. I am rewinding through the teenage summers, the childhood outings, the slumber in the womb – until I reach the primordial soup, the cell, the very beginning.
"The Brain, within its Groove Runs evenly -- and true -- But let a Splinter swerve --" Emily Dickinson
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