Scarlet Leigh’s youth is filled with stories about the hidden orchard. Listening to her mother’s bedtime tales, Scarlet became caught up with imaginary enchanted apple trees and blossom whirlwinds. Beth had always described her secret place in a manner so marvelous that young Scarlet would dream of the day she might finally see it for real. Of course that was before, before her mother moved her here to live at Milkweed lane. Before her parents had split up and their home was bright new condo in the city. That was before and this is after. After the crying and arguing. After the insults, shouting, and court dates. After all assets were as divided as her family . Now Scarlet visits dad in the city every other weekend and during the week she rides a school bus (so lame) into Juniper Valley metropolis (as if!) for school. This new school is soooo small (how small is it?) So small that besides herself the grade eight class has only 18 students, and she is in one of the larger groups. The kindergarten class has two kids enrolled (seriously, one – two). On its whole Juniper Valley Public School consists of exactly 103 students.
The snow stopped falling about an hour ago. Although the day is late the sun has finally begun to shine and Beth wants to show her daughter the secret orchard. When her daughter was little, Scarlet always pleaded with her to take her to the orchard now it seems, as Scarlet puts on boots and coat reluctantly, like it is the last thing she would want to do. Beth sighs, she is happy to be back in her childhood home, even if she and Scar are staying in the cottage across the pond rather than the homestead. Either way Beth feels at home but Scar is a fish out of water. Well if they are going to go they had better get going the sun won’t shine much longer. It is the Monday of the October long weekend and the days are getting shorter.
Although she has walked the route from house to orchard hundreds of times, Beth hasn’t done so in almost two decades. The tractor path leads to the back field but beyond that she must navigate through the forest by memory. As Mother and daughter begin the hike Beth reminisces about her youth. From a distance one might mistake the pair as sisters but on closer inspection you can see Scarlet intentionally placing space between herself and the woman she calls Mother. Beth, now growing shorter in comparison to her teenage offspring is trying desperately to reconnect.
Looking ahead at the point of entry the remembered gateway between trees does not seem so welcoming. Either the trees have grown together closing the gap or Beth’s memory is incorrect. She expects to enter just this side of the cedars, between a climbing maple and the big tree fort. On approach she can see the cedars now take up much more real estate and the big tree fort… not so big, meanwhile the climbing maple is so tall you could not pay Beth enough to even attempt a climb.
In the bush and under the protection of many branches the ground is relatively snow-less. Where once a path had been worn now not a trace. Beth looks around for the landmarks of her memory. Her brothers campsite in her mind is approximately 50 feet from where she entered. She expects a small clearing to pitch a tent and a fire pit. Beth circles the area, head down, determined to find the past and not noticing Scarlett’s boredom. She uncovers a few rocks that may have once formed a circle to surround something that might be an old chard log. In her head she was here just the other day but physically standing over the fire pit she feels as if she’s discovering evidence of another life. Looking up, the big picture, it is the same old forest, but up close everything has changed. Old feelings of familiarity do not belong to her anymore. Beth always thought these things belonged to her, she owned the view, she was wrong. Maybe her experiences and her memories can be counted as belongings, but the rest just belongs.
Time passes quietly as Scarlet follows Beth. Half an hour ago Beth swore she knew where she was going but after thirty silent minutes of trailing her wandering mother Scarlet finally says out loud what she’s been thinking. “We’re lost, aren’t we?”
Above them a low slung hunters moon illuminates the woods. Scarlet wonders If Beth even noticed the light changing from gold to silver. Moonlight is a funny thing, it can inspire dogs to sing and lovers to yearn, under its spell snow twinkles and the world glows with luster. The thing is, it is not the moon who is responsible. Oh she’ll take all the credit but in reality moonlight is but a reflection. Like the earth, the moon comes alive from basking beneath Suns generous rays.
“I think we might be lost.” Beth finally surrenders and sits defeated on the remains of a fallen beech tree. Scarlet Leigh perches next to her. Wanting to comfort her mom but leaving a gap between them she says “Its okay, I am not disappointed. How are we going to get home?” Beth smiles and pats her daughters knee. “Don’t worry, we will follow the dogs home.” Beth stands, placing two fingers under her tongue and a deep inhale she presses out one then another sharp whistle, high-pitched and loud enough to summon dogs from the next county. “The dogs will finds us. When they do I will command they go home, then we just follow them.”
Beth sits back down on the old tree trunk.
“Are you sure this will work?”
“Yep. always worked when I was a kid. Well, except if the dog is inside the homestead.” Beth chuckles and shakes her head. ” Don’t worry, the dogs will come.”
Both are silent as they wait to be rescued. A chilly gust whips between them and mother and daughter automatically move together. Beth reaches her arm around Scarlet while they wait beneath the October moon.