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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Season(s) of a year or life (01/13/11)

TITLE: Inside My Father's Fence
By Emily Gibson


Over the winter in 1968, the house where my father was born was torn down after his mother sold her wooded property to a lumber company. This was the house where, for fifty years of winters and summers, my grandmother bore four babies, and where she and my alcoholic grandfather loved, fought, separated and eventually reconciled. After Grandpa died, she could not afford to remain there.

My father knew a sale to a lumber company meant the old growth woods would become stumps on this rocky hill above a tranquil bay, opening a view to snow capped mountains to the east, to islands to the north, and so presenting a prime opportunity for development into a subdivision. The following spring, aware we would be legally trespassing, he woke my brother and me early one Saturday in May and told us we were heading to Grandma's former homestead to preserve a treasure that would never survive a clear cut.

We hauled buckets and spades up the back side of the hill, Dad leading us into thickening foliage, until we had to bushwhack our way into the taller trees. He would stop occasionally to get his bearings but as we reached a small clearing, he knew we were near. He walked straight to a copse of fir trees standing guard over a garden of tiny lady slippers.

These dainty wildflowers enjoyed a spring display known for its brevity–a week or two at the most–and tended to bloom in small clusters in deep woods duff, preferring only indirect sunlight part of the day. They were not easy to find unless you knew exactly where to look. My father remembered.

There were almost thirty of them blooming, each orchid-like pink and lavender blossom on a straight backed stem that held it with sturdy confidence. To me, they looked like little shoes for fairies who had hung them up while they danced about barefoot. To my father, they represented the last redeeming vestiges of his tumultuous childhood. We set to work gently digging them out of their soft bedding, carefully keeping their bulb-like corms from losing a protective covering of soil and leafy mulch.

When we got home, Dad created a spot in our own woods where he felt they would thrive. He found a place with the ideal amount of shade and light, with the protection of towering trees and the right depth of undisturbed leaf mulch. We carefully placed them in their new home and Dad built an octagonal four foot split rail fence surrounding them, as protection from our livestock.

The next spring only six lady slippers bloomed from the original thirty. Dad was disappointed but hoped another year might bring renewal as the flowers established themselves. The following year there were only three.

Two years later my father had left us and them, closing the gate and never looking back.

The following spring after the divorce, as my mother was selling our farm, I visited the lady slipper sanctuary for the last time. The split rail fence was guarding nothing but memories. No lady slippers bloomed. There was no trace they had ever been there at all, The leaves of many autumns lay undisturbed exactly where they had fallen. The flowers never took root, having simply given up and disappeared.

The new owners of our farm puzzled over the significance of the small fenced-in area in the dark woods. They asked if it surrounded a graveyard of some sort.

We told them it did.

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This article has been read 476 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Margaret Kearley 01/21/11
This is beautiful, and so sad. Your descriptions are so clear and wonderful that I felt I was there in the woods, overlooking the tranquil bay. I longed for the flowers to survive! - perhaps they will! I believe that sometimes seeds lay dormant for many a year (- what a wonderful parable that is!) Thankyou.
Bonnie Bowden 01/22/11
This piece left me with a haughtingly beautiful image, but life is really more like your story.

You have a wonderful gift.
Lynda Schultz 01/26/11
I think the most moving part of this story for me was father's leaving and its connection to the death of those lady slippers. I was left wondering if he might have stayed if they had continued to bloom, if somehow, they would have kept hope alive for him. Well done.