We moved into an old house with slanted ceilings and sloping floors; a house with mice in the heating vents and bats in the attic. We moved to a house with an outdoor cold cellar with trap doors that opened out of the ground next to the foundation. The doors, concealed by the conspiratorially nodding heads of dandelions and devil’s paintbrush, opened to reveal uneven steps that disappeared down into the spidery dark.
I didn’t go down there.
We moved into a house with a clothesline, and a path in our backyard that led straight into the woods, where rabbits rustled in the underbrush and once we found bear tracks. We moved into a house with an ancient, arthritic orchard in the front yard. The trees produced lumpy, cranky apples but their low, twisted limbs made them ideal for climbing. We moved to a house flanked by tall shapely birches, one of which--upon being hung with a tire swing--bore the ignominy with grace and elegance.
We moved into a house next to the ruins of an ancient barn inhabited by swallows. Missing planks gave it a gap-toothed look and let in swaths of sunlight be-glittered with dust and hay. Scaling the wooden ladder up to the dizzying heights of the loft led to a Tarzan-yodelling swing into space on the old, frayed rope tied to a rafter, followed by a belly-flipping drop onto the hay-stack below. Rare forays into the low-roofed section of the barn (where once upon a time animals had been stabled) revealed gigantic webs-- masterpieces of engineering and design--that stretched from floor to ceiling with Tolkien-esque spiders at their centres.
We moved to a house perched at the epicentre of gently descending fields, carpeted with wild strawberries.
We moved to a house with a pond in the lower meadow, hedged by cat-tails, patrolled by incandescent dragonflies and populated by tadpoles.
And so, at five years old, I could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking Albert County for Eden.
There is something about Albert County that gets into the veins and flows into the soul as sure as the arteries of white gypsum that run through the soil. As an adolescent, astride a pugnacious and indomitable pony, I ranged widely coming to know every rock and rut on the trails and logging roads that interlaced the hills between the two abandoned quarries. On windy days, we shunned the wooded shelter of the hills, opting instead for bracing gallops along the centuries-old dykes along the Petitcodiac River. On one such ride, we found ourselves racing a coyote neck-and-neck along the marsh, and time stopped as the earth rolled by in a surreal moment of pure motion.
If being a writer is a pre-disposition of the soul, then Albert Country was my primordial sea of sense and sensibility. As a child from the city, moving to Albert County was like moving to my very own Shire. There were endless possibilities for adventure, mysterious paths to follow, woods to explore, trees to name and climb, birds and beasties to watch and stalk, haunted places, and more than a few wizards in various guises. In short, it was--and is-- the perfect incubator for a young story-teller.
The seeds of all my stories seem to start here, with Albert County roots, wild and wonderful. It is my job only to watch them grow, to follow the labyrinth of their tendrils and suckers, to persevere through the thorny bits, to dare the darkness in search for light and joy.