chapter 20 from Twirl: My Life With Stories, Writing & Clothes, by Callie Feyen
My youngest daughter Harper and I are on a walk along the Huron River on a summer morning when the wind smells like fall. We can hear it in the leaves above us, a loud rustle that pushes the water so it ripples and makes us feel we must walk faster than we’d like.
The two of us are hoping to find a park, but we don’t have a set plan or path we’ll take. Harper’s only requirement is to stay near the water, and so we do.
There are kids canoeing and we hear them yell and squeal, a mixture of fear and delight at figuring out how to be on a boat. There’s a clearing in the woods with a bench to sit on and watch the scene, but Harper spots a tree whose branches jut into the water. They are thick and sturdy, and it’s as though the tree grew just for this purpose—an invitation to climb and get as close to the water as we can. Harper has an arm on the tree’s trunk, one foot on a branch, and I know it’s a matter of her taking one breath so she can ask, “Mama, can I climb?”
It seems a shame not to try, so I step closer and say, “Sure.”
A quick push with her foot, and Harper is on that tree, standing on its limb as if she were the captain of a ship, sailing into the wild. Her smile is proud and mischievous.
“Hi!” a boy in a canoe yells from the middle of the river.
The two look at each other for a minute, and then with a grunt the boy lifts his paddle and dips it into the water. He tries to move forward, but he’s going against the current, and the wind is no help. He grunts again, stops paddling, and the canoe wobbles. He holds onto the sides of the canoe to steady himself, then looks at Harper.
“We have so many forces going against us!” he yells, and he yells it like he’s both baffled and excited about this observation.
Harper laughs and waves again.
“Good luck!” I yell.
He lifts the paddle and pushes on.
On our walk, we find a butterfly and hummingbird garden. We walk through it, stepping as quietly as we can on the pebble paved ground. I’ve known about these gardens inside conservatories and museums, but I’ve never seen one outside. I wonder how these creatures know this is a place designed for them. Harper points out a set of rosy pink flowers in the shape of bugles. “These are flowers hummingbirds can get to,” she explains.
So there’s some understanding of what the wild needs, I think, as a monarch butterfly flies above me. She swirls as she flies, and I wonder if the wind is doing that, or if it’s the butterfly.
We eat lunch at the end of a dock—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sweet peppers, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Harper is reading the fourth book in the Percy Jackson series, The Battle of the Labyrinth. This has been the summer of Percy Jackson for Harper. She’s heard about the series from Hadley and decided one early July evening it was time to delve into the world of Percy and the gods and goddesses. She loves the books, as every kid I’ve met does.
We sit and eat and read for a while, until Harper inhales sharply and puts the book down. She touches her glasses, then folds her hands and watches the water.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Pan died,” she tells me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “Who’s Pan?”
“The god of the wild,” Harper tells me quietly.
We watch a family of ducks swim by. The ducklings aren’t fluffy and yellow as they are in the spring. They look like grown-ups, the faint signs of their youth almost gone.
“How did he die?” I ask, preparing myself to hear about a bloody battle.
“Everyone forgot about him,” Harper mumbles, looking down and fidgeting with her fingers.
“That is devastating,” I say. “May I read that part?”
Harper lifts the book, turns a few pages backwards and hands the story to me.
She is right, it is terribly sad. It is humorous too, and I’m thankful for Riordan’s decision to create Percy’s companion, Grover, who is both hilarious and capable of fighting alongside his friend. In this scene, Grover grieves Pan’s loss the most, and while I don’t hope for my children to be sad, I think it’s good for them to walk through a story with characters they admire, and see that the funny, boisterous people have more to offer than the punch line. While Percy Jackson might teach Harper how to persevere, how to think about her weaknesses as strengths, Grover teaches Harper to find the joke, and he teaches her how to grieve.
Still, the thought that something exists no longer because we have forgotten it makes me so sad, and I want to say something to Harper about this.
The wind picks up, and the wax paper from our sandwiches scratches along the dock. We catch it before it gets to the water and floats away.
“It’s sad that Pan died,” I tell Harper, “but how could you forget the wild?”
Harper leans back and rests on her hands. She looks around. Water bugs skim the top of the river, their legs moving so fast to stay in one place. “They look like they’re tap dancing,” Harper says, her voice lighter.
This summer has also been the summer of battement for Harper. Anywhere we go, in any space we are in: on the driveway getting into the car, in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, as the credits roll at the movie theatre, Harper will lift up her arms, take a tiny step with one foot to prep, and with a flourish and pizazz, sweep her leg into the air. Sometimes she does it to make a joke, sometimes she does it to see if she can get away with it (just before entering the church sanctuary, for example), all the time it is an expression of joy. No matter what she is doing, or where she is going, she can find a way to dance.
A butterfly stops by, and Harper sits up. “Look!” she says, pointing. She slumps a little and says, “The garden is on the other side of the river.”
“She’ll find it,” I say.
Despite the distance, and the wind ushering in a new season, she is part of the wild, and the wild is a part of her.
She won’t forget.