We moved to the North Mountain the summer I was four and my mother was pregnant with my little sister, Morgaine. My father made the house himself and we lived in a tent pitched in a meadow surrounded by forest while he built it. My mother told me this. I remember the tent was green and there was a path through the meadow to the house. I loved this path, which cut through the tall grasses. In the meadow, purple vetch threaded up through the grass stems and touched my mother’s round belly. The grasses grew so high they were taller than me, but I could look up and see how they touched my mother’s breasts. I drew pictures on her stomach with icing coloured with beet and carrot juice. Then she’d let me lick it off. The acreage was mostly forest, except for the clearing around a large, rickety barn. They put a sandbox in the clearing where I played with my pail and shovel.
There was also a path through the woods. It was a twisting path my father had cut through the pines to the clifftop jutting out from the trees over the Bay of Fundy. He called the path “the labyrinth of life.” It snaked through the forest to the perilous brink of the cliff. The path was difficult and winding, with sharp turns where you had to slow down. My father said this was the main purpose of his pathway: everyone was forced to stop hurrying and consider their journey as it unfolded. People needed to be open to sudden turns and trust the way ahead. Being in the moment would take over and time would lose meaning. Before you knew it, you would arrive at your destination, and le voilà, enlightenment, or éclaircissement, as the French Acadians say, when you reached the bench of wisdom! Every age had an awakening, her father said, with those like him, who were called to be its prophets, ushering in the awakening. On a clear day you could stand at the edge of the cliff and see all the way down the bay toward Maine, which was four exhilarating hours away by boat as the crow flies or a long, boring two-day drive by car, as my father explained.
The bench at the edge of the crumbling cliff my father had made from driftwood, which the elements had cast to a silvery white. He encouraged us to sit on the bench and look for water nymphs. He insisted people had been spotting them in the bay for generations. They swam in with the tide, he proclaimed, as though he were a marine biologist with a peculiar specialization.