From The Plain Reader
Riley and Sooz had helped weed the garden rows with more alacrity than usual, because Grandmaw had promised to take them to the Singing Place along the creek if there were time afterward. Homeschooled in every sense of the word, the children found it hard to believe that anything as unusual as the Singing Place could exist in their neighborhood, their domain, their classroom, without their knowledge of it.
So now they walked with Grandmaw across the farm toward the creek, full of anticipation about what the Singing Place might look or sound like. That they were in for an adventure they were sure. They had long since grown accustomed to Grandmaw’s genius for finding drama and excitement in what others thought of as the simple and commonplace. They thought all grandmaws were like that.
“See that patch of wild ‘spar’gus,” Riley, age eleven, pointed out to her. “There are twelve different patches on our farm, and eighty-four stalks altogether. We’ve already cut fifty-seven. Yum. I love ‘spar’gus, ‘specially with mushrooms. Daddy found a hundred and forty-five big yellows so far, but I didn’t find a one.”
Ten-year-old Sooz led Grandmaw by the hand to a hollow tree and pointed upward. “Old horned owl has two babies up there,” she explained. “Sometimes they peek out of their nest. They are snow-white.”
“They turn brown when they grow up,” Riley added in his best big-brother manner.
“Just the opposite of Grandmaws,” Grandmaw opined.
To all their shows-and-tells, she reacted as if she had just heard the most exciting news in the world, which, in her mind, was indeed to case. She understood that the world a person could actually see, smell, touch, taste, and hear – the local world of daily life – was the only place to learn anything deeply enough to approach true knowledge. Global thinking was the myth of electronics. Global thinking begot only half knowledge that was worse than ignorance.
“Yesterday, mother owl fed a rabbit to her babies,” Sooz said. “Poor little rabbit!”
“That’s what rabbits are for,” Grandmaw replied. “If we all don’t eat each other, we’re all goners. Death is the beginning of life.”
If the children recognized any significance in Grandmaw’s words, they did not say so. Nor did Grandmaw press the point. All in good time.
“There are five hundred and forty-two trees in this woods,” Riley, the numbered, the scientist, announced. “Not counting the little ones.”
“I expect they are mostly hickories like that one,” Grandmaw said, trying to keep her face expressionless.
“Grandmaw, that’s not a hickory, that’s an ash,” Riley replied with the gentle exasperation of a teacher correcting a child.
“Do tell,” the old woman replied in a pretended huff that belied that satisfaction spreading over her countenance. Her grandchildren already knew more about the real world than most high school graduates do. “And I suppose you’re going to try to tell me that one over there is a white oak.”
“Nope,” said Sooz. “It’s a red oak. Leaves are pointed, not rounded.”
“Well, if you’re so smart, what’s that little frowsy thing over there with all the white blossoms?”
Neither child knew.
“I don’t know either,” Grandmaw said. “What shall we call it?”
“Let’s call it No-Name,” said Sooz.
“Good as any,” Grandmaw concurred. “Half of what passes for education is just names of things. Doesn’t mean you know anything just because you know the names. We’ll have to watch now and see what comes from those blossoms.”
By this time, the trio had reached the creek. The children, full of expectation, watched Grandmaw closely as she picked her way carefully along the bank. Finally she stopped, gazed upstream and down, a perplexed look on her face.
“It’s gone,” she finally said. “Floodwaters must have washed away the Singing Place.”
“Grandmaw, what do you mean?” Sooz asked, full of wonder and impatience together.
“It was right here,” the old woman went on. “A bunch of rocks in the creek there where the current speeds up below that quieter pool. The rocks made a chain of little waterfalls and rapids. The water splashed and bubbled and gurgled and made music over the rocks. That’s why when I was your age I called it the Singing Place.”
All three stared disappointedly at the quiet-flowing stream. Grandmaw suddenly snapped her fingers. “Tell you what. We’ll make the crick sing again.”
And with that she took off her boots and socks, rolled up her pants and shirtsleeves, and began carrying rocks from the banks and creek bed, plopping them into the fast current. Shortly, she created a little rapids and a watery chatter of splashing and gurgling sounds.
“Now there,” she said. “You can hear the music begin. All we need is more rocks to get a whole symphony going. A few violins here, a trombone and flute over there, and maybe a pie-ano yonder.”
The children grasped the possibilities instantly. They began to gather rocks and place them into the creek bed, too, with indeed a more studied gravity than Grandmaw, as if they were professional creek music makers.
“Okay, Grandmaw, listen close,” Riley commanded. “Which sound do you like better: if I place this green rock right here and the gray one in back of it—.” He paused for her to listen. “—or if I turn them around like this?”
“Move the green one a little to the left, I say,” she answered after due consideration. “Gives the music a little more bounce and babble.”
Sooz smiled broadly. She could play this game, too. She rolled a boulder almost too heavy to lift into the water. She cocked her ear. “It just doesn’t sound gurgly enough in this spot,” she opined. She moved the rock closer to the others. “There, now, that’s a real brook gurgle.”
An hour of playful orchestration slipped by as fast as the water tumbling over the rocks, and the three, dripping wet and splotched with mud, sank in happy exhaustion on the creek bank to listen to their symphonic handiwork. The Singing Place had been restored.
“I can hear it better with my eyes closed,” Sooz said. “I think the crick is singing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’”
“Maybe it’s just talking. To the fish,” Riley said. His eyes widened at his own imagination. “Maybe it’s trying to tell us something.”
“I think the crick is not actually singing,” Sooz concluded. “Just humming.”
“Well, I can’t make out any distinct words or tunes,” Grandmaw said, as seemingly serious as a school teacher. “I think maybe up at the first rapids, the words are gurgly, gurgly, splash-bubbly spash – repeated very fast at the second rapids: gurglygurgly splashbubbly spash.”
They all tried to mimic the sound, repeating together as fast as their tongues would move:
To which Grandmaw threw in, the third time around:
Over the rocks,
The water flutes dash.
Which prompted Riley to chime in with:
And under the rocks,
The crawdaddies mash.
And Sooz, not to be outdone, added:
And around the rocks,
The little fish flash.
Their laughter joined with the creek’s song, the two becoming a hymn of hope that every human could have a Singing Place if only – ah, if only – there were more Grandmaws as full of wonder and peace as the little children still are, in the quieter nooks of this poor, torn world.