My Safe Place, by Richard H. Carlson

I grew up on a horse farm in southern Wisconsin. I had this special place, where I could escape to, a safe place, and it seemed a place only I knew about.

This place was a part of the pasture that sided a railroad viaduct. Here I had every thing a kid could want. Our junk yard littered with old rusting farm equipment stood at the ready to become anything I wanted. These pieces of equipment would take shape and become a WW II tank, a spaceship, anything I needed them to be.

There was a large cottonwood tree on a slight hill overlooking the dump. I can still remember how beautiful it looked when there was a stiff breeze, and the leaves would flicker green to silver. In the late spring when the flowers would fall off, it looked like a snow storm. The best, however, was the gentle sound that would be made by the leaves in the wind. I could climb this tree rather well, and I had a great place to sit on the first branch, about fifteen feet high. From this vantage point I could either reign supreme over the pasture, or sit in silence and nobody would know I was there.

A small, cool stream was at hand for that cooling summertime dip or for a commando assault on the beach so G.I. Joe could win the battle.

The “Crown Jewel,” was the viaduct stretching over the railroad tracks. Sitting up under the roadway was the best. I could watch and count the cars of a lumbering freight train going by to deliver its goods. The passenger trains would hurtle on their way to the station where the commuters would board or leave to go home, depending on the time of day. I would flatten coins on the tracks, and the rail bed would have the best stones to throw. When you sat up under the road and a car would go by it made the neatest “click-it-tee-clack” sound

I would spend many afternoons in my place and a few nights camping under the big old cottonwood, safe from harm. Finally as the years went by we sold the farm and moved.  My special place was gone.

A few years ago, I was just driving by the old place on my way home from Harvard, IL. The idea came to mind to pull in and see who lived there now. I explained who I was and asked if I could take a walk in the pasture? The owner was the man we sold it to, and he said sure, so off I went.

The hay fields still smelled the same, the remaining trees were larger, and the trail was worn deeper into the ground. With every step I could feel my anticipation building, almost to a fever pitch. I went down the draw and up the hill to get to “My place.” I topped the hill, waiting to find the secret place of my youth. I stood there dumbstruck to see the viaduct was gone, replaced with a railroad crossing and signal lights. The old junk yard was also gone, and a maze of stake lines took its place. I was crushed, and almost started to tear-up, when I noticed up on the hill, the big old cottonwood was still standing strong. As I walked up to it cautiously, I could hear the leaves rustling gently and watched the leaves flicker in the wind from green to silver just as I remembered. A smile started to replace the swelling of my eyes, and I sat down at the bottom by the trunk and started to revisit those old memories. I was in my place again, wishing I had never left.

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