The Last Place
Tips of toes pressed against the cool boulders, the waters of the Sheepscot River lapping up over the sand and spraying a faint mist on our ankles, we swayed, our balance tested by the slippery rocks. Before us stood the almost vertical incline composed of crumbling soil and small stones blanketed by a ground cover of moss and lichen. Small saplings dotted the hillside, dancing from side to side as the wind sighed through their fresh green leaves. Emerging from the bottom of this slope was a thick pipe. Orange rust and early morning condensation left it glimmering as it caught the rays of sun. Running straight up the hill, its exact purpose was unclear, yet it seemed the perfect thing to use to pull ourselves up the bank.
Determined to find a part of this island we had not seen before, determined to have new adventures, we had left the cottage in the early hours of the morning. Sixteen years on the eighty-eight acre island had left hardly a square foot that we had not yet explored. However, after an hour of bushwhacking, blackberry picking, and sea glass collecting, we came to this spot. Composed of three large boulders, which formed a bridge between the water and crumbling hillside, this place could hardly be called a beach. It was no wonder we had never been here before. On the opposite side of the island and with no path leading to it, this place was not the most alluring destination on the island. Could this slightly dismal place really be our last discovery?
Fingers laced together to form a step, I hoisted my friend up off the slippery boulders by the water's edge and onto the bank. She reached for the pipe, her laughter swept away by the breeze, as the soil crumbled beneath her bare toes and she slid back down to the rocks. Eventually, after several tries, we grasped the pipe and started pulling ourselves up the slippery bank. Half way up the hill the roots and seedlings we had been using as foot rests ended. The bank before us was clear, save for the moss and rusty pipe. Though it looked impossible to climb using only the pipe to hold on to, the way down looked no less promising. The tiny trees, which we had used as handholds, now looked weaker than ever. It seemed inevitable that if we tried to slide back down bones would be broken. Wishing to avoid this dismal fate we resolved to push on.
Foot by foot, hands stained orange from the pipe, we heaved ourselves up to the terraced area above. The loose soil of the bank had been too weak to support large trees, but as we pulled up onto the flat ground we found ourselves in a heavily wooded forest. The trees were densely packed, leaving little room for us to push through. Yet below this wall of foliage and needles, the branches parted and between them and the forest floor was a gap that looked small enough that only a small child might be able fit through. Knowing there was no going back we flattened ourselves out, resting our stomachs on the damp leaves below, and slid ourselves under the trees. Our shoulders were wider than the gap between the branches and we snapped the dry ones as we pushed through. Eventually the trees began to thin and we could stand and weave between the higher branches. Our forearms and thighs were scratched from pulling our bodies across dry twigs, and the tips of our toes were covered in mud from digging them in to propel ourselves forward. The scent of moss and mildewing leaves clung to the fabric of our clothes, and the traces of blood on our knees made us look like preschoolers just in from recess. We gathered clumps of leaves and attempted to wipe away the blood, desperate not to permanently stain our already embarrassingly filthy clothes.
As the trees become sparse, the landscape turned familiar, the thigh high bushes spotted with clusters of deep purple berries, and the lichen covered stones. A few yards ahead of us was one of the island cottages. Fresh wood chips formed a path, which started at the back door and disappeared from sight as it circled around the house. Two tall pine trees framed the sliding glass door and from one of them hung a swing. It was the plastic kind, red and yellow, hanging on a dirty blue nylon rope. Hovering just about two feet above the ground, it was the perfect height for someone small, the rope just strong enough to hold someone light. As my friend sat down on it and pushed back, the rope tightened, the branch bent, the seat sunk, now very close to the ground. She’s a petite girl, rather short, and certainly not overweight, but she hopped up off the seat. She could tell that if she lifted her feet from the ground and let herself swing the rope would snap. Visions of pushing each other on a similar swing at a four, five, six flashed across my mind. That same swing at age twelve hung motionless as we passed by, excited by our new courage to drive the boat. And then one last time the swing, a year ago, now just two ropes held together by a rotten board, hung empty as we rushed off in the boat to get ice for my mom's party.
As my friend pushed the damp leaves on the ground beside me and sat down on the rock, her face sunk. She too had just realized why we had started out on this adventure in the first place. What if we had seen the whole island, would it suddenly be like every other place, tired, worn out, just a place you went because your mom dragged you? What would there be left to discover? If we knew every inch of it, would we lose the spring in our step as we bounced from rock to rock in the sea spray, would we move in the most direct and robotic way? There was that one man on the island who rode his lawn mower around because it was the easiest way to get places. Would that be us? We had always told ourselves that there were fairies here, we just hadn’t found their home, but if there was nowhere left to go, then were they too gone? Figments of our imaginations left in the past?
“Let's go,” I hopped up.
“Nah, I want to savor it,” she said.
“Uh huh, we're going, you can’t be sad on a boat, and maybe we're looking for water nymphs, not fairies, right?”
"Right." She stood up. We're still looking for our water nymphs; figure we can't run out of ocean.
Isadora Osgood is sixteen years old. She attends Waynflete School in Portland, Maine, but has lived most of her life in a small town in Midcoast Maine. She spends every August on a small island at the mouth of the Sheepscot River and draws endless inspiration from this magical place.