When you were a child, did you have a special hideout in your house, your backyard or somewhere in your neighborhood? A place nobody but you knew about? A place safe from bullies, parents, pesky siblings, disloyal friends?
I had several of these places. The first one I remember is Wisterialand. During my childhood we lived in a large colonial-style house in Washington, D.C. My bedroom was built over the kitchen and over the kitchen porch was a roof lavishly covered by a wisteria vine. In spring an explosion of purple clusters sent their intoxicating perfume into the air. I was captivated and so were the bees -- thousands of them swarming over the blooms.
It was because of the bees that no one expected me to venture out onto the roof. What they didn't know though was that the bees and I were entirely compatible. They never stung me and I never, for a moment, feared they would. Their business was to harvest the sweet nectar of the wisteria; mine was to sit quietly leaning my back against the outside wall of my bedroom, concealed from view both from inside and out. I would close my eyes and inhale deeply, filling my lungs with the blossom-infused air and my ears with the low-pitched hum of the bees.
Sometimes I would think about flying, taking off from the roof, rising on the updraughts over the roofs of neighboring houses, soaring ever higher, my face caressed every now and then by fragments of cirrus clouds.
Or I would imagine myself the same size as a bee, perhaps even disguised as a bee, another long-term denizen of Wisterialand. My parents would search for me in vain and the police, whom they would eventually call in, would fare no better. I did not think about what would happen when autumn came, followed by winter. I was a child and winter was about as far into the distant future as adulthood or old age.
The only thing imaginable past spring was summer and then I would leave the city and go either to our farm in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia or else to Aunt Elizabeth's cottage on the Maine coast.
In both those places I had several hideouts.
I am an old woman now and still a product of my childhood obsession with hiding places. It has occurred to me that Wisterialand represents both my need for safety and my craving for adventure. Daring to climb out on the roof and remain there surrounded by bees is the adventurous part. Being hidden from those I wish to avoid is, of course, the safety-seeking aspect.
Even now, wherever I happen to be, my eyes will naturally seek out hiding places: the hollow trunk of a tree, a shallow cave in a rocky ledge, a small opening in a clump of bushes, an abandoned house or barn, a narrow space between two buildings...
In harboring two seemingly conflicting impulses I am, I suppose, no different from most other animals. My summons, their summons, is simply this: go out into the world prepared to hide.