There is a gorgeous, misplaced grove of cottonwoods behind our neighborhood.
It’s an ample slab of nature sandwiched between a row of houses and protected open space. Opal and I go there when we feel we “need some air” (she’ll even say it—Mama, we need some air).
Wandering through this patch of trees forces me to consider what it must feel like to be a toddler roaming through a crowded room, standing only as tall as the knees of the surrounding people. I enjoy this feeling and I can guarantee she does not.
A while back, we started hunting for treasures while on these walks. We stop and pull the stroller off where a wooded path is cut from the pavement. If our expedition is planned, we don pants with pockets or Opal carries a plastic bucket in the crook of her elbow to gather her findings.
If our adventure is spontaneous—sure, we have enough time before dinner!—I fold the base of my shirt into kind of a sling or simply tote leaves and sticks loosely in my bare hands.
If ever I drop a treasure, Opal takes notice: Mommy, where is the yellow leaf with the brown tip and spots? No, not that one, the one with darker spots! None of her discoveries are random; she chooses them each for specific features that are significant to her.
One day, I held up a leaf that was perfect crimson, creaseless like leather and called her over to see it.
I found myself feeling inexplicably giddy as the sun shined through it, exposing veins like a campfire flashlight in someone’s mouth during a ghost story. She trotted over, flattered me by giving it a half-glance and moved on to a stick that’d been gnarled and abandoned by a dog.
The cottonwood grove feels a bit like going to therapy—while therapy is a specified chunk of time dedicated to the exploration of focused topics, our treasure walks are dedicated to the exploration of focused terrain—both allow for deeper layers of noticing and understanding with each visit.
It took us many visits before we began to discover the bee-bees. Our eyes needed time to be able to focus beyond the shredded leaves and natural shrapnel to see the primary colored dots of plastic on the soil—red, green, orange, blue—left behind by a fleet of phantom guns.
Opal can spot them from yards away, like a bird-of-prey and shouts bee-bee! She’s collected handfuls of them at this point, has them stowed in a tiny pink Tupperware container and regards them with the intricate care one would provide heirloom jewels. More than once I have considered how the bee-bees got there.
We have gone on dozens of treasure walks and have never left empty-handed, which makes me curious of how our stash is continuously replenished. I envision a band of young boys with bandanas tied tightly around their heads who come out at dusk, wielding their bee-bee guns wildly, shooting at birds and squirrels with horrible aim.
But that image is too much of a stark contrast to our sun-drenched daytime to have any staying power.
Perhaps little boys bring bee-bee guns they never intend to use and simply come and scatter their ammunition like confetti in the wind. Regardless, these tiny balls of color are always there for the taking and provide my daughter with substantial levels of satisfaction upon their finding.
Once we have finished gathering and collecting, Opal enjoys lying out her findings in the tray of her stroller while on the walk back home. She shows her bunny, B, and sorts the bee-bees by color. We count them and count them again. Opal grins the rugged grin of a man who’s panned for gold all day with great success and he is about to deliver his findings to spread before his family on the dinnertime tablecloth.
On our most recent treasure walk, I noticed my vision was susceptible to the next layer, one even deeper than the tiny bee-bees. Opal noticed it, too.
From yards away, she yelled, Gems! and ran towards a spot on the path where there was indeed a pile of glistening green jewels. Once we got closer to it, I realized it was a bottle that’d been broken into smithereens. Oh dear. That is beautiful, honey—but don’t touch it, it’s sharp.
In that moment through her eyes, I had never seen a broken bottle look so lovely, so alive…it was no trashy thing. And the same went for the cigarette butt Opal came across next.
A half-used crayon of yellow-orange, it stood out from the organic shade of earth like highlighted text, like one drop of spilled paint. Again, just look, honey, don’t touch—and I wondered how long we have been blind to these raunchy bits that have been lingering in our guarded land.
Later, following an adventure climbing the slant of a fallen tree, there appeared another primary-colored something floating in a heap of fallen leaves. It was in a nook where a few trees had grown into each other, a tiny, secret patch of real estate. Opal and I hadn’t discovered that space before, just passed by without recognition.
As we got closer, we could see a tiny square of paper, blue as can be, the primary blue of construction paper and preschool decor.
Treasure! Opal yelled as she grabbed it—heeding it simply as paper, not sharp, not dirty—and was about to hold it high in the air, beaming and content in the few seconds it took me to catch up with her.
There, in her hand, was a condom wrapper.
I gently told her that this treasure was for viewing only, as well, then I took a minute to consider her joy in the discovery of it. To consider how much we had (presumably) stepped over numerous times before suddenly now catching them in the light.
With the dedicated and patient exploration of our tiny, special landscape, we were bound to eventually unearth details that alluded to something else, something other than the shiny, picture-perfect surface we became so acquainted with, which is precisely what happened.
The glass, the cigarettes, the condom wrapper and even the seemingly benign bee-bees were evidence to me of a world after dark that was unknown, perhaps a bit dangerous. Yet, Opal never wavered in seeing anything at all but treasure.
Some to hold and some only to view, but always treasure.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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