I am eight years old, hiking through the meadow, slogging along behind my mother’s long strides. We stop at a clump of columbine, their sky blue petals offset the crisp white centers folded into elaborate origami shapes. It is the flower that means home to me—the Colorado mountains and their secrets enfolded its form like the magic phrases of the cooty catchers we make in school. I reach out to pick one, a columbine of my own to place in a rusty tin can and set in my room, a way to bring the mountains home with me. But my mother’s hand stays my own.
“Don’t pick the flowers,” she says. “We have to leave them for others to enjoy.”
I look across the acres of meadow around me. We have not seen another soul since we camped here a week ago. The meadow is blue speckled with clumps of columbine as far as the eye can see. I don’t understand. Why can’t I take just one? Why can’t I hold onto this symbol of the perfect week for awhile anyway?
I don’t want to go home, back to the city and my friends and school and all the little dramas that play out among a group of preteen girls. I want to hold on to this week of sleeping in the silent woods, listening for the stirrings of a world beyond the human one. I want to run across the meadow and feel the freedom of it, not go back to the playground where I never run for freedom, but in competition against the others, trying to prove myself. I want to stay here where I do adult tasks, where I saw logs and chop wood and build fires. I want to live in clothes saturated in woodsmoke and let my long hair tangle and mat, my tennis shoes get crusted in fine red dust. I don’t want to go home where I have to wash the earth from my body and put on stiff clean clothes and skirts that restrict what I can do and try to make my flyaway hair conform to some style from a teen magazine.
I defy my mother’s prohibition. I pick the flower, soak a kleenex in the cold little creek and wrap it around the stem. My mother says nothing. When we get back to camp she gives me a water bottle to prop it up in.
But by the time we home, the columbine has wilted, tucking all the mountain’s secrets into its crushed petals.