True to its name, Blackberry woods bordered the neighbouring houses with a thick, prickly cover of berry bushes. From the outside, it seems that some pine trees and blackberries are the only things worth noticing. However, once you navigate deeper through these bushes and and walk through a small trail hidden between the thorns and spikes, the soil underfoot becomes more rich and moist. The fir trees grew taller and taller as ferns sprang up to cover the woodland floor. Walk on a bit further and you would see tiny rivulets of spring water inching its way around the dirt-covered rocks and roots. Every one of these rivulets would eventurally join eachother, forming a stream that carved its path through the woods and ferns until it leapt down a drop. I was only twelve years old when I first dared to venture inside the woods. in all my eagerness to follow the stream, I didn't watch my footing and slipped on a slimy patch of algae, sent me tumbling right down over the edge into a pool of water. The next day, I told my best friends Joey and Kaleb about the secret pond in Blackberry woods, and guided them through the same path I had taken before.
Willow park, as we would later come to call it, was a large, bowl-shaped depression in the middle of Blackberry woods. The stream I had been following made a small waterfall that splashed its way into a pond around eight meters in diameter. Small flowers, ferns and glistening mossy stone adorned the banks of the slightly murky pond. The dry land around the pool was shaped like a crescent moon. On the left tip of the crescent was an old willow tree. The ground under its flowy branches were adorned with ferns and perennials like a bouquet of flowers in a mother’s arms. On the opposite side of the pond, stood several pine trees that were easily twice the height of the three of us combined. The air smelled of dew and the freshness of pine needles. The falling water created a gentle hum of noises that seemed to lull the world to sleep. This place was untouched, a piece of sacred nature, and us three kids were the Columbus of this new world.
We spent days exploring our new territory. The three of us had climbing contests up the pine trees. No matter how hard me and Kaleb tried, Joey was always the fastest to the top and loved to rub this in our faces. Unlike Joey, Kaleb would often spend his time weaving little baskets and carve sling-shots out of branches with his pocket knife. We pretended to be wild boys that lived on blackberries. A sturdy pine branch was our lookout. Little crevices in the willow tree were our stores and treasure troves. To us, there was magic in every pebble, every branch, every inch of moss-covered stone.
One day when the three of us were dozing off under our willow tree, Kaleb saw a flash of something moving below the pond waters. He quickly woke Joey and I, but we couldn't see anything.
“There must be fish in the pond,” he kept saying to Joey and I. “Perch, trout, or even bass.”
The next day, Kaleb brought his dad’s old fishing rod. He put some pieces of chicken on the hook, and swang the hooked bait into the deepest part of the pond. We barely had to wait before the rod dipped sharply with the pressure of a heavy bite. Something big was splashing around in the middle of the pond, the force would have dragged Kaleb into the water had Joey and I not there to anchor him. When the three of us finally succeeded in dragging the wild thing to shore, we froze. Kaleb had caught not a fish, but a huge snapping turtle. Easily the size of a dinner plate, it flared its mouth open in a hiss, we could still see the mangled piece of chicken in its powerful jaws. As soon as the turtle realized it was on solid ground, it turned around and charged us with terrifying speed. Kaleb chucked the fishing rod away like it burned him and the three of us sprinted to our fir trees. We stayed up there until the turtle gave up and towed itself back into the water. That was the first time we met the unspoken king of the pond, and the last time any of us dared to even think about fishing.
Sometimes on sunny days, we would see Gordy sitting on a big rock next to the pond. Gordy was a toad the size of a small grapefruit, with wrinkly light brown skin and black spots sprinkled around its entire body. This particular rock by the pool must have been expertly chosen. It was flat, free of algae, and most importantly, the sunniest place in Willow park. On a nice day, Gordy would be sitting there for as long as there is sunlight. Joey poked him with a stick once, and it barely gave a response other than cracking a lazy eye open, and then closing it again in the same sluggish nature.
As the spring months came, we noticed a couple of robins gathering little twigs for a nest atop our willow tree. And so, like the good landlords we are, we decided to help them out. It was during this time when my sister’s dog Floofy was getting rid of his coat for summer. After a quick sweep of the house, I gathered a handful of soft white fur and hung a small bundle of it on a nearby branch. Soon enough, a part of Floofy was woven into the new robin nest. I could still remember the joy that I had felt when I climbed up and saw three tiny blue eggs nestled in a little cloud of white.
Years have passed by, and now all this is but a memory. Willow park wrapped our hearts in something so intangible and great and loving. How often I had dreamed of being a child again, following the path beside the stream I’ve come to know like the back of my hand. Gordy would be there dozing on his sunny rock. The snapping turtle still reigned over the pond as ferocious and angry as ever. Those three baby robins had never grown up and flown away, forever playing and singing in our little slice of heaven in Blackberry woods.