NHPR’s Sean Hurley wasn’t always 52 years old. Once upon a time he was a little kid, with the time to spend long half-magic days in the woods. In this reflection on then and now, Sean tells us that who he used to be, long ago, is in large part who he still is today.
When I was a kid…I believed I could control the wind. If I watched the sky long enough at night, I was sure a flying saucer - or flying “sooser” as I called them then, would fly overhead.
In the woods below the soosers I knew that tiny elves were sneaking around the sticks and fallen leaves. And if only I could find the pirate maps hidden in the owl holes of the trees, I’d soon be digging up my very own buried treasure chests.
I packed carrots in a brown bag and hid in deadfalls in the forest with a pen telescope and quietly strained to see the elves. You couldn’t bring a bag of carrots into the woods and not find elves! Impossible.
I climbed and searched trees, maplessly dug holes, lay on my back in the damp dark yard and watched the starry skies. It never weighed on me – never seeing or finding anything.
And I did have one true acquaintance with the otherly, so I thought. I could control the wind. If the wind blew very hard, I could utter a magic phrase – make the wind blow, very slow…and the wind would almost instantly oblige. While I couldn’t make the wind blow faster, this was simply because I didn’t have the right rhyming spell. Make the wind blast, very fast…didn’t work at all. I tried out different rhymes and combinations…. but I could only ever slow the big wind down.
These were days of long adventure and watchful waiting and wind slowing and spell writing and shovels and climbing…and carrots.
And I suppose what I want to say is that there are holdovers from those dreamlike days that I can’t shake. Out walking in unfamiliar woods I now have trouble stopping. Something always draws me on.
If I hadn’t dug all those holes or checked all those trees…I never would have written this and I never would have written anything if I hadn’t first tried and failed to write the rhyming spell to speed the wind.
I’m still digging holes, packing carrots into the woods, watching the sky for flying soosers, is what I mean to say. Although there’s a difference of course, because I suppose I find things now. Earthly things, human things. A satellite, a pretty view. A story to write that feels dug out from the earth of my own life.
Make the wind blow very slow…I still say this into hard blowing winds.
No longer a magic spell to control the wind, but an acknowledgement that a magic of sorts still holds. Casting that old spell breaks the newer one. The spell of being 52.