The thing about Mayflowers is that they grow unyielding to your presence or absence. Delicate though they are, little stops their annual appearance, signaling warmer weather and better times. In the same spots as they rooted 20 years before, Mayflowers are witnesses to the land they adorn and the people who have come to inhabit it.
They sprout, about 100 paces from the church where you were baptized. There stands an orange-stained wood-slatted ranch, with a rotation of cars resting atop the black gravel driveway. Numbers nowhere to be found, the address only marked with 11-year-old chipped paint on the side of an 11-year-old mailbox, 11-year-old confident brush strokes fading with the years. The hearts and stars of the child artist stripped many years prior were only noticed on her most recent visit back.
They line the snaking driveway to the backlot once the April weather gives way to their namesake. Clustering in the small valleys separating the raised path from a marsh, eventually gathering in audience to the pastoral-mimicked stone wall adorned with a gifted white rose bush from her grandfather, long before she could ever put brush to paint to metal. They watched her master the youth-perceived art of running barefoot over the unforgiving edges of the gravel–aided in part by a father’s guiding hands and goading words.
They border, when not interrupted by the blade of a lawnmower, the pond that soothed her feet after a hard-earned victory against the gravel drive. The pond that provided year-round occupation and lessons. As they bloomed in the spring, they watched that little girl learn to fish, to catch frogs with her bare hands and to care for the wildlife she saw–a veritable park ranger played counter to the neighborhood kids’ best poaching efforts. As they wilted upon the harsh winds of northern winter, they may have caught a glimpse of her first tentative step out on the fresh ice.
They guided her, against the wishes of her parents, like an arrow, pointing to her childhood test of courage: an old bridge frame. While her school friends conquered the balance beam of beginner gymnastics, she listened to their petal-soft applause as she learned to, toe to heel, cross the precarious metal. The first time she crawled, eventually gaining the strength to stand once halfway across. In later years, that little girl would not think twice about sprinting across the feet-dying orange rust, sometimes leaping between the cross-sections to outrun a particularly competitive round of manhunt. Now there is not one lick of fear, she is tall enough to use the shading laurel tree as a handhold while she crosses, not that there is a game compelling her to do so any longer.
They floated, once, down the brook in participation with the girl’s own curiosity. Dropped from the dam she created, which still stands, and chased down to the land bridge that marked the start of her neighbor’s property, coincidentally passing beneath the bridge they once applauded her for crossing.
They recall memories of her at play, memories she may have long forgotten. Having guarded the relics she left behind, it warms the spectators’ heart to see the girl, now grown, find a lonely slingshot marble nestled in the earth. They remember the hours spent by the young girl trying to gain the literal strength to pull back the elastic of the toy and the hours spent by her father setting up targets and goals for her to eventually aim for.
They sigh in relief to see her look up, knowing that she remembers the fort that once stood where she does now. There is no tarp there now, meant to shield younger unweathered shoulders come rain or shine, but the dry rot wood remains.
They yearn to comfort her when they notice soft tears falling at the sight of her childhood playground turned to mundanity. Not because all that much has changed, the scrap metal and abandoned tires are still there, but because she has changed. Ten years ago that metal would have made an amazing fort wall or bench or ladder and the tire would have become a raised planter or part of a new trick she learned. But they are also relieved to hear her chuckle as she recalls how often she was scolded for rummaging through her father’s car parts and half-finished products to find the perfect addition to her whatever her imagination had cooked up that day.
They wish she would put the camera down and just enjoy her time here. But they also understand that in under 24 hours she will return to another place, where there is not one single tree tall enough or strong enough for her to climb. Where the flowers are lined up in a row, installed on the 1st of April each year. So though they wish, they understand too and sit in silence watching her save the memories, satisfied to see her barefoot once again.
They laugh at her newly-fawned legs trying to carry her way through the woods, over the brambles and briers, along stone pathways. Those legs and paths used to be well-traveled, well established, they think, “that this is what she gets for not visiting more often.”
They are proud still, despite their previous quiet mocking when she stands in triumph on top of the boulder at the end of her way. Soaking up the view that she has not seen since nearly seven years prior when she gave up traipsing through the woods to prepare for her coming journey through the world.
They miss her. At least she hopes they do, as they watch her disappear back into the house, to pack to go back to a place where the May Flowers do not grow.