On Tuesdays, I start harvesting flowers to sell on Thursday. I’d scrubbed out a bright orange plastic bucket and filled it half way with hot water. I found my flower cutting scissors and started wandering the yard searching for green. Most of my plants inside the deer fence were still too tender. I’d have to get salal and huckleberry from the woods.
I call my small woodland The Enchanted Forest. Most days I think that is just a charming name. Other days, I wonder about that forest. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, I see shadows where they shouldn’t be. I slipped out the side gate and into the woods.
Carrying my bucket on my arm I started cutting a mix of huckleberry and salal. I occasionally found a salmon berry with bright magenta flowers. These I put carefully in my bucket, detesting their sneaky little thorns.
The wind blew cold as I worked my way among the tall evergreens. As it whispered though the treetops, I thought I heard music. Perhaps it was only the wind chimes on eves of the house.
“You, can’t bring that bucket with you here.” I thought my over-active imagination spoke to me.
Maybe it was a trick of the gust of wind that seemed to speak to me. “Let me put it on the bench.”
I closed my eyes against the wind that blew fir needles and cones out of the trees. The wind fell. The ground seemed smooth beneath my feet. I looked down to find myself standing on a wooden deck.
A strange man held out his hand. “Come, we can take the trolley into the city.”
I blinked. Behind me stood a wooden building, painted red with gold and black trim. An open wooden trolley stood on tracks in front of me. Beyond the trolley, I saw a marsh full of reeds, cattails and small willows. Hills rose up beyond the marsh. I felt a bit dizzy and confused. Everything seemed familiar but distant. I took a good look at the man who was holding out his hand to assist me onto the trolley. He seemed personable enough with a light red beard and reddish brown hair. He had dark eyes set in a swarthy complexion. “Do I know you.”
“We’ve seen each other before. We’re neighbors. This is where I live. Come see my town. I guess you’d call it a village, but it’s very beautiful.”
My curiosity and sense of familiarity with the man overcame my sense of disorientation. I stepped onto the trolley and sat on one of the wood slat seats. Glancing at the other passengers, I saw an older woman wrapped in a heavy wool cape with a basket on her lap. Two boys in wool pants and shirts chased each other around brass posts that ran down the middle of the aisle to the back of the car.
The trolley lurched forward. My new friend grabbed the aisle post where he stood and said to the driver, “Take it easy Knute. My lady friend here isn’t used to your wild driving and such speed.”
I looked out the window to hide my smile at this comment. As compared to driving the freeway the swaying trolley seemed tame at maybe ten miles an hour.
We rounded an outcropping of rock and buildings sprung up on both sides of the trolley. I saw bales of hay or straw on a wooden platform with an unpainted wood warehouse behind. We rolled past a couple small vacant buildings, then past a bar. I caught a glimpse of men sitting alone at tables before we passed a building painted white. After a faded blue building and one of red brick we slowed to a stop beside another red station with its gold and black trim. I heard the sound of running water as soon as the screech and rattle of the trolly subsided.
My new friend grabbed my hand. “Come, this is the best stop for us. You’ll have to walk a bit to get to the shops, but you can see more of the town this way.”
I followed my friend off of the trolley and entered the station. “Where does the trolley go from here?”
“Upriver. It’s mostly residential out there.”
We exited the station onto a wide boardwalk between rows of buildings. Peeking through open doors and windows, I saw metal objects I took to be farm equipment in one building and sacks full of something piled in neat rows in another.
“We’re coming to the tanners. Better cover your nose.”
“Huh?” A stench of rot, urine and char assaulted my nose. I pinched my nose closed with my fingers. My eyes stung and watered.
Beside me the man quickened his footsteps and I hurried to keep up. We passed a couple more buildings that appeared to be one story on my right, but glancing down, I could see they backed into a hillside, and I was seeing the second floor with another floor below and the glint of water beyond the first floor.
“River is down there. Those buildings open onto it. Come, we’ll go uphill here.
He led me to a set of wood stairs that climbed the hillside beside a row of unkempt bushes. I felt mist on my face and looked up to see a waterfall cascading down above us. We turned away from the waterfall and climbed stone steps along the face of the hill. Occasionally a building rose up on the downhill side. Soon the buildings grew closer together and had balconies over the stairs. Finally, we passed through a tunnel formed by a building that stood on both sides of our path with skybridge above the path. We turned a corner and stood at the end of a long street lined with both painted and red brick buildings. I saw several pocket parks. Behind me a waterfall tumbled down the face of the cliff in a hundred little cascades. Beside me stood the brick facade of a bank.
“Come, this is mostly offices and commercial buildings on this end of town.”
We walked for another ten minutes before we came to a set of shops with goods set up along the edge of the broad road. The grocery with odd round fruits and leafy vegetables was easily recognizable. I pinched my nose again when we walked past the butcher.
“Don’t you have a scented handkerchief?” My guide asked.
“No. I’ve never owned such a thing.” I wanted to smile at the look of surprise on his face. I chose to explain. “Where I live, we have smelly things, but they’re kept away from where people walk and live. Our meat doesn’t smell because we keep it cold all the time.”
I paused to finger balls of wool in baskets beside the door to what I thought of as a knitting store although it had a big loom in the back.
The people we passed looked much as the passengers on the trolley. They dressed in wool. Some wore long coats. I saw a few capes. Many of the women wore wool shawls.
We paused at a pocket park where another waterfall dropped from a rock overhang above. The falling water had hallowed out a basin under it. The basin was full of clothing. I stood and stared as a woman with her wool skirt kilted up above her knees waded into the pool and pulled at a piece of clothing with a hooked stick. She pulled a pair of wool pants out of the water and spread them over a bush and returned to retrieve another article of clothing from basin.
"Huh, must be the local laundromat.” I blinked several times and surveyed the shrubbery adorned with clothing before my guide urged me forward.
The paved road, or perhaps I should call it a promenade because there were no vehicles here, began to rise again. We crossed a wooden bridge over a stream that tumbled as it rolled and splashed down the side of the hill. From the bridge I could look up and see five waterfalls on the hillside above the town.
The promenade split and we kept to the left climbing steeper up the hill on a switchback. The walk led us behind the waterfall above the stream we’d crossed on the bridge. The promenade opened before us on the far side of the waterfall. Here, the shops were all made from a light granite with seams of quartz running through.
“This is the shop you need.” The man paused outside a door and I entered the shop.
“I quickly restrained myself. The shop was full of lacy things. I wanted to finger them all. I saw a table runner I just had to touch. It felt like silk. A ruffled baby gown hung from clothes pins on a line along the wall.” I suddenly became aware of my own gardening coat and jeans as being out of place among so many beautiful things.
A woman in a wool dress stood beside a table, folding lace tablecloths or maybe they were bedspreads.
“Katrina, the lady needs a handkerchief.” My friend gave the woman a kiss on the cheek. With their heads close together, I guessed these two to be close relatives.
Katrina’s hair had more red in it, but something about her eyes and nose was a feminine version of his. She glanced at me then back to him and raised her eyebrows.
“Just get on with it. She’s our neighbor from the other side.”
Katrina smiled at me and led me to a table covered with handkerchiefs. She had, maybe fifty, small delicate pieces of cloth with lace edges or colored flowers embroidered into the corner.
I fingered them. I thought they must be wool, but wool so fine it felt more like silk or the finest cotton. I gasped as I picked up one edged in lace with little white flowers embroidered in the corner. I turned it over examining the workmanship. This small scrap of cloth was a work of art. I stared, examining each perfect stitch. “This is lovely. I’ve never seen such beautiful stitching.”
Katrina smiled at the man behind me. “Here, I’ll wrap it up.” She took the handkerchief. “I wrap them in paper scented with flowers. Do you prefer rosemary or lavender?”
“Lavender. Don’t you sprinkle the scent right on them?”
“No that would stain them. I scent the paper, wrap the handkerchiefs in it, and they pick up the smell without staining.” She wrapped the handkerchief and handed me the small packet.
“But I don’t have any money with me.” I suddenly became aware of myself again.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of that.” The man took the packet and put it in my pocket. “We need to get on our way.”
We walked past a few shops then entered what could only be a bakery judging from the smell of baked goods wafting out the door. The man led me through the bakery and out to an open-air terrace dotted with tables and benches for seating.
He pulled out a bench for me to sit. “Enjoy the view. I’ll order.”
Off to one end of the terrace, a waterfall crashed down among rocks, then bounced back up in a mist that covered everything with a sheen of moisture. In front of me the scene opened up over a river valley. I could see for miles in either direction up and down the valley. The river wove in and out among islands of grass and willow. The hills on the far side were blue in the misty air. I stood so I could peer over the edge of the terrace to the roofs of the buildings below me. From above, I saw that the buildings flowed down the hill in rows from one story to the one below. The rows of buildings were punctuated by rows of shrubbery and waterfalls.
The man returned, carrying a tray, biscuits, cups, and a teapot. Behind him two women carrying trays turned toward the table farthest from the waterfall. My eyes followed the bone china cups on their tray. One cup had stripes of flowers in shades of blue and the other rows of green leaves with gold leaf around the edge. I thought the cups were particularly pretty. Our teacups were plain white with small white flowers and silver leaf around the the rim. I didn’t say anything about those cups but glanced suspiciously at the ones on the other table.
Our little lunch distracted me. I hadn’t realized I was hungry. We had something that must be made much like a scone with seeds and berries in it. We had honey for our scones. I would call our tea lavender-spice with honey.
As I sat licking the honey off of my fingers and still eyeing those teacups, an older man leaned out the door to the kitchen. “Omath, the riverboat is coming.”
My friend jumped to his feet. “Come, it’s time to go.” He grabbed the sleeve of my coat and hurried me toward the door.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll take the riverboat home. It’s the fastest way.” He led me at a brisk trot down stairs, past the wye where we’d turned uphill. We went down a switchback and into a square squat white building with gingerbread trim on the front.
A man behind a counter called to us. “Hurry, the boat’s almost here. It can’t wait long.”
We picked up our pace as we raced down a flight of stairs and out onto a landing beside the water. Looking left, I followed the water to see a two story building drifting toward us. Men on the landing ran toward the riverboat and caught at the ropes tossed from its deck.
Omath led me toward the edge of the landing. “I’ll help you on the boat. Get off at the same trolley stop, go through the station from the river side and that should get you home. I hope you liked my city.”
“It’s beautiful and fascinating, but where is this place we’re at.”
He took a deep breath and let it out. “Almost next door.” He turned and watched the boat glide into place. “Here you go. Watch your step.”
The boat didn’t have a gang plank or anything so fancy. I merely stepped over the crack between the landing and the drifting boat. I looked down and saw inky black water below me. As soon as I was aboard, the boat moved forward again.
A man in a black uniform with silver braid held a door for me. “Sit on this side of the boat. It’s dryer and you can see your trolley stop. I’ll come make sure you get off at the right landing.
Riverboat is a bit of a misnomer for this boat. Carnival ride would be a closer description. I’d just sat down at the open window when the boat dropped straight down. I grabbed one of the bars across the window. The boat surged forward. I saw buildings flash by then the green of shrubbery followed by the mist of a waterfall. The boat slowed and drifted toward another landing.
We’d almost come to a stop. I watched as a group of small children dressed in wool hats and capes surged onto the boat. Each child carried a heavy looking bag over one shoulder. School children, I thought. I watched them scramble for seats on the far side of the boat.
We dropped and surged forward again then slowed. A noise as if we were entering a huge rainstorm drew my attention forward. On my side of the boat I saw us approach a rock wall with ferns growing among the rocks. The boat tipped and water poured over the far side. The children squealed and held out their hands toward the waterfall as we passed under. We drifted toward another landing.
We picked up more people, mostly laborers, I guessed from their worn and patched clothing. I tried to be inconspicuous as I held my nose. The boat dropped and surged forward. By now I guessed the boat was moving through a series of locks. I couldn’t hear the sound of a motor and wondered if the boat had one and how they got it to the top of the hill again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the children grow quiet. I looked at the passing buildings, noting they were growing more rough and farther apart. I tried not to smile as the children began to point and stare at me in my jeans and synthetic coat. I must look quite outlandish to them.
The boat slowed almost to a stand still and I looked for another landing, hoping to see the red and black of my trolley station. The other passengers grew quiet. The uniformed man I’d met earlier leaned over my shoulder. “Best hold on tight to something.”
I looked at the far side of the boat. The children were gripping railings with one hand and their bags with the other. The laborers braced their feet and held onto rails. I took a firm grip on the rail along the window and another across the seat in front of me just as the boat almost stood on its front end. We flew forward with boiling water surging up beside us. A great wave met us when we reached the bottom of the falls. It poured over the boat and ran across the deck. The boat raced forward at a good clip. We were in the main channel of the river now.
Outside my window I recognized the marshy area near the trolley stop. The boat slowed and hung to the starboard bank. The children moaned and glared in my direction.
I looked out the far window. We’d left the main channel and were drifting down a canal. The boat slowed again. I felt as if we were standing still. I watched as my stop drifted toward me. I double checked the hills and marshy area to be sure this was the same station where I arrived. I stood as the station floated closer.
The uniformed man appeared beside me. “I’ll help you Ma’am. Now Omath always goes through the station from this side. That’s important if you want to get home.”
The boat slowed to where I could step ashore. Yellow footsteps painted on the wooden dock led me into the station. I pushed the door open and passed through. I felt the cold wind on my face, and my stomach turned over. The grass was littered with pinecones. I shook my head and wondered why my orange flower bucket was on the bench.
Scowling over having gotten so involved in one of my daydreams, I attacked the salal, cutting it back until I had three dozen stems in my bucket. While I worked, I scolded myself. I’m going to have to pay more attention to the here and now. That fantasy seems so real, it’s almost as if it was an hallucination. It felt good though—so fascinating.
I looked at the clock when I came in. How was it that I’d only been outside ten minutes and cut so much greenery? I felt chilled and my clothes were damp. I think I’ll change into something warm and dry.
I felt the pull of my recent daydream compelling me to examine my china cabinet. Telling myself that a reality check would help dispel the compulsion of the daydream, I approached the glass cabinet. My eyes traveled to the middle shelf. I stared at the empty saucers where my blue flowered saucer sat without it’s matching teacup and beside it the green leaved saucer sat empty. I stood frozen in my place. After a minute or maybe two passed, I forced myself to reach into my pocket. I pulled out a packet of paper and sniffed the lavender smell. I unfolded the paper packaging and examined the exquisite handkerchief. I stared. I could hear inside my head the man saying we’re neighbors. Perhaps so. Neighbors but how and where?