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The abandoned rock quarry was our playground. Its horseshoe shape looked as if a giant had scooped it out of the hillside with a soup ladle. While I was able to scramble up the low rocky side, near the quarry entrance, in just a few minutes, it took my older brother twenty minutes to climb the high rock face at the back of the quarry. Mostly, I liked to explore the quarry floor.

The biggest rocks in the bowl of the quarry were as tall as a refrigerator and as wide as a car: they were fun to hide behind, and many of the smaller ones made good seats. In the sunlight, they shimmered with golden specks. I liked to pretend I had found real gold and jewels in them, but the ‘gold’ was really a yellow metal in the rocks called iron pyrite. If I was lucky, I could discover larger chunks of the iron pyrite to add to my treasure hoard.

I would find another summer treasure in the tall raspberry bushes that burst in thick clumps between the boulders. These bore bright, pink-red berries. The prickly stems were worth the few scratches on my hands as I picked out handfuls of berries to eat. The biggest and ripest ones hid beneath the soft green leaves: they were the rubies of my treasure hoard. They smelled so sweet, and the velvety texture of the berries melted in my mouth, staining hands and tongue red with juice.

Just afer a rain shower, the raspberries looked especially enchanting. Crystal beads of raindrops decorating the berries looked like diamonds sprinkled over rubies. I always took time to admire them before cramming them in my mouth. The wet berries became so refreshing it was like eating and drinking at the same time.

Sometimes, while my older brother, Stephen, climbed the steep face at the rear of the quarry, my sister and I, giggling quietly with suppressed mischief, would run up the steep grassy hillside at the side of the quarry. If we could get to the top before Stephen we would hide inside the spreading branches of prickly, golden-blossomed furze bushes and wait. Grazing sheep had pushed their way under these bushes, conveniently making our ‘caves’. We found it delightful to spy Stephen finally hauling himself over the top, only to have us rush out on him and tease him. He must have been a good sport as I never remember his getting cross with us.

In those instances, a special treat was in store: My sister, Marya, and I would get Stephen to take us down by the other route: the magical Bluebell Wood. Only in spring did these wild hyacinths (Scottish bluebells) bloom all at once to turn the woodland floor from green to a solid blue haze of flowers, perfumed with their distinct burnt-sugar scent.

At the bottom of the hill, our parents awaited us. Our visit to the quarry was over; but not without three happy ‘pirates’  laden with strange, sparkling rocks, red berries, and bunches of sweet smelling wild bluebells.

 

The village of Hymers is very small. Far from the city, it nests, snug into surrounding lands of field and forest, tucked down into the Whitefish River valley. The County Museum (open on Tuesdays) was built of sturdy stone. Being old and worn and ready to rest its feet among the rusting farm machinery of the front lawn, the Museum building did not mind the lack of visitors; but yawned and waved to its young cousin across the road, The Whitefish Valley School. Being young and eager to listen and learn, the school did not mind its halls and classrooms filled up daily with carefree, chattering children.
      The road to Hymers snuck away from Highway 508, slid downhill, and curved around a bend before it passed the County Museum and crossed the Whitefish River bailey bridge, where travelling cars rattled and banged the thick bridge boards. The road slowed down as it passed the Whitefish Valley School (being mindful of the children), then continued at a sedate pace, past the Postal Office, Town Hall (very small), and the Farm and Feed store, then away it tore up the hill, shaking aside its fill of dust, and un-fashionable potholes as it hurried to meet its paved and prouder cousin, Highway 595.
     Back in the village, below the bridge, the Whitefish River flowed: a laughing river, wearing a cloak of willow wands and scarlet dogwood stems. In winter the river was frosted and frozen, but teams of travelling husky dogs, pulling swift- sliding sleds in the yearly river race, could hear the water, still chuckling softly deep beneath the ice. When spring arrives at last, the river awoke and tossed aside the icy sheets from its bed, so it could leap and laugh loudly, and bounce from boulder to boulder. Kissed by rains, the rising, splashing water urged the wet-loving willow wands to swell their catkin buds, full and silver-furry. Now bloomed the first flower; bright marsh-marigolds, who loved to get their green petticoats wet. They turned their shining yellow faces to the sun. Marigold bracelets graced the river’s arms, adorned her dress, trimmed with foam and watercress, and diamonds borrowed from the sun. The scarlet stems of dogwood, in such hurry to see, urged out their own leaf buds with glee, and the willow showered golden pollen so gracefully upon the dancing bride.
     Birds, fresh from winter sojourns now compete, now meet with call and song, display and dance, to mate and nest. In the village houses, sleepy children groan and wake, urged by the early sun and songs of eager birds. Too loud! Try stay in bed, pulling pillow over sleepy head; won’t work.
     And now to school they go, fast: not slow; adorning the dusty road with coats of colours bright, bags of books and treasures to show and tell. Say farewell; the littlest ones from parents pushed and urged into the care of teachers, calm and brave; told to behave, then free to play. When morning is done, a bell rings then the school erupts once more; children everywhere adore to shout and run.
     And all about this rhythm, daily goes the Whitefish River. She does not care; dancing by day and night with sun or moon, greeting woodland friends who come to drink and sink paws, hooves, beaks into her shallows. She seeks only the timeless call and lure of Whitefish Lake, into whose arms she flows, embraced, and pulled into a deeper mystery…

The Water Kelpie Arises…

Wherever slowly moving rivers wind their ways, banks bound by ancient willow roots, wherever the ribbon weed waves idly on the surface, in time to the river’s flow, and deceitful of the depth of the black water, the water kelpie thrives. Sit on the rushy bank; admire the gold and the blue iris at the edge – almost within reach of your hand as you lean out ( such beauty must be grasped ), and before the fragile flowers are broken from their stems, a horror arises. The great black head of a noble horse, yet with hanging maw and white-filmed eye, mane streams with slimy weeds. It utters a bellow of equine distress – no misty pony this – reaches forward its snake-like neck with darting speed, and teeth green with algae, seizes you. It is happening too fast for you to comprehend as you are jerked into the roiling black water. The shock of cold and wet makes you gasp and one more glimpse of the land above – the bruised iris crushed at the water’s edge; and you are pulled down below. The water closes over your head like a fisheye lense, above your sinking gaze a wavering rim of sunlight becomes dim and green until all is black….