It sits hidden within the woods on top of a mountain and it is a part of me. Maybe not so much the house, but the memories that surround it. The place to which we travel two or three hours on weekends has become special to all of us. I was only a year old when we bought the house, and although I love the city, I have also come to love the country. Whether it is the vibrant smells of the forest, the night skies filled with stars, the pure white snow in the winter, or the calming silence that fills the air, it is all part of a whole different world, one that I have explored for thirteen years and one I will never stop loving.
I remember when my brother and I were small enough to fit into a small red wagon and we would walk around the empty paths on the mountain in the fall. My dad would pull us, all bundled up with countless blankets thrown over us. We walked through a forest of red, orange, and yellow leaves, listening to the only sound of the steady rumbling of the wagon, slowly rolling along the gravel paths, our faces turning red, but our bodies staying warm.
As we grew older, we would walk along the silent paths without the red wagon. My brother and I would pick up fallen sticks, rough and stiff in our numb hands, and throw them as far as we could, listening and waiting for a small crack to echo through the woods. And finally, when our hands and feet were frozen, we would head back to the house and be embraced by its warm arms. We would sit down and maybe make hot chocolate as we waited for the warmth to return to our frozen hands.
In the winter I would always– and still do– have the sudden excitement of leaving a snowless city and entering into a snow covered wonderland. We would step out into the cold crisp air and make our first mark in the snow as we trudged our way over to the front door. We could barely wait to sled down our driveway. Bundling up in so many layers we lost count, we would stumble over to the garage where our sleds were stored. When my brother and I were younger, we used to only have two sleds, the usual rectangle kind and a red saucer, but as we grew older we acquired a collection of blow-up sleds and snowboards. Running to the top of the hill, we would drag our sleds by the string we had tied on when we were little. The first ride down the hill was always disappointing; stopping and getting stuck in piles of snow. But the more we slid down the hill, the more slippery our path would become, and before we knew it, we were flying down the driveway at an amazing speed, air rushing past our red faces. But the real thrill of the ride was in hoping we could slow down before we crashed into the house.
I remember one winter night, we arrived upstate to find that everything had turned to ice. The snow on the ground was solid. It was so slippery we had to park our car at the top of the driveway because we were afraid the car would lose control as we tried to drive down the icy hill. We got out of our car wondering how we would get down the hill without slipping and falling. And all of a sudden I realized: Why not slide down like penguins? I lay with my stomach touching the ground and let myself glide down the hill, my face so close to the ground it was almost touching. I felt my body easily skimming across the ice, no sled or snowboard, just me, sliding down the icy hill at night.
On hot summer days, when my brother and I were younger, we would pull out our green blow-up pool and fill it up with icy cold water from a spigot outside our house. Once filled, it was just big enough for the two of us. I always took time getting in, dipping my feet in the freezing water, feeling a sudden sting and quickly pulling them back out. One summer we tried boiling water in the kitchen and adding it to the cold water in the pool to warm it. We rushed back and forth from the kitchen to the pool in the hopes of adding some warmth to the freezing water, but it never really worked, and the water felt just as cold as it had been before. Sometimes, we would put a slide in the pool. We would climb up the small blue ladder and slide down the slippery orange slide, splashing into the pool, feeling a chill run through our body as the cold water surrounded us. Even as we grew older and the pool slowly began to feel smaller and smaller, we still enjoyed splashing around in the cold water we filled it with. And even now, we still pull our little round pool out of our garage and dust it off for those warm days in summer.
Once, I remember, we made a ladder so I could climb up to a small nook in the oak tree next to our house. We never painted or stained the ladder, so it remained a light, pale wood. I remember after it was finally finished, leaning it against the old oak and climbing up and down until my legs hurt. And then for a while, I just sat, cradled within the tree’s branches, watching from above. It was not a tree house we made that year, it was a ladder. But it was not a tree house that we needed, just a ladder to let us believe that the small nook within the tree’s branches was our tree house. I have not climbed up that ladder just to sit in the branches of the tree for a long time, but even though it sits hidden away somewhere in our garage, I’ll always remember why we built it.
I remember one night when I was very young, being woken up to watch a meteor shower. It must have been in the winter, as I remember it as being very cold. Wrapped in layers of blankets, we sat together on the deck in silence, listening to the night sky as we waited for the first star to fall. We searched the sky, not wanting to miss a thing. And slowly, one by one, little balls of light flew across the sky and then vanished into darkness like magic. I gazed at the sky in amazement, not making a sound. Afraid of missing one, I never looked away. And even as the cold seeped through the blankets, I stayed to watch because that night upstate was the first time I had ever seen a shooting star.
Our house could be a tent for all we care because it is the memories that have made upstate so special to us. This is what memories seem to do: They are what connect you to people, to places, and to things. They find something and fill it with meaning so that it becomes a part of you, whether you want it to or not. They are the reason why, when we go upstate, we don’t just see the beautiful countryside, but a story of our time spent away from the city in a place where time doesn’t seem to exist. Upstate is both where I learned to ride a bike and where I learned to ski. And as much as I feel it is part of me, I am a part of it.
Shaia Bierman-Chow, Age 14, Grade 9, Saint Ann’s School, Silver Key