We crested the hill and suddenly, below us, was the valley. I twirled. It felt like we were lord and lady of a hidden holding, a place where we could take the hounds out hunting of a weekend afternoon, the heather beside Nate tinged orange with the on coming sunset. Nate was in a cap and a brown cord coat, and after jumping over the wood fence, he looked wind-touched and rustic. Me in my bright red wind breaker and pom-pom hat? Well, even flights of fancy have their spoilers.
I turned in a slow full 360. Below us was a valley rolling with heather and, across, a stand of barren trees hiding the twisting Lagan River. We had decided on walking, that Saturday, following the oral narrative of a friend –“cross the road? what road?” “do you think she meant to go straight here?” –and it felt all wrong—graffitti and a flooded underpass, until we had come out on a little green siding to the river, and from then on all sound stopped.
The green siding grew into a full marsh under-brush and along the river ducks appeared and overhead, calling geese. The river curved, and the path along with it, until we no longer knew where we were headed. At one point, feeling, bouyant, we spotted a side path, and decided to follow it up a narrow lane to a hill, daring the sun above to go down before we found our way back to the town. It was that little path that showed us the fence with the wooden cow-crossing, and that little opening, once jumped over, which led us to the hills.
Somehow everytime I come to the hills—and now I come to them every Saturday—they still look to me the way that looked that day. Green, and vibrant, and almost magical. A hidden secret.
Every Saturday I have returned to that hill top. Nate returned to India, so I must be lady of my own domain, but each week a new surprise is waiting for me. The second week, walking along the Lagan river, I spotted adolescent ducklings, brown-black puff balls on the river. They would sit there, a little pom-pom a top the tides, and then dive under. I would hold my breath. One minute, two, three, and then, hard to spot, across the river a little head would pop up, a sleek body, dripping wet, wet to the bone, and then a little shake, and poof: the little guy would be all dry fluff again.
And the next week, a blue heron: motionless on the bank, staring at me, me staring at him. Silence.
And then, as I crested the hill there I was, suddenly, amidst a herd of cows. Resplendent in their big calmness. Black and sleek. As I walked down among them they stopped chewing, stood still. When I passed a little calf lowed. And somehow, the sun never did set before I returned to town.