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Sanctuary (2014)

Returning to Sanctuary


A few miles outside of town, there is an old bridge that runs beneath the highway. A slow trickle of greenish water, which my brother and I named “Mud Creek”, nourishes the weeds and tall grasses flanking the bridge so that they reach astonishing heights, forming walls underneath the bridge. Ever since my childhood, it has been a perfect hiding place and sanctuary.

At first look, there is nothing alluring about that old bridge. Mosquitoes flock there in the summer and shattered beer bottles glimmer against the slime-coated pebbles lining the creek. A line of thick black tar oozes down one of the cement walls, partially concealing one of the obscenities that the neighbor kids spray-painted there years ago, and there is always a thick, bog-like smell hovering over the discolored water. Once, we even found a dead bull snake under the bridge. Its russet skin had been half-peeled from its carcass, revealing its pale and wonderfully delicate ribs inside. In the summer, big blue dragonflies with soap-bubble wings drift lazily over the water and grasshoppers hum a chorus from the grass. Usually, one can find fresh raccoon tracks in the mud and swarms of tiny minnows dart beneath the water’s glassy surface. My brother and I used to spend hours chasing them. One year we caught several and put them in the watering trough for the cats. I also have many fond memories of the afternoons we used to spend frog hunting at the bridge, sloshing through mud for hours and frantically swinging our fishing nets. One summer my brother actually caught one, which he stuffed in a mason jar before proudly presenting it to our mother.

Best of all were the birds. Although now I am too old to enjoy wading through putrid water washed down from the cattle fields, I still love watching the ducks and listening to the noisy chatter of the killdeer, grackles, and red winged blackbirds that gather near the bridge. My favorites are the barn swallows. Each year I look forward to them building their mud nests, then listening to them sing as they fly busily back and forth, working tirelessly to feed their newly hatched young.

No matter how old I get, I will always love that bridge, and I often find myself returning there whenever I need an escape or a quiet place to think. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else has found my hiding place. I don’t want to share it.

I hope not.

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