Summer House: Ch. 15


I know where the birds’ nests are. Bernard and I headed out in the early morning, wearing our boots and rain hats, while the sun shone through fog and clouds. A hermit thrush sang, and we followed it through the stand of aspens.

“How do you find the nests?” Bernard asked in a whisper.

“Listening,” I replied, “and watching. Some return every year to the same spot. I’ve had lots of summers here to discover secrets.”

We followed the deer trail through the aspens to the bluff, and we sat beneath a granite outcropping. I pointed towards a scraggly cedar arching its branches over the bay. Near the end of the largest branch sat a pile of twigs: an osprey’s nest.


Within minutes, the osprey soared over the bay, hovered, and dove to catch a salmon. It carried the salmon in its talons up to the nest where two white chicks stretched out their long necks, opening their hooked yellow beaks.

When the osprey flew off, Bernard looked at me, his eyes wide. “Wow.”

He slipped in his hand in mine as we continued along the trail.

A winter wren darted into a thimble-berry bush. We heard its chicks and kept looking until we found a globe nest woven of lichen and Spanish moss.

Up in the pale green leaves of an alder sat a vireo’s cupped nest.

Cliff swallows darted out from the banks of the creek. We slid down an otter’s path to walk along the shore, so we could glance up to find the swallows’ mud-daub nests.

“How do birds know how to build?” Bernard asked.

“They learn,” I said, “like you learn how to write.”

“Does everything learn?” he asked. “I think everything learns. Everything learns to do what everything does.”

A frog jumped out from the cattails and landed into the pond with a splash.

“Oh, I bet there are pollywogs,” I said.

“I have never seen pollywogs,” he said. “I don’t think.”

We ventured to the edge of the pond.

“Look! There they are!” Tiny black dots with tails wriggled over the stones on the pond floor.

“I don’t see them,” said Bernard. We kept looking.

“What do you see?” I asked.

“I see the sky. I see leaves. I see that water skeeter. I see the shapes of branches.”

“You’re looking at the reflections,” I said. “At the surface. You need to look through that. Look beyond.”

He became still with concentration. I shifted my own glance from surface to the mid-level to the floor of the pond.

“Look for the stones at the bottom,” I said. “There’s a yellow stone with a black stripe. See if you can find it.”

He looked. “I see it!”

“Now keep watching. See what swims over it.”

A large brown bullfrog tadpole sucked the surface of the rock, slowly wagging its tail back and forth.

“I see it!” Bernard shouted.

We watched as water striders circled, diving beetles rose, and the tiny black pollywogs circled over the stones and mud.

“It’s like a magic world,” Bernard whispered.

“Can you see both the surface and the depths at the same time?” I asked.

“No. Wait.” We sat silently. “Yes!”

I heard a chewing sound and raised my gaze to see a cat-tail stalk fall into the water. I nudged Bernard and gestured with my chin, raising my finger to my lips so we wouldn’t say a word.

A muskrat emerged from the thicket of cat-tails to grab the fallen stalk between his teeth. He swam like a beaver, carrying his harvest, to the opposite bank, then, backwards, pulling the cat-tail stalk behind him, crawled out where he disappeared again into a low tunnel in the sedges.

“I never knew there were so many secrets,” Bernard whispered.

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Three Rivers 19.1

Nineteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

19. All day long we found tadpoles


Serena’s niece Sylvia wasn’t sure how she felt about spending the summer way out in the country with her aunt.

“I was supposed to do piano lessons,” Sylvia said.

“I’ve got a piano,” said Serena. “And I’ll be happy to teach you.”

“It won’t be the same,” said Sylvia.


“Of course not,” said Serena.

Sylvia’s mother had been assigned an extra teaching load at the university this summer, and, as she was also wrapping up her Ph.D. thesis, she wasn’t sure what to do with Sylvia. She was too little to be left alone in the city all day, and too big to tag along at the university.

“Let her spend the summer with me,” Serena volunteered. “There’s plenty of room for her to run outside, and she can come with me to the island on the days I work at the Villareals’.”

So Sylvia arrived at Serena’s cottage out in the countryside with her suitcase full of frilly dresses.

“Oh, these won’t do,” said Serena.

“What do you mean?” asked Sylvia.

“How can you climb trees and chase frogs in a dress?”

Serena asked her friend and neighbor Mila Munch, the mother of three boys, if she had any hand-me-downs that they might borrow until they had time to go to town to buy more appropriate play clothes.

“More than enough!” said Mila, and she insisted, bringing over a box full of hats, jeans, overalls, and t-shirts that her boys had outgrown, that Serena and Sylvia keep them.

The next morning, Saturday, while Serena read with a cup of coffee, Sylvia asked if she might explore.

“Of course,” said Serena. “Come home when you’re hungry!”


Sylvia ran down the hill to the fork in the road at the bottom, and there she found a wide meadow.


Stalks of blue flowers grew taller than her, and grasshoppers jumped out of her path.


She played a game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. They won, of course, and Sylvia thought she had never played a more fun game.

A thrush sang from the branches of an old oak. Sylvia thought that she had never heard better music.


On Sunday afternoon, too, Sylvia roamed.

“Come back by sunset,” said Serena, who sat happily playing the piano.

Sylvia crossed a stone bridge, and there, at the edge of the meadow, flowed a small waterfall.


She had never seen a waterfall before, unless one counted the fountains at her mother’s university as a waterfall. But this was different.

This roared.


She felt the spray on her face, and the cascading water shouted her name: Sylvia! Sylvia!


Serena had told her that there was a tall waterfall at the old mill, and Sylvia, now that she’d seen the little falls, wanted to find the tall one.

A lady with binoculars and a funny hat made of straw pointed the way to her. She had to run through a very large meadow to get there. Her whole neighborhood in the city would fit in this meadow, she thought, but she was so glad that it was full only with birches, grasshoppers, sparrows, and wrens.


All the songs of the meadow fell away as the tall waterfall roared. It must have said every name that ever was and ever will be, all at once, not just “Sylvia!” but an entire cacophony of a roll-call!

Maybe this was the river of life!


The sun began to set, and Sylvia remembered that she had to be home. She had such a long way to go! She hoped she remembered which way to turn when she came to the road.


As it grew dark, she found herself by a house she didn’t recognize.

“What’s a little one like you doing on the road?” asked a man who talked in a low, funny voice.


“My cottage disappeared,” she said.

He laughed. “Cottages tend to do that.”

They talked of waterfalls and meadows. Sylvia learned that he lived in the woods near an old orchard, not in a house at all. When at last he discovered that she was Serena’s niece he pointed her in the right direction.

“You’ll be home before the moon!” he said.


Before breakfast the next day, Serena packed a basket of books, paper, and paints for Sylvia.

“This should keep you busy!” she said.

“But I don’t want to be busy,” said Sylvia. “I want to be in the meadows!”

“But I won’t be here,” said Serena. “I have to go to my work at the Villareals’. You’ll like it. You can play in the woods near their house, and we’ll bring plenty of projects for you to do, while I work.”

“I want to stay here. If I can’t stay alone, let me stay with the funny man.”

“What man is that?” asked Serena.

“He lives in the woods, by the orchard. I don’t know his name, but he knows you. He calls you Se-Se!”

“You must mean Sebastian,” Serena said. “No, you can’t stay alone with Sebastian all day while I am at the Villareals’.”

So that day, Sylvia went with Serena to the island. She played on the beach and drew pictures and read books. It was fun, but it was nothing like the meadows. She missed the grasshoppers, the thrush, the sparrows and wrens, and most of all, she missed the brook and the waterfalls.

“Can’t I please stay home tomorrow?” she asked Serena, on the ferry ride back at the end of the day.

“Don’t you like the ferry?” asked Serena.

“I do. But I would like to stay home tomorrow, please?”

When they got back to the cottage, Serena called her friend and neighbor.

“Of course, she can spend the day with us!” said Mila. “Lucas will love to have a little friend to explore with!”

So all the next day, Lucas and Sylvia roved.

“I know where tadpoles are,” said Lucas.


Sylvia had never seen tadpoles before.

“Not even pollywogs?” Lucas asked.

Not even pollywogs.

They ran through an old garden at a forgotten estate. There in a broken fountain filled with green water swam brown tadpoles, bigger than her fist!


“They’ll be bullfrogs when they get their legs,” said Lucas.


They found a maze made of hedges.

“Race you!” cried Sylvia, and she ran down the narrow path that twisted and turned, and not once did she get lost!


“Which way?” called Lucas.

“Follow your nose!” said Sylvia.


Sylvia came out in an opening, thick with mist from a nearby waterfall.

She saw something move from out of the corner of her eye, and she turned just in time to see a huge bullfrog leap from the rock into the pond below.

“It was this big!” she told Lucas, measuring a span with her hands.


They couldn’t scale the rocks to get to the pond below, so they lay on their bellies and looked down into the clear water, where large brown tadpoles swam with small black pollywogs and tiny little fish.

Next it was back to the meadows where the tall flowers grew and another game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. It was more fun with two.


As the sun reached low and the long shadows stretched, Sylvia and Lucas found themselves beside a quiet still pond where ducks foraged.


“This is a good tadpole hole,” said Lucas. They waded in the water and waited quietly while the tadpoles swam over their toes, then, they darted their hands in quickly and each caught one!

“It tickles!” said Sylvia.

“Happy summer,” whispered Lucas to the tadpole in his hand, and then he gently let it go.

They watched their tadpoles swim away and settle into the thick dark mud.

“When we come back tomorrow, they might start to be having legs,” said Lucas.

“I think we should come back every day,” said Sylvia. “Forever and always.”