Stone Wall

“You’ve been out! You’ve been out! There’s that nice smell of leaves!” he cried.

She had been running and her hair was loose and blown and she was bright with the air and pink-cheeked, though he could not see it.

“It’s so beautiful!” she said, a little breathless with her speed. “You never saw anything so beautiful! It has come! I thought it had come that other morning, but it was only coming. It is here now! It has come, the Spring! Dickon says so!”

“Has it?” cried Colin, and though he really knew nothing about it he felt his heart beat. He actually sat up in bed.

“Open the window!” he added, laughing half with joyful excitement and half at his own fancy. “Perhaps we may hear golden trumpets!”

And though he laughed, Mary was at the window in a moment and in a moment more it was opened wide and freshness and softness and scents and birds’ songs were pouring through.

from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

It has come.

Forsythia erupt like golden fireworks.  Tulips and daffodils and hyacinths form candy-colored borders.  When the window is open, I can smell my neighbor’s lilacs when I am lying on my bed.

I go walking.

Through the city, through the suburbs, by the marshes to the west, around the pond by the grocery store.  I drive down the road, park, cross a field and am in wetlands crisscrossed by trails and wooden boardwalks.  I love wooden boardwalks.  The reeds and rushes rise up around me and though I can still hear traffic in the distance, for now, I am by myself, in my own world, and nobody knows where I am.

One thing I see frequently in my rambles are these.  Old stone walls.  Built by settlers hundreds of years ago, when instead of quiet suburb, this place was wilderness.  I’m not sure exactly of what American Indian tribes lived here, but I do know that even as early as the 1700’s they were being driven out of this area by the Europeans, and killed in countless thousands by the white men’s diseases.

I do know, thanks to the marvelous book  A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen, that three hundred years ago, the people who lived here had very different ideas about disability.  Both American Indians and colonial settlers (mostly)  saw disability as a natural part of life, and disabled people were integrated and fully accepted into society.  Everyone could contribute in some way, and they did. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities were cared for in their communities.  People’s worlds were smaller, then – one didn’t necessarily need to know how to read if you could milk a cow or plant a field.

I love to look at the stone walls, and imagine the people who built them.  They cleared the land of trees and bushes and rocks – and some of these rocks are huge!  I don’t know how they did it – if they used a travois or oxen or a wagon.  I think about the men and women who worked all day to clear a field, to plant a field, to grow the food they needed to live.  I think about how their backs ached and they didn’t have bandaids for their blisters.  I think about them huddled in their crude cabins in the winter, about the fire smoke that would smart their eyes, about the children who began to work as soon as they walked.

Three hundred years doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but my world and theirs are so very far apart.  I am just one person, just one tiny spark of stardust in a vast universe, and three hundred years from now nobody will know my name.   And yet I keep trying – I keep trying to leave my mark on the world, because having decided a few years ago to live, I mean to keep doing it.  I mean to keep living and keep living well.

Funny thing: settlers didn’t make stone walls because they wanted to.  They made them because during the winter, the earth contracts and moves, and so every spring in the fields there would be, quite literally, a new crop of rocks.  Rocks that they would then heave and ho and push and shove into miles upon miles of walls, marking boundaries, marking trails.

I think about the people who built these walls, and how they didn’t know that the things they hated, the things that made their very lives harder – the stones – ended up being their legacy, ended up being what I, a random person many lifetimes away, remember about them. I do not think my accomplishments will ever be so great as this simple stone wall, but I’m beginning to see that autism, inconvenient and hated though it is –  may be the stone I place in this world.


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