M, at 10, has taken this imagining to a particularly artful level. She has a world—Puppy Town, she calls it—in which she has a handful of best friends, beautiful and capable . . . several dozen pets, healthy and obedient . . . . rolling acres, verdant and limitless. Her imaginary world is consistent, welcoming, and roomy enough for all of her loved ones to visit. It is the thing she takes with her every month as she travels from one home to the other and back again. Puppy Town is her constant.
My smaller girls have composed variations on this theme, and they can sustain short musings on the subject of the relative locations, for instance, of their imaginary animal shelter and their imaginary skating rink. They have imagined friends—for D, a fluffy gray kitten with blue eyes and a pale pink nose and a happy, fat wombat feature prominently, while for R the simple companionship of an appaloosa unicorn is enough.
I've been asked, by my daughters, to name and describe my imaginary world, and to tell you the truth I can call it forth with a childlike ease. It's green, it's perfect, and it's populated with the world's best mules. I call it Puddle Run.
What is Puddle Run? 284 acres in the western Cascade foothills, if you're talking about my imaginary perfect place—a blown-up version of Bent Barrow Farm, if you will, with pastures where there were paddocks, forests where there were shrubs, rivers where there were puddles, barns where there were sheds. Where my daughters, husband and I ride on five good mules where there was one. Where conversations about when to go for a carriage ride replace conversations about when to pay the electric bill. Where we are carbon-neutral and yet indulged with every comfort, where we live off-the grid and plugged in to an amazing life of seasonal abundance.
The term Puddle Run comes from my good friend Mrs. H . . . D.M. (you know, Mrs. H, what that means?) . . . the Chicken Lady. Whatever I call her, to protect her identity, you must know that she is a woman after my own heart. She loves Wickersham like I love Wickersham, and dreams the way I dream. Like me, she has found what feeds her spirit, and where I muleback ride for restoration she trail runs for renewal.
When I met Mrs. H, she was not a runner. She was a mother, and an animal lover, and a farmer, and was a beautiful person with many strengths, but she had not found her happiness. And then, as time passed, she became fit. Her jogging on the road evolved to running on the mountain, her running on the mountain evolved to competing around the region, her competing around the region evolved to her being a person with black toenails, mean calves, and an inner glow.
Mrs. H used to do the puddle run. From her house to downtown Wickersham (all one block of it), from there to the puddle, and back again, if I recall her route correctly. If you know Wickersham, you will know the puddle . . . a great failure when it comes to roadway maintenance, but perfectly useful as a place to turn. She ran to the puddle and back.
Mrs. H took her puddle runs a year ago and now she takes her incredible marathon journeys up the mountainsides. I have my Bent Barrow Farm, and when I'm asked to describe my perfect place I describe my Puddle Run with it's grassy meadows and miles of fences. In my fantasy, a perfect day still includes a trail ride with Fenway, a morning in the garden with Mat, an evening by the fire with M, D, and R. It's not such a crazy dream.
Puddle Run is the thing that makes us happy, and it's different for all of us. We who've found it are the lucky ones.