She was walking up this hill as I was driving down.
From the beginning, I felt like I was dreaming. My car purred quietly as I wound around the narrow dirt roads of the neighborhood where I grew up. Alone, I was lost in blissful childhood memories spent exploring this lakeside paradise.
But the instant I laid eyes on her, my mood snapped from dreamy to surreal. A little girl, maybe seven years old, with tousled blonde hair walked up the hill toward me in a pair of muddy boots. Like a true country girl, she claimed the very center of the lane and skipped over to the grassy edge only when my car came close.
I could tell she was an adventurer. She walked with easy confidence, at a relaxed yet purposeful pace. With shoulders back and head held high, she was obviously drinking in the nuances of the scene with all her senses. She carried a nice big stick.
And she was alone. Happily, contentedly, comfortably alone.
I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning.
I felt like I had fallen through a wormhole.
I felt like I had traveled back through the mists of time to the years of my own childhood.
Because I felt like I was looking at myself.
For an instant, I thought of stopping and talking to her. I wanted to tell her that I used to live here when I was her age. I wanted her to know that I carried sticks and wore muddy boots and looked for adventures, just like her. I wanted to ask her to show me her favorite trees, her favorite hide-outs, her favorite secrets.
But I knew that if she really was like me, that would be way too much attention from a strange adult. Too many questions. Too many invasions into a private world of dreams.
So I just drove slowly past her, squeezing my car against the tree branches on the right side of the lane so that she had plenty of room to swing her stick.