Barefoot in the Spring

Many kids today grow up in the city or suburbs. But you may have wondered what it would be like to live in the country, far away from neighbors, the mall, and traffic. The author of this story grew up on a ranch in Oregon. She tells what it was like to welcome spring with only her sister and her parents for company.

SPRING came slowly to the ranch my family took care of in northeast Oregon. Winter was long and cold, so we welcomed the first signs of spring with enthusiasm.

My sister Juniper and I were wild, adventurous children. We had an agreement with our parents that when the temperature reached 50 degrees, we could go barefoot. Sometimes we cheated and went barefoot when it was only 48 degrees, taking care to keep out of sight of the grown-ups.

Often when it reached 50 degrees in Whitney Valley, patches of snow still lay on the ground. Tired of wearing heavy boots, Juniper and I ran outside barefoot and leaped from patch to patch of clear ground. Even the clear ground was cold and wet, but this did not bother us. We jumped and ran with boundless energy.

Soon we expanded our explorations to the marshes below the house. The snow melted early from these seeps along the willows, and we went down there for spring encouragement. There we dabbled in the water and heard red-winged blackbirds pour out their liquid song from among the branches of the willows.

One day, Juniper and I walked along the road barefoot. We spied a large patch of free ground off to our left, beyond the fence. The rich brown earth and pale green sagebrush looked so inviting that we knew we had to get over there. But there were several yards of snow between us and the beautiful bare patch, and snow is cold on bare feet. Besides, we weren't allowed to walk barefoot on the snow. As ever, though, we managed to come up with a solution.

We crawled through the fence and went carefully over the snow on our elbows and knees. We reached the patch of free ground without once setting foot to snow.

THE just-melted ground had plenty of lovely mud, and we settled down and played happily, sculpting bowls and animals, until our mother walked by.

"Hello!" we called. We waved.

Mama stopped and stared at us. "How did you get out there?" she said.

"We crawled out on our elbows and knees," we said proudly. "We didn't get our feet wet at all. We can come back the same way."

Unimpressed by our accomplishment, Mama shook her head. "No, just come back over the snow as quickly as you can."

Deflated, we ran across the snow on our bare feet. Mama scolded us for our snow-wandering adventure.

Though we occasionally broke the barefoot rule, there were some hard and fast spring rules that we never thought of breaking. These had to do with the North Fork of the Burnt River that ran through the ranch. In the spring, snow melt from the higher mountains made the river churn and crash against its banks. Often, parts of the banks fell into the water, so we were told never to walk along the banks when the river was high. We understood the danger and stayed away until later in the season.

The grown-ups, though they did not go barefoot, were almost as excited by spring as we were. We went on many family walks. The fresh spring air renewed life everywhere and inspired me to dance and sing. I was a spring creature, like the many birds that now returned to the valley.

Clear, cold snow meltwater ran down the rocks on the cliffs that bordered the road. On one walk, we asked if we could drink some of it. We were strictly forbidden to drink from the dirty river and irrigation ditches, but this was wild water as clean as it comes. Mama looked over at Daddy. "I guess it would be all right, wouldn't it, Jon?"

"I don't see why not."

The water was wild, ice cold, crystal clean, and it made our blood thrill to the song of spring. Like everything in that leaping, dancing season, it was alive, and I felt more alive after drinking it. `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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