How I plan to give the gift of wonder
The year I turned 11, my grandmother bought a tiny piece of land on a small and beautiful river between two falls in the Ozark Mountains. She had a cabin built, got a used refrigerator and stove, and rented a U-Haul to carry them over. Then she filled that cabin with cheap antiques from Mr. Vest's musty junk shop.
A dozen times during the next 20 years I heard someone say that the land her cabin lay on was a place where Indians must have camped. I'd try to imagine them there without the bustling town of Hardy down the highway in one direction, or Cherokee Village a resort for retirees in the other.
I could almost imagine it when we'd canoe upriver, managing the occasional rapids, and float around slow, lagoon-like bends where the air was as heavy as the river we stroked with our paddles.
One afternoon some years ago, the cabin was overflowing with four generations, every bed taken, pallets spread, even the front-porch hammock was being slept in by the youngest of our tribe.
I needed to get a book out of the car. It was parked out in back of the cabin against the row of dogwoods my grandmother had planted between her home and our neighbors'.
As I squeezed around the nose of her old Buick, my mind stringing along thoughts far from the Arkansas gravel I hardly knew I saw, something materialized out of the rubble. It was like one of those trick drawings in which you see a vase, then realize its outline forms the contours of two women's faces.
Among those rocks I saw a perfectly formed arrowhead.
For a moment, that small shaped stone almost hummed before my eyes. The world opened, stretched back, like a wave receding from the shore. I was suspended in the eeriest excitement, an awareness I try to summon in the best museums but never can.
They'd been there.
Indians had really been there. Here, in this field.
Imagine the murmur of a busy encampment in ancient times. How well they must have known the path along the river, the contours of these hills.
Still walking on air, I carried my find into the cabin, and we passed it from hand to hand. Each of us had to hold it. We'd turn it over and over.
I brought it home, and from time to time I run across it among the pens and knickknacks on my study's shelf. But I've been thinking: One day, I may take it back to the banks of that river and toss it into the yard.
Otherwise, when I am gone, somebody will lift this little chipped rock from a bowl of dusty trinkets, as bored by it as by the boxes of arrowheads for sale at a dollar apiece in one of Hardy's various antique shops.
Grass grows. The river floods. That small stone may never be found again. But then again, it might. And that way, my nephew or my granddaughter or someone else whose face I'll never see could watch eternity unfurl.