By: Andrew Hill
We simply called it the "Secret Spot."
Located at the very southern tip of Fool Hollow Lake, there was nothing particularly secret about it. In fact, it was probably the most obvious and accessible point of the entire lake at the time. Every one of my friends and family knew exactly where it was, and where they could usually find me any given day of the summer and spring months.
But that didn't matter to me. It was my secret spot. It was wild, untamed nature.
When I was young, I'd spend my time in the lake between the entrance to the secret spot and the beaver dam (that we creatively dubbed "The Beaver Dam"), after which the water became too deep to wade. So many days I spent there, over so many years. I'd meander about for hours, turning over rocks to see what was underneath, chasing frogs and snakes, catching crawdads, fishing, or whatever else peaked my interest.
I can still close my eyes and remember that spot in precise detail. The smell of the mud, the feel of the water sloshing in my shoes, the sound of gnats buzzing in my ear, the fluttering click of grasshopper wings as they fled in my path. The exact placement of every rock, log, cattail, sunflower, and red-ant mound on the dirt road from my house.
But most of all, I remember the feelings of adventure, curiosity, and freedom that spot gave me. Hidden under every rock, in every hole, and around every corner was a secret waiting to be discovered or a treasure longing to be found. And when evening fell, a whole new world would emerge, with its own sights, smells, sounds, and creatures. When I got older I'd sometimes stay late into the night, or all night on occasion. I'd lay on the bank, staring up at stars in a sky so clear you could see every little detail of the Milky Way, and wonder at the vastness of it all. I wasn't unaware that this little spot, as big as it seemed to me, constituted only the tiniest speck on a planet that itself was just a tiny speck in universe. There was so much to do and discover still.
As I grew, I found myself venturing farther and farther out from the Secret Spot, always with an eye on something in the distance. My sights were set on a mysterious cliff a few miles to the north. It had always beckoned to me, and as the years passed the prospect of eventually reaching it became less a fanciful aspiration and more of an inevitability. I was certain that reaching that rock wall in the distance would be the climax of my search for adventure and discovery, and with that I'd have conquered all there is to conquer and I would finally be satisfied.
The day came that I finally did reach the cliff in the distance. I spent a lot of time there, exploring every nook and cranny in the rocks. I had discovered a new place full of wonders and secrets. The scattered beer cans and tire tracks in the area in no way detracted from my enthusiasm; as far as I was concerned, those were nothing more than proof that there could be lost treasure nearby.
But even still, standing on top of the cliff and looking east allowed me to see a part of the lake I'd never seen before. In the distance were forests and marshes that seemed nigh unreachable by mortal man. It was then that I realized something important… that I needed to build a boat.
And so it went. The Secret Spot grew to include the lake, the lake to include the state, the state to the country, and the country to the world. Every discovery made or goal achieved only led to another yet to be realized. And instead of the world getting smaller, it just continued to grow.
Today, the place that was once known as the "Secret Spot" is no longer recognizable to me. A large, paved road passes over where it once was, and my old dirt path is barely visible. The beaver dam is gone, and several islands have been manufactured in the area to host wildlife. There are a lot more houses in the area. With the wonders of satellite imagery I can virtually retrace the paths I used to walk as a child, and explore the places that used to seem so remote and mysterious to me, in the context of everything else. The huge cliff that I conquered is obviously a man-made dam built to contain a small, man-made lake surrounded by civilization on every side.
But that hardly matters. I've long since realized that the Secret Spot was never really the physical location. It was the feeling. It must have been the same feeling that pushed my ancient ancestors out of Africa, into Europe, and across oceans, to eventually wind up in a small town in the mountains of Northern Arizona.
I live in the suburbs of a big city now. There's a small creek behind my house, and sometimes when I stand on the bank watching the water run over the rocks, listening to the sounds of the birds, and smelling the scents of the foliage, I'm reminded of my Secret Spot. I have a different perspective now. I think of all the places I've been and things I've done since those days. I've explored ancient cities and wandered alien landscapes all over the world. I know so much more now than I did then.
...and yet, I wonder what's under that rock.
Andrew Hill grew up in the mountains of Northern Arizona, which is at least partly to blame for his life-long love of rugged landscapes, adventure, and all things wondrous.