While the inside of the house was fascinating at first, the real joy of the next years came from the immense yard around the house. There were two acres of neglected landscaping, perfect for hiding, building forts, and camping out. Eventually there was a large lawn edged by a steep hill perfect for rolling down in the summer and sliding down in the winter. A huge 500 year old maple tree sat at the bottom of the yard and had branches my brother found excellent for climbing. I have never taken to tree climbing, so I mostly watched.
The yard was full of indigenous plants, particularly violas, johnny-jump-ups, ferns and blackberries. The estate had once employed a gardener, and as I grew older I enjoyed finding terraced garden areas, stone benches and hidden staircases. The yard got very little sun in the only flat area, so we were never able to recreate a vegetable garden as I had experienced as a young child.
The best part of the yard was a small brook that ran across the bottom of the property, draining a large pond of the neighbor’s before it went under the road and railroad tracks and emptied into the Willamette River. The neighbor, Ruby, was rumored to be a witch, and we never went on her property. She had a sign warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. For many years I thought that it meant we would be persecuted. The only persecution I was aware of in those days was of the Jews in Europe, and I was convinced, by combining the notion of her as a witch with her warning sign, that she intended to put us in ovens if we trespassed. This horrifying concern never totally left me even after I realized what the sign actually meant. I never even saw Ruby in all the years we lived next door. And I never wanted to!
I wonder now if all neighborhoods in those days had one reclusive resident that children were wary of . And I wonder how many of those recluses were tagged witches.