Mr. Gatto reflected on his childhood days in the coal mining town Monongahela. Everyone has to belong to a place. To find back the lost self, you have to go back to where you grew up.
Belonging to a place is like adding another dimension to your life, which greatly enriches your spirit. It fills meaning into everything and automatically offsets negative things in your life.
Mr. Gatto did his. I am going to do mine. I am going to recall where I grew up.
Where I grew up is a very beautiful place. If you have a big enough tourist guide for China, you should be able to find it. But when I was a child, it was not developed yet, and thus was very quiet and provided a lot of fun for my childhood.
There is a very beautiful river just behind my home. It goes through several different personalities along its short 2000 meters route through that area.
In the upper section is a big reservoir. The water is very deep (about 3 meters) and quiet, with very high cliff along one side and beautiful mountains on the other side. It is kind of a challenge for kids to swim there.
As the river flow out of the reservoir, it rushes down stairs, roaring very loudly. We used to sit on the stairs, trying not to be taken away by the river and at the same time roaring together with the river.
Immediately after the reservoir, the river comes to a bed full of rocks (I guess the rocks are left from building the dam). The river is very shallow, just flowing slowly across those small rocks. There are big meadows in the river. There are usually cows herded on the meadow. Sometimes we can see one or two beautiful white horses.. This is a very good place for catching fishes. My big brother is very good at catching fishes with hands. He just walked slowly upstream, putting his hands shaped like a bowl in the river. When he slides his hands under the fish (because he walked upstream, he didn’t disturb the water. So the fish wasn’t even aware of being swimming in his hand.) He then quickly took the fish out of water. We then will have delicious fish soup which we cooked on the meadow, together with some crabs and vegetables. My younger brother and me never learned to catch the fish with bare hands. But we can get the crabs. Sometimes crabs can be hard to get when you go after them in a fissure along the bank of the river. The fissure is usually very narrow, about one finger wide. You have to put your fingers in and use them as a kind of bait. The crab will then claw your finger. Then you endure the pain, pull the crab out of the fissure a little, and put your other fingers on the back of the crab and get your suffering bait finger released.
As the river flows down, it comes to a very beautiful section. This is where we usually swim. There is sand beach on one side of the bank. On the other side of the river is a slope cliff, covered with branches. There is a big cave on top of that, and the cold water flow down the cave. Thus we have a beautiful waterfall. The water under the waterfall is very cold. We used to have contests to see who can stay in that colder water longer. There is also a very small (5 meters in diameter) island right in the middle of the river. It stands out like a stage. We used it as a jumping platform, from which we jumped into the river with different postures.
Sometimes, we laid down on a rubber wheel and flow down the river for about 1000 meters. Then we come to a section where people usually fish there. The water is flowing faster there, with a lot of rocks harboring home for fishes.
Then the river becomes very wide, with many big meadows in between. Flocks of cows are herded on the meadows. This is a focal point of that area. With a very big mountain called Belly Mountain looking over the whole area. On the other side is a big forest. An ancient temple sits in front of the forest along the river. We often run over to the bridge to do morning exercise, and watch the sunrise. The subset there is very beautiful. I never saw the same beautiful subset anywhere else after I grow up. I guess it is because our sky is very low (we are on high mountains) and it is often cloudy. At the subset, we see half the sky filled with different colors and shapes of clouds. We were always fascinated by that.
There is a big grass field. People used to play soccer there. When we were kids, we liked to catch grasshoppers and dragonflies. Dragonfly is my favorite insect. There are many different kinds of dragonflies. We usually just catch those fly low on the grass and usually like to stop a while on the grass leaves. The yellow and red dragonflies (we call yellow pepper and red pepper) fly very high in the sky and they are very fast. Thus it is very difficult to catch them. It will be a thrill if you ever caught a yellow or red dragonfly. Yellow dragonflies usually fly in large groups. Red dragonflies, however, fly individually.
Along the river, the dragonflies are different. There are those very big ones with very big green eyes. They are very beautiful. It is a big reward if you spotted and caught that kind of dragonfly. There also another kind of dragonfly along the river. They are very thin, small, in black and green. They usually fly very low and thus easy to catch. You might be able to catch them just in the air.
The spring time is our time to fly kites in the grass field. We usually buy a lot of threads and fly the kites very far away until it is just a very tiny point (smaller than the rice grain) in the distant sky. We can send telegraph to the sky (by putting a small piece of paper on the thread). We line up and lay down on the grass, watching our kites flying high in the sky with the white clouds. We can just lay down watching our kites for a long time. It is one of the most enjoyable things in my childhood. Even now I still have a habit of looking at the sky. I don’t know if it is because of that.
There are a lot of mountains in our area. We used to go hiking a lot in the summer. It is always a kind of adventure since we always choose places we haven’t been to and we usually took a full day and go very far. We once set out to look for the source of a small stream. Along the way, we went through many different places. Growing up in the mountains, in my later life I found the plain can be so boring since there is no change and no surprise. I think it is when I was 15 years old I decided to go hiking just by myself. I went very far into the high mountains. It is an experience of myself and challenging myself. As Mr. Gatto said, people need large dose of solitude to develop themselves. Of course, people also need a lot of interaction with other people to be a complete human being. You need both solitude and interaction to be complete. Life is indeed very interesting. After I came back from my adventure, people were surprised that I did that just by myself. Other kids were inspired and wanted to do that themselves.
It is a great experience to climb to the top of the mountains. I always enjoy the view from the top of a high mountain.
My parents work in a scientific institution. People there came from all parts of the country. We have our own school. So people in the school know each other very well. It is like a small community. Although there were still a lot of things that don’t make sense to me in the school, generally the teachers were caring and students are good friends. Our schoolwork is not ridiculous heavy as other parts of the country. Basically we can get the homework done in the afternoon. Then we play until 8pm or 9pm (in the summer) when it turns dark. When in primary school, we always had a lot of kids playing together. We played all kinds of games. We had a lot of fun together.
In the school, there are a lot of sports or arts activities. A lot of parents in the institution are very talented. Thus we had a chance to be exposed to different things. The institution had a very strong soccer team that my brothers and I benefited a lot from. My younger brother is especially very talented in soccer.
In the summer nights, adults always liked to gather under a tree, chatting or playing pokers. So although my parents generally don’t talk much of their stories, I still had the chance to listen to other adults’ stories. Of course, that was before TV taking control of most families’ night time.
(to be continued)