At the edge of my backyard is a wooded area, home to nocturnal coyotes, unsuspecting turkeys, and a raccoon, fat with leftovers from my neighbor’s garbage. A small creek cuts through the trees, a forgotten stonewall curving on the side closest to my house, offering the perfect spot on which to perch and look at the rocks silvered with time lining the creek bed.
Here, my son found his treasure.
My husband and I had sent our children out into our backyard, on an afternoon when the light danced across the trees still bare from winter. “Go play,” we instructed, as we gathered on our deck with friends, empty mimosa and Bloody Mary glasses scattered across the table. We had hosted a party earlier in the day, and our closest friends had stayed afterward, too content to leave. We were happy to spend more time with them on this unexpectedly warm day, as the sun bathed us in the promise of spring.
The moment we waved the kids off, they scattered. The seven-year-old girls went one way, skipping to the swing my husband concocted from a red buoy and a long, thick rope. The boys of varying ages and one girl who eschewed pink and princesses for baseball and Star Wars ran toward the woods. We watched them gallop across the early spring grass, jubilant in their freedom from parental oversight.
“This is what childhood memories are made of. All of this,” remarked one of the mothers, as she settled in her seat. She gestured to the backyard, the sunshine, the children giggling.
About a half-hour later, my son and another boy bounded up the deck stairs. “Mom! Mom!” my son called out, his blonde hair hanging in his eyes, dirt streaked on his cheeks, and the bottom of his jeans wet with mud from the creek. “Look what we found!”
The boys stopped, both breathing heavily, as if they had been sprinting for hours. They reached into their pockets, which bulged out awkwardly. Their hands, covered in dirt, pulled out sparkling stones. Translucent white crystals, smooth tiger-eyes, teal-speckled rocks, and even a perfect green-grey cube; the stones numbered in the dozens. The boys dumped them on the table, the stones clanking against each other, as the parents leaned in for a closer look.
“It’s a treasure,” my son explained, nudging a purple agate stone out from under the pile to show my husband.
“Do you think this is a diamond?” my son’s friend asked, holding out one of the crystals to his father. The boy’s hand shook as he reached over the table.
“I doubt it, buddy,” his father replied. He took the stone in his own hand, holding it up to the light for a closer look.
“Where’d you find these?” my husband asked, his fingertips darkening with dirt that rubbed off the stones as he shuffled them about. He fished out a round, deep orange stone from the pile, rolling it from one hand to the other.
The story bubbled up out of the boys like the creek itself. Mucking about in the woods, they had spied something on the edge of the water and went to investigate. A little digging and a lot of mess later, they uncovered the stones, and were convinced they had found a lost treasure.
Several of the stones were polished and seemingly cut into shape, with colors, especially the purples and blues, you wouldn’t normally find in a New England suburb. Perhaps you’d see them in a fairy cave or on a pirate ship, but not in a backyard near Boston. A few of the stones had holes drilled through them, as if they had been part of an elaborate necklace. That told the adults that someone had likely placed them there, but for reasons that were unknown.
The boys, on the other hand, thought they were magical.
“Someone put these there for us,” my son announced, his voice edged with steel, as he tightly held a small black stone, spotted with gray, in his hand.
Before anyone could disagree, my son turned to his friend. “Let’s look for more,” he said, and the boys ran off, the black and gray stone clattering back on the table. They called out to the other children to join them. I faintly heard “treasure” and “magic” echoing across the yard, as the children raced into the woods.
Once enveloped by the trees, the children were hidden from us. They were captivated by the find, swept up in the idea that they had discovered something amazing; the adults had a different perspective. As the children engaged in their spontaneous archeological dig, we discussed why and how the stones had found their way to be hidden in our woods.
“Someone must have deliberately hidden them there,” concluded one of the fathers, confident that nothing unusual was at play.
“But why?” a mother asked as she examined the boys’ finds.
Distracted, I lost the rest of the conversation. I looked out across the yard to the woods, wondering who had been walking there, leaving this treasure for us. Had the stones been hidden purposefully, or had their placement been an accident.
I caught sight of the children through the pine trees, hard at work, channeling Indiana Jones on a great adventure. The adult conversation floated around me. “Must have been the former owner or a neighbor,” offered someone. “Maybe other kids hid them,” said another. So practical we are, I thought. Not one of the adults ascribed something magical to the find. That belief was for children.
“Does it matter how they got there?” I interjected. “Maybe this is a mystery that doesn’t need to be solved.”
The children came back with more stones, and the afternoon drew down. Our friends left, leaving the treasure behind.
The stones now fill a bowl on our coffee table, and my son shows them to all visitors. He has taken other friends to the woods, since that afternoon, intent to see what additional magic can be unearthed. The last time he searched for stones, however, he returned to the house empty-handed. He had found all of the treasure, or it had gone away, he said, his shoulders drooping.
“That’s too bad, honey,” I replied. Then, I reminded him he needed to find his library books and get his cleats for baseball practice, leaving behind treasure-hunting for the practical necessities of everyday life.
A few days later, my husband returned home from a trip to Costco. He was, as it always happens, only supposed to get batteries but instead filled the trunk with supersize packages of tomatoes, organic yogurt, and multiple containers of laundry detergent. And one more thing: he reached into the car for a small jar, handing it to me, as I stood on our front stoop. “Mystical sea glass” read the label; it was filled with opaque chunks of white, teal, and blue. They were the kind of stones you’d put in the bottom of a vase for dried flowers—or in the woods for children looking for magic.
“Did you put those stones in the creek?” I asked. It had never occurred to me that he might have staged the magic that captivated our son and his friends.
“No,” my husband replied, hefting a box of seltzer in his arms. “I just didn’t want it to end.”
A lover of the semi-colon and getting lost in a great book, Kimberly Hensle Lowrance is a writer, nonprofit manager, and mom to two kids who know all the words to “Hamilton” (and not the G-rated version of the lyrics). Kimberly blogs at www.redshuttersblog.com about travel, books, parenting, work-life balance, and more.