Outdoors opened life to mysteries

Jane Shearer Sharpe reflects on her childhood growing up in North Charleston.

I had an idyllic childhood in the woods on the verge of a marsh in North Charleston. It was an expanse of time of such freedom and happiness that I used to stand on tiptoe reaching to hug the sky. I wanted to embrace it all, realizing that all that encompassed me had meaning, though I was able to sense it only as through streaks of fog.

Like the bear that went over the mountain, I wanted to see what I could see. There was always plenty to amuse, amaze, transfix. One morning, I arose early to sit in quietude thinking deep thoughts almost shapable in words that wisped away from me as I tried to pocket them.

Suddenly, a raucous explosion swept past me. An enormous power brushed against me as a great horned owl tumbled past, chased by a host of smaller birds — starlings, cow birds, blue jays, crows — driving the owl out of their territory. It was a dizzying communion with nature, and my being resounded like a struck bell.

The marsh always beckoned on hot summer days. “Come to a world different from your own, a world which takes special eyes and special skill.”

The fort was on the edge of the marsh, scrub oak and myrtle provided the ceiling that rounded over us as an upside-down bow. Periwinkles rode spartina grass nodding in the breeze like those tiny Japanese lanterns carried on sticks in a far country.

Polygamous red-winged blackbirds preened crimson epaulets with panache, impressing various wives that waited patiently in baglike reed-embroidered nests anchored among the cattails.

Bobby, being oldest, led our army charges and rampart repulses — afternoon war providing action and drama to the day.

An inner tube spoke of adventure, worlds unconquered, horizons to explore and possibility. Behind our house a creek emptied into ever larger creeks whose estuary led to places beyond my ken. I loved the fetid odor of decomposition and pluff mud. It made me breathe deeply of life and know that with my paddle and inner tube I could be a Captain Kidd, a John Paul Jones, a master of my fate and reach limitless shores.

On torrid summer days, I opened my sand fiddler hospital to the public. Robert and Scoopy were the only ones who delivered patients to my care. They were the Gullivers who captured the panicked, wee crabs and mutilated them in manifold ways to ensure the need of my medical assistance.

My patients included a defenseless male with its lapis-hued pincer twisted off and a female with three legs amputated by monsters from beyond the marsh. Yet another had its carapace crushed by an unidentified walking object.

I ordered my patients neatly in rows to administer prescribed care efficiently: marsh water soaks, pincer splints, willow leaf wraps, mud packs. Occasionally, a feisty fiddler needed restraints and was placed in matchbox isolation to ensure treatment. Patients wobbling precariously five times to the edges of the sandstone slab that constituted their ward indicated their readiness for discharge. The crawling wounded made their ways to hospice holes with dim prognoses.

The landscape of my childhood, in retrospect, is at rest, in place and immutable. The oldness of the world enchanted me, whispered to me of longings, mysteries, peace. They whispered of yesterdays and tomorrows and the magnificence of being.

I belonged to the wind and the rain and the sun and the seasons that opened little hidden doors in the innermost recesses of my soul, expanding it to the infinite, the sacred, the great mysterious.

Jane Shearer Sharpe grew up in North Charleston but lived abroad with her family until returning to Hanahan in 2006.