I can’t remember how old I was – seven or eight, possibly nine – but it doesn’t matter, really.
That day, the first thing we did was climb up to the hayloft of the old barn, weathered grey with age. We’d never been in a barn before, so I went first, followed by my sister. She was stronger and taller by a foot, but I usually led the way. I’d been harboring visions of a rope swing, like in Charlotte’s Web, and of catching a field mouse to keep as a pet.
It was the Fourth of July, warm and bright. Outside, we could hear our parents and their friends, the ones who owned the barn, talking and laughing, drinking beer and barbecuing. The promise of fun, of fireworks, charged the late afternoon air with excitement and expectation.
Up in the loft, dust and chaff floated lazily, illuminated by sunbeams puncturing the back windows and falling through the chinks between the boards of the walls. The air was still, and tasted warm and sweet. The wooden planks of the floor were littered with hay and crumbled bits of dirt and petrified swallow droppings, prickling into my hands and knees as I crawled across to the big bales stacked against the opposite wall. Above the quiet rustling of rodents and the dry creaking of the floor joists, I could hear the faint mewling of kittens, and my heart skipped a beat.
There, nestled among the bales in a tidy round nest, we found four tiny babies. Their dark blue eyes were barely open; their ears nothing more than soft half moons perched atop their heads. We picked them up, held them against us, brushed their downy fur with our lips and cheeks. They were so small, so warm and perfect.
I don’t remember much else about the rest of that day. We left the kittens eventually, reluctantly. There was a large brown cow in the paddock next to the house, and my father lifted me up to pet her velvety soft nose. The grownups shot a firework that resulted in a paper parachute drifting slowly back to earth, which I caught in midair and kept. I never even saw a field mouse.
Later, I remember laying on my back watching stars appear, surrounded by tall grass and meadowsweet and feeling quiet and content. I realized that if there was any magic in the world at all, it was there – in the thrum of insects, in the rustling of the trees, in the distant lowing of the cow. It was there in the barn, suspended in sunbeams and replete in the full, earthy, sweet grass smell of the hay. In the milky mewling of kittens. In the slow gloaming of a summer day.
In the quiet and peace of the place your heart belongs.