When I was four or five, I had a hideout in the front yard, behind a shrub and next to the front steps. With enough room for myself and a couple of stuffed animals, this little spot made an ideal retreat. The dirt was powdery and fine and comfortable to sit in; azaleas and other flowers grew nearby if I wanted to jazz up the decor. I could peak around the greenery and be available in a flash if anything interesting happened: my neighbors' arrival home from school, or the appearance of the "fog machine" (a city truck that sprayed insecticide for mosquitoes) on our street.
In the picture book Secret Places (Greenwillow, 1993), Charlotte Huck collected nineteen short poems about such "joyful places that we love intensely, or places of refuge where we run to hide, or places visited in our imaginations." The anthology came highly recommended by my son's third-grade teacher, who uses the poems here—by Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, and David McCord, among others—as writing prompts for her class. The titles of the works chosen by Huck—"The Maple," "A Path to the Moon," "The Chair House," "If Once You Have Slept on an Island"—indicate some of the irresistible locales that children claim as their own.
An excerpt from Byrd Baylor's Your Own Best Secret Place captures the spirit of the Huck's book and of the long-ago places that I remember, too.
It was just
a sandy gully
but that gully
a whole world
and I was
I checked out Secret Places from the library, and Junior and I looked at it together recently. Usually sparking with energy, my boy grew more and more still as I read, and kept asking me to continue. Having remembered the book from school, he wanted to hear every poem. I was happy to oblige.