While browsing through children’s books at the local Goodwill I found Your Own Best Secret Place by Byrd Baylor. The illustrations and content struck me right away and I gladly took it home for a dollar. It is about a young girl who finds a cozy place in a cottonwood tree that was once inhabited by another guest. This guest was not a fox or a racoon but a man named William Cottonwood. Though he had been gone for sometime he left a note and a few of his things. The girl wonders about William Cottonwood and rhapsodizes about the beautiful spot that they had in common. Through the rest of the book other children describe their own places; in stacks of hay bales, on a sand dune, or in a canyon.
Peter Parnall’s illustrations are airy and expansive, they flow through the page like leaves on the wind. They don’t attempt to recreate the natural scenes, rather they capture an essence.
The moral of the story is a complex one, and it is no wonder to me why this book is out of print today. The idea of a young woman stumbling upon a presumably homeless man’s tree house then dreamily waiting for his return is not one that would sit well with many parents. What I was reminded of by this book were my own secret places I went to as a young woman of 12 or 13. There was a nature trail not too far from my home that I loved to visit, it was a beautiful wooded area next to a river that no one else would ever visit. I knew I was safe there. I told my mom where I ventured off to once or twice, but she always told me not to go. I went anyway. She had never been there and I told myself that if she were just to spend some time at the spot, she would probably agree with me that it was a fine place to spend one’s afternoon. Now I look back on that place and the many other places I escaped to as a young person with gratitude. I feel endlessly fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience freedom and independence as a child. It imprinted on me a sense of self sufficiency and trust in not only myself, but the world around me. I knew then that I would rather spend a day in the forest than in my front yard in fear of some unseen stranger. This is the underlying theme of Your Own Best Secret Place, that those places in the world away from your home that you make your own are shared with others, in order to find those places you have to let go of some fear.
As a mother I may not be able to follow the wisdom and trust I had when I was younger, but I may be able to give my child independence and freedom to roam.
Do you have your own place outdoors that you share with the world, but is all your own? I know need to find one again what about you?