My Little “Hundred Acre Woods” – The Salt Ponds

When I was a child, I ran away daily to get away from the screaming and abuses at home. My therapist said that I am amazingly “normal” for someone who had gone through so much.

I believe it was the “running away” that saved me.

One of the places I would frequent were the salt ponds near the town of Chula Vista. The salt ponds is where water from the Pacific Ocean gets channeled in through the San Diego Bay past Coronado.

Chula Vista

Okay, I’m not much of a cartographer.  But, that orange/red dot is where we lived and the map on the left shows how the salt ponds were connected to the ocean. The map on the right shows where we were in relation to the ponds and where the woods and trees were.

The salt ponds were my haven and  I spent a great deal of time wandering them despite the “No Trespassing” signs.  I was small, so I was seldom noticed or found out.

It was here at the ponds and the nearby “woods” that I spent a good bit of my time.  There, I could do any  number of things, climb trees, rescue animals and play with my imaginary village.  I was seven.

MOLESTED

The first molestation I could recall occurred when I was 5 by three teenage boys. Then more came after that. Some I remember clearly, some completely blocked out, but were uncovered years later.  Once I was “made”, it was like a had an invisible brand on my forehead so men and older boys would somehow find me.  It was a painful period of my life but I survived and came out on the other side a much better person and parent. For a long time, I didn’t know the causes of my insecurities or why I did the things I did or allowed certain things to be done to me.  It makes sense to me  now why the men I dated or was most comfortable with would be younger than I.  Unconsciously, I was repelled by older men, especially ones with certain personalities, perhaps they had traits of or bore a resemblance to a perpetrator. I don’t know.

However, I digress, that is not what this blog is about, but it is important for the fact that it explains why I “ran away”.

TO THE RESCUE

At the ponds, I would rescue animals and birds that would wander off into them.  At the time, I didn’t know the ponds were only a couple of feet deep, so I never actually went into them, thereby limiting the number to those I could reach on the fringes of the pond or those I could pull in with a stick.  I also knew that the salt was mined for consumption, so perhaps I didn’t step in them to avoid contaminating it.  The fact that I was pulling animals out of there didn’t compute or balance into the equation.  I did this for several years up until I was about 11 or 12, I’m guessing.

At one point, I had accumulated so many critters that daddy built me a cage out back to house them.  Mostly I brought in birds. The reason there were so many birds was because they would land on the ponds to swim and their body heat would crystallize the salt on their wings and they would get weighed down unable to fly.  I would take them home, wash them off, feed them until they were better and then let them go.

One time, I recall finding a very unusual bird.  It had a government band on it and I remember my dad calling the number and someone coming out to pick it up. I remember feeling like I’d done something very important.

As a child and through young adulthood I would have dreams of flying out my window and watching the world from above.  I’m guessing it was either because I was in a bad relationship or mother was screaming at me, dad overstepping his bounds or beating the crap out of me, I remember the euphoric feeling of being set free. Perhaps it was because I needed rescuing that the ponds came into being but it’s how I kept sane.

THE WOODS

Next to the ponds, were the “woods”.  In one area on the way to my “woods”,  there were tall eucalyptus trees. At the time the entire area seemed immense, now not so much.  Hunting on the ponds was generally something I would do first as I wandered to the woods or climbed a tree.  I was an excellent climber and could practically run up the smooth trunk of  a eucalyptus like a Polynesian.

I could also spend hours playing by this one charred, burned out  tree trunk. I would drive my toy car into my imaginary village and talk to my imaginary friends. This was my special trunk and I never shared it with anyone until now. It was cool, because it had an opening on top where I would look down into all it’s goings on and talk to it’s people. Sometimes I would sit there in the dirt, crying my woes to them and they would listen and it would be okay.

Tree

When I would go out, I would take a sibling or neighbor child with me but generally I would go alone or I imagined I was alone. One day, my sister brought it up and I remembered being surprised because she sounded as though we frequently went together.

On one occasion, I remember taking the little red headed girl that lived in the house behind us to the woods with me.  Now to give you a full picture, my patch of woods was more like Br’er rabbits thicket. There were all sorts of tunnels that pretty much only a small child could pass through before getting to it’s heart.  At the center of the thicket was an open area and once you broke through the tunnels a maze of paths that you could weave through could be accessed.  It was my own secret garden and I shared it with few.

As I recall, that day was warm and we started to shed our clothes. We hesitated at our drawers and then rationalized that if it was good enough for Adam and Eve, we could do it too. So we did.  We took it all off then got to giggling and squealing, running around in sun-ful pleasure.  I recall, she was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, looking like an angel.  Her skin was ivory white and it glistened in the sun, in contrast to my dark, swarthy complexion. She had only a few freckles sprinkled across a perfect nose while I had a pug nose. To top it off she had the most luscious vivid red curls that would tumble, most of the time uncombed, down her back while I was in neatly, too tightly braided pig tails that gave me an almost Asian look without the paleness. Everything about me was dark. I felt as though I always looked dirty and I longed for her whiteness. I think we were about seven at the time.

One day I went down to her house and she showed me how her family boiled clams in a big pot.  They may have been originally from somewhere like Mississippi. They were hillbilly’s as many in our area were.  She also told me she’d gotten ringworm.  I didn’t know what that was but I must have gotten it from her because the next thing I knew my parents shaved my head, then scrubbed my scalp with what felt like a wire brush and iodine til it bled then covered it with what looked like axle grease followed by a knitted hat. It hurt and burned. So if I thought I was ugly before, I really looked ugly now. When I was finally allowed back to school, the kids would make fun of me. Our hats read, “Tijuana” .  Needless to say, I wasn’t allowed to play with her again.

Eventually the boys that had molested me before had begun to hang out there (not in the “woods” but among the trees) and cornered me and my sister once, made us come back the next day then nothing.

As I got older, I got to where I went less frequently to the woods.  I don’t know if it was my age or because perhaps it was no longer my “safe” place. On top of that I took my mom there once.

I’d found this fruit I thought I recognized so I took it to her.  She wanted to know where I’d gotten it and I took her to where I’d found it. She actually got on her hands and knees and crawled through the rabbit hole with me. Even though I didn’t take her all the way in, only part of the way, she now knew about it.  It turns out the plant I found was Jicama and she also found another called “chayote”, a squash like fruit and other other eatable, natural foods there. It was one of those rare moments where I’d actually pleased her.

In time the tomato farmers started dumping their old discarded plants into the lot next to it, (people were not as environmentally conscious then) but it wasn’t all bad. At first it reeked of rotten tomatoes but the following year tomatoes grew out of the rot. It had created it’s own mulch and delivered some of the most amazing sweet, beefsteak tomatoes ever. Sometimes, I would sit on a mound and eat a few before loading up and taking them home.

Later, as more people started “camping out” among the trees on weekends followed by our eventual move into town, the woods and salt ponds were relegated to the back of my mind becoming just another memory. Yet from time to time it surfaces.

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