There are only a few months of the year where the snow is replaced by muddy pot holes and green grass. Otherwise, the snow covers everything; the road, the trees, the school, the lake. The boy's senses utterly grizzled with a layer of ice and fluff.
Walking outside at this time of year isn't as much of a pleasure to him as it is a challenge. Boots, down jackets, mittens that make him feel like his pinky is more useless than a power strip to a cave man. Igloos, hot chocolate, hills of rock and ice that make even the bravest adventurer squeel as his sled crashes over bumps, jumps, and dogs. All of it comes together to make the majority of the boy's life full of bitter cold and attempts to make survival a game. A game between his brothers who aren't actually brothers but friends who tease him like a brother, and sisters who aren't actually sisters but friends who play with his emotions and tell him how real men should treat women. A game between parents and teachers who instruct and guide, telling him exactly what's good to do and what isn't, making decisions for him and watching him react, while he learns only what makes them happy.
But besides that, the rest of the year is great.
The rest of the year, he roams the islands of the sun and green grass, searching for nothing among the vast plains, because it's already there. He is alone, but here, he doesn't mind. The grass, the water, the wood, the bugs, the sun, the beauty, everywhere. The sun, though blinding and rough, calls to him. Asks him to come nearer. Seeks his love and attention while the boy mindlessly meanders through meters of mud and funky, chunky, grassland. Sometimes, he builds block stairs out of moss and reeds that bring him closer to the sun. Mostly, he just plays. Out here, there are no rules, no expectations, no brothers or sisters, no parents or teachers. Playing around in the overwhelming world, building blocks for no reason other than that it's cool, and it feels right. He leaps, ungracefully, and talks to the trees with his hands. He gives them voices, characters, movements, and desires. They come alive, and they dance with him as he floats, freely, where nothing can touch him and his success is measured by the breaths that he takes.
Until the winter comes again, and he must go back.
Back to the place where he must cover with clothes upon clothes upon clothes (rather than his lobster shirt and lion shorts). Back to the place where other boys' muscles cast colossal shadows and instill fear and vanity. Back to the place where girls' and their wiles will him to their ways. Back to the place where parents expect greatness and teachers instruct perfection. Back where giants crush ants and fish eat people.
There, he feels alone, an outcast. He doesn't quite belong, but he has learned how to do it. He appeases the giants whose sentiments he despises. He studies the ants and witnesses their discipline before they are crushed. He swims with the fish, poorly, sadly, watching them love each other but stupidly disobey for a shot at a human. He walks with the people. Having learned to entertain them and juggling their emotions from side to side, gaining their attention, swaying their love, providing them laughter and purpose; even feeling an honest passion of expression that reminds him of the islands of the sun. Almost like his own characters, except with a mind of their own, which he cannot control. For a moment, there in front of all the people, he finds a connection. Some spark that, like his trees, dances with him.
And in a moment, it is gone, and he is back to the island in the sun, where the spark is a burning holy flame licking the creek and the hill and the grove with light. Where he sheds his coat for his lobster shirt, he dances with the trees, he makes music with reeds, he builds a mossy village, and populates the land with flowers and butterflies, cats, reindeer, clocks, cameras, and soap. With endless imagination, a world at his feet, and nothing to separate him from the beauty of light, swirling, creating, laughing, thinking, and playing. Nothing, except time. Sooner than he always expects, the first snowflake falls, and he must return to the jeans and the boots and the classrooms and winter. Again. This time, remembering to search for the spark of before.
Year after year, sun after winter, he remembers to chase this spark, whether alone or with others, he seeks it out. He pushes through dirt and through darkness, sometimes through people. Proud of his accomplishments and social navigation, he digs through muck and through marshmallow, seeking the goodness and beauty he once bellied. In time, his surroundings change. Slowly, but as if he was supposed to expect it. His world expands, the people getting older and increasing in number. Before long, the island of the sun becomes inaccessible. He hasn't the time. Too many people ask too much of him. Overwhelmed by the pressure of the world, and only reminiscing of the island of the sun through pictures in his heart. He remembers so clearly, holding it close like a puppy. It wasn't that long ago, was it? He was just there. He remembers the sun and the trees, the dancing and the leaves. But even when the sun is out, it feels like winter to the boy. The passion within him feels overpowering, ready to burst out his hips and his ear lobes, but it can't. It's too cold. The gift and its reward are fledgling to his previous prancing. He is lost in a world that expects him to be found.
He carries with him the memory of this spark as he continues to appease the world within which he lives. The brothers. The sisters. The teachers. The parents. All hollow. No more dancing. No more building. It's time to grow up. They did, and so should the boy. Everyone did. Mostly.
As if an ethereal state of bliss suddenly materialized, another being, frolicking through the winter, twirling, swirling, unabashed and unafraid of the looks and the glances from the giants around her collides with the boy, and they tumble.
Who are you?
Where did you come from?
Why are you doing that?
The boy and the girl sit across from each other, frozen in some accidental position. She giggles at him. He shifts his head, but locks his eyes on her and furrows his brow. She laughs again. He smiles. She stops, stands and runs.
Confused, he pursues her. She runs out into the cold without a coat and without a hesitation (because he has it). He chases her, feeling strangely compelled by the presence of someone whom he doesn't understand. He chases her until she chases him. When she runs at him, he flees, afraid of what will happen when the intensity of her eyes grabs hold of his heart.
Wait! He remembers. The heart holds his spark. What will happen to the spark? Will her hands put it out? He runs, but she continues to follow him, loyally chasing through the forest and the city and the cabins of Minnesota, the paper museums of Wisconsin, the chaotic humidity of Florida and the rock faces of Arizona. The chase exhausts him fiercely, and at a moment of rest while she climbs over a rock, he checks on the spark just as it dwindles to death.
He turns to face her, and she stops. Listening, or at least trying, to his heart: Out of breath. Overwhelmed. Afraid. She feels him cry.
What happened to the spark? What happened to the islands in the sun? What of the characters and the wood and the freely floating building blocks, and the moss structure, and reaching for the sun? Is it gone? Without the spark, is the boy to become like his brothers; teasing, taunting, and brawny? Is it dead? Is it her?
All feeling and care tears the boy's eyes away from her to a forest of boulders, seeking to be scaled, a cave of rivers, wishing to be welled. Unfamiliar, unknown, and unworthy of his despair. Here, it is wild, and it is ruled. It is beautiful, but it is not his island in the sun, and it is not his spark. Where are the trees? Where is the moss?
She climbs down the boulder and to the edge of the water, where vibrant violets and greens glow. At a pause, she meets his eyes. She reaches out her hand, and in it he sees a light, like the sun, but less big and bright but equally bold. She calls to him, to her island on the rocks.
Like opening the door to a tunnel of blow dryers, a wave of peace overcame him.
Is he free? What of the girl? Will she understand the dance of his trees? Will she build her own blocks? Will they conflict? Will they agree? Will she laugh at his lobster shirt? Or will he be better elsewhere?
It begins to snow, and she smiles, still looking out towards the boy. In the distance, trees begin a far away familiar dance.
He shifts his weight underneath his squat. Beneath his fingers, he clutches a strand of moss, wedges it gently between his toes and the rock, and stands. The boy leaps.