Marshmallow Beach

A black salamander with a bright red stripe the length of its back skittered out from under a rock and headed toward the water. I was walking on "Marshmallow Beach, " a narrow strip of pebbles, mud, and small weeds near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to its name. My sisters and I had named this stretch of earth bordering Marsh Creek some 30 years ago.

The creek and the seven acres of wooded land surrounding it, owned by my grandfather, were our childhood playground. We spent countless hours climbing the rocks, sending sticks shooting over the rapids of the rushing waterfall, and wading in the creek's shallow, sunny pools filled with minnows.

The large rocks were just as I remembered them. One resembles a whale's back, with a hollowed-out spot where I placed handfuls of grain and birdseed as soon as I was old enough to walk through snow. And the "Old Man of the Falls" remains steadfast, a profile in rock who still grows bushy eyebrows of moss above his sharp nose every summer.

Daffodils form a bright yellow carpet in spring, the children and grandchildren of the first flowers my grandfather planted three decades ago, flourishing as they spread. And the land still holds the delights that he first introduced me to -- the mitten-leaved sassafras with its sweet-smelling bark; the myrrh with a halo of seeds and a root that tastes like licorice; the clean white Indian pipes that grow buried under leaves; and the mayapples on the underside of broad plants that look like umbrellas.

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