From the front porch of our little house on Grandpa's farm, the silver poplars that framed the ditch and Grandpa's barnyard towered over my head like an all-embracing world.

The slightest breeze sent universes into motion in the rippling acres of light green velvet leaves that formed the landscape of first consciousness. The roof of leaves was supported by a hall of columns, like the massive columns I would later see in National Geographic of Egyptian temples, thick and heavy and timeless. Except these were the trunks of trees, planted thickly in the earth of my first awareness, rising from the edge of the ditch and covered with mottled grayish-white bark that soared upward into the universe of leaves.And the leaves sang - all day and all night they sang to the slightest orchestration of moving air.

There was a tiny wooden shed tucked up against the trees and the stream. Inside was a concrete trough where water trickled from a tap and cooled the big cans of milk with the lids that went "pling" when Grandpa hit them with the edge of his hand.

There was a bridge connecting our side of the ditch with the barn, the cows, the fields and the mystical world beyond the shadowed edges of Grandpa's poplars.

I used to stand on the bridge and look down into the passing water. If I looked long enough, the water ceased to move and I began to move instead, along with the bridge and stream banks - the whole world going backwards. It could be stopped by turning my head and looking to the side, away from the hypnotizing stream.

I would often wonder in those first moments of remembrance - moments as fragile as the lacy edges of a snowflake, or gypsum crystals growing in a cavern - where the water came from as it passed into being through the ancient poplar columns?

It was an ever-recurring mystery whenever I stood on the bridge or lay on its wooden slats looking down through the cracks to the world below the bridge, where in a dream once I dreamt that the troll from Billy Goats Gruff wouldn't let me pass from the side of the bridge where the barn was back home again.

And I said, don't eat me, eat my brother. And he ate my brother.

But he still wouldn't let me pass, so I said, eat my mother, and he ate my mother but still wouldn't let me pass.

So I said, eat my father, and he ate my father, but still wouldn't let me pass, and I woke up in the night afraid because I didn't know if it was real or not and that maybe I had given up everything in the world - everything that was home - to cross the bridge to come home.

I would think of that nightmare again and again in later years, always with the same feeling of uncomfortable anxiety.

It didn't keep me from the bridge, though, where I looked through the slats at the passing water which coursed through the meandering path the trees made for it on its way toward Grandpa's house, where it curled around the driveway and the pear tree, through the culvert on the other side of the lawn, where one time I sat in the back seat of the brown Plymouth when the horn got stuck and my uncles flew out of the car and lifted the hood to try to stop it.

Beyond the lawn and the drone of the horn of Plymouth honking and the lane lined with box elders and Grandpa's mailbox, the water in the ditch ran pure and bright and singing to somewhere that was mystery, somewhere far beyond the flickering shadows of silver poplars that were my first consciousness, and where a growing awareness of other worlds was kindled and fanned amid the fears and ecstasies of earliest childhood.