The Argounov summer residence stood on a high hill over a river, alone in its spacious gardens, on the outskirts of a fashionable summer resort. The house turned its back upon the river and faced the grounds where the hill sloped down gracefully into a garden of lawns drawn with a ruler, bushes clipped into archways and marble fountains made by famous artists.
The other side of the hill hung over the river like a mass of rock and earth disgorged by a volcano and frozen in its chaotic tangle. Rowing downstream, people expected a dinosaur to stretch its head out of the black caves overgrown with wild ferns, between trees that grew horizontally into the air, huge roots, like spiders, grasping the rocks.
For many summers, while her parents were visiting Nice, Biarritz and Vienna, Kira was left alone to spend her days in the wild freedom of the rocky hill, as its sole, undisputed sovereign in a torn blue skirt and a white shirt whose sleeves were always missing. The sharp sand cut her bare feet. She swung from rock to rock, grasping a tree branch, throwing her body into space, the blue skirt flaring like a parachute.
She made a raft of tree branches and, clutching a long pole, sailed down the river. There were many dangerous rocks and whirlpools on the way. The thrill of the struggle rose from her bare feet, that felt the stream pulsating under the frail raft, through her body tensed to meet the wind, the blue skirt beating against her legs like a sail. Branches bending over the river brushed her forehead. She swept past, leaving threads of hair entwined in the leaves, and the trees leaving wild red berries caught in her hair.
The first thing that Kira learned about life and the first thing that her elders learned, dismayed, about Kira, was the joy of being alone.
I wonder how many “people” other than Rand/Kira herself actually “expected a dinosaur to stretch its head out of the black caves overgrown with wild ferns.”
I still sometimes wish we could have the geeky teenage Rand with us today, to save her before she became the rigidified Objectivist Colossus.