Monday, November 19, 2007

Autumn Wanderings

I was over at Ornamental's site writing a comment, admiring her good fortune to live in the mountains and have nature and solitude at her doorstep, when I recalled for the first time in ages the forest walks I would take as a kid.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a little neighborhood in southeastern Virginia that was surrounded by ample woodlands, water, and fields. Within minutes we could be running through rows of corn and soybeans, picking our way through thick woods, or stepping onto the muddy shores of a sizable river. When not playing sandlot sports, we were stealing wood from home construction sites to build our treehouses in the woods, which in summer were particularly inviting because they provided some shady relief from the Tidewater heat and humidity. Come winter, however, nearly all of my friends stayed out of the woods, returning only in the spring to observe and repair the weathered remains of their treehouse handiwork.

For me, however, this was the season to wander more deeply into the woods, without the hum of mosquitoes and thickets of poison ivy and oak. Summer was fun, mind you, but by November and December, the woods possessed an eerie hush that at least for me proved inviting and comforting. I remember in particular the sound of my feet crunching over the mattress of freshly fallen leaves and the noisy calls of crows that usually patrolled the adjacent fields of brittle corn stalks. If I went far enough I could explore the derelict remains of an old sharecropper cottage whose walls were plastered in old newspapers and scavenged sheets of linoleum. (I remember at the time puzzling about the people who might have lived there. The only clues I had were a few crumbling photos left behind, an African American family gathered for some unknown special occasion, arrayed in what looked like their Sunday best. A funeral? A wedding? Birthday?) I also wondered about the nearby abandoned pickup truck riddled by shotgun blasts, now locked into the woods by the jail-like bars of young trees.

On the rare occasions that we were blessed with snow, I usually tried to make it into the woods while the flakes continued to fall, just to take in that snowy silence that one can even now experience here in New York City. Central Park isn't exactly a fair substitute for the forests of my childhood, but on a snowy morning, it seems hundreds of miles from the traffic and noise of Manhattan, silenced for a few hours by a little winter magic.

Unfortunately much of that childhood setting has been erased for the sake of "progress." Most of the fields are now subdivisions with overpriced cookie-cutter houses sprouting on treeless lawns. The sharecropper cottage is long gone, and much of the surrounding forest has been stripped away to accommodate streets with names that only echo their presence: Sycamore Lane, Beech Circle, Balsam Way. How sad it is that the kids growing up in these homes will rarely see those sycamore or beech trees. I realize one shouldn't wallow in melancholy nostalgia, especially when the memories are indeed happy ones. But for me, tis the season of nostalgia, for the ghosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas past.


Isabel said...

What wonderful memories to share with your kids! Y
our post made me think of my own childhood in Portugal. When I go back there now, everything looks so much different...but the memories are still as sweet :)

susan greene said...

I too remember spending hours outside exploring. I am nostalgic for the days when kids ran free and their imagination was their guide.