Adventures in the Woods: Memories of a Happy Childhood
I grew up in a small rural town in the 1950s and 1960s. We had few neighbors, and their children, if any, weren't that much fun to play with. My older sister and younger brother had friends their own age from school. I seemed to be the odd man out.
But before I was of school age I began to discover that I could have a lot of fun by myself in the woods around our house.
An ancient apple tree with a rotted hole in its trunk stood in front of our house. A small white owl lived in the upper branches at first. Red and gray squirrels seemed to be everywhere.
There was a massive white pine tree that was climbable to within twenty feet of the top. It towered over other trees (as old white pines often do). From the highest branch I dared to climb, I could see miles across a solid swath of forest. Looking down on a forest was pretty neat, as most of the time I had to settle for looking up at it.
A brook ran in front of our house. My father dammed up the water so we could have a pond. Every few years the silt collected, so Dad had to to dig it out again. There were usually a few frogs, which always seemed to be expert at hiding in the mud. Butterflies, Dragonflies, and mosquitoes soared through the air. I knew enough not to get my fingers or toes too close to the huge teeth of the dragonfly larvae. I would occasionally see a ribbon snake. A snapping turtle from a different stream would sometimes come to visit. At one point I got interested in salamanders, which seemed to be plentiful under flat rocks, where they ate the ants that built their nests there. As for vegetation, there was a lot of skunk cabbage. It was wise not to step on it too hard, as it smelled terrible.
On hot summer days, I sometimes hiked through the woods that belonged to our neighbors. Once I found dozens of Lady Slippers growing on the bank of our brook, upstream from the bolundary of our land. A couple years later I visited that spot again, but all the Lady Slippers were gone.
Beyond our land's boundary in a different direction, I found the ruins of an old mill. It was situated at a spot where a creek fell several feet. Downstream from the mill there were several places where the stream formed pools. If the summer was dry, the pools would become separated, and the frogs and tadpoles would become more concentrated than usual.
Upstream from the ruins there was a spot where Blue Flag Irises grew wild, their roots right in the water.
As I look back, I realize how lucky I was to find Lady Slippers growing nearby. Frogs and salamanders have become much scarcer than they were in my childhood. The forests near my old home are shrinking because of development. New owners live where my family once resided, and they have cut down a lot of trees. They have young children who will likely find playmates, because more families live nearby than when I was young.
But those lovely uninhabited forests full of wild plants and animals are fading away. They now exist mostly in my memories and those of my brother and sister.