Our theme for the month of February is “plants.”

Growing up in western Pennsylvania on a piece of property spanning twenty acres of woods and grassy pastureland made for the kind of Hundred Acre childhood that Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh might have shared. The bus would drop my siblings and I at the end of the long driveway, and we would run down the gentle slope to the house, backpacks slapping all the way. We dumped bags, pulled on boots, and streaked out the door, free at last from the confines of classrooms. 

In the fall we played in the creek mostly, and practiced building campfires that would warm our damp and frozen fingers. Dad taught us how to gently peel the curly, paper-thin bark from the birch trees to use for kindling, always careful not to take too much. When we were closer to the grove of pines, we would scavenge along the ground for the copper-colored needles and the driest twigs, which made equally expedient fire-starters. When Halloween came, we picked the pumpkins that emerged organically from the manure pile every August, the seeds from the prior year finding fertile ground. 

When spring came, there was a treasure trove of verdant explosions pushing up from the snow-soaked ground. Leeks, skunk cabbage, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpits, and the little purple and white flowers that I would gather and watch wilt, finally learning to leave them be and enjoy them in their place. I learned to wriggle my fingers deep into the mud at the base of the green leek stems and to gently coax the bulbs from the earth. I remember the satisfaction of rubbing the thin, dirty skin away to reveal the smooth, pure white bulb. Their sweet crunch made a novel snack, and often would end up in a pot with some water and cut up hotdogs—our idea of a camp lunch. I can still taste the “soup”—which didn’t taste good but was the proud pinnacle of our self-reliance. 

Sweetest among those days were the moments that Nathan, Bria, and I would share our discoveries with one another. I’ll never forget Nathan showing me the bright orange salamanders he would find under rocks, or the way that he knelt over a jack-in-the-pulpit with me, explaining the name and why they were so special. I still get excited when I see one. 

And of course, it wouldn’t be spring in Pennsylvania without maple syrup. Late in the winter, while it’s still frigid and the snow is still deep, our friends and neighbors would hang galvanized buckets under taps, waiting for the sap to run. And when it did, we would stand in the steamy, sweet-smelling sugar shack and eat ice cream with hot maple syrup. For a child who is still brave enough to feel and express wonder, it was magic. 

And when spring turned to summer and our days were unoccupied and long, we would disappear into the woods for hours at a time. There were two patches of black and red raspberries, one deep in the woods and one on the edge of the field. The scratches were well worth the sweet reward. And then there were the wild grapes down by Mama and Papa’s that were always sour and had thick skins that you had to spit out. And when Papa mowed the field with the old Massey Ferguson, we would follow behind and look for the serrated leaves and bright red pop of wild strawberries. I learned how to suck on sweetgrass and to recognize wild horseradish and poison ivy and Queen Anne’s lace, which blows even still in the warm wind. 

I don’t often wish to go back in life, maybe because I don’t think I’m strong enough to lift out of the swirl of nostalgia once I’ve entered. But if I were to go back, it would be to the woods, in any season, with Nathan and Bria. The world was kind and generous and magical, and we had the woods and each other, and all the wild strawberries we could get our hands on.

3 Comments

  1. Nicole

    We’re having a full snow day here in IN- the county has requested people not drive for any reason other than emergencies. So, holed up here on this snowy, icy day, it was a true joy and delight to read this. Thank you for taking us into your 100-acre woods, too. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Vickie Lynn Wheeler

    Awesome childhood memories! I too love the woods and remember catching crayfish under rocks and taking them home. Climbing trees was also a favorite.

    Reply
  3. Cameron

    What a spectacular childhood, with the best mates in the world and the best guides in your parents! It is ok to return there, as long as you promise to keep bringing back the tales of your journeys.

    Reply

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