Musings

An elegy – almost – for the wild children who grew up…

cabin3

Where I grew up, the forest was full of children.

We grew out of tree trunks like lichen, wound round branches like vines, and leapt limb-to-limb like wild things … for this is what we were.  Half-wild, at least.

We hung upside-down in the canopy — eyes full of stars, faces streaked with earth — and watched the world below with wonder.  

We slipped canoes and kayaks into the swamp; paddled for miles; held torches aloft and saw what the forest looked like in the dark, with its thousand yellow eyes gleaming back at us.  

We dragged dead limbs into clearings, onto islands.  Built shelter.  Tore it down.  Built thatch-roofed huts in the limbs of the trees.  Strung swinging bridges trunk-to-trunk through the stands of cypress, so that you could teeter out over the black water, ten feet up.  Sometimes, we imagined building hundreds of bridges into the distance … for this was a true forest, one that seemed to float, and if you faced a certain direction and kept paddling, you could paddle until nightfall and not reach the end of it.  

We were half-wild creatures, messy mistake-makers, just beginning to understand how to live lightly.  Hooting and hollering through the forest.  Leaping and dodging through the brush.  Bird-calling and doe-stepping.  Howling like wolves.  

In the forest, I was never alone.

*

I am older now, and I live near the edge of a smaller wood — a citified remnant of a forest, stretching between orderly neighborhoods.  

Even so, there are certain stretches where I’d be startled if I saw another human.

More than once I’ve come face-to-face with a herd of grazing deer, who lift their large eyes to me in surprise, blinking and gaping at old Two-Legs.  I’ve heard hawks scream.  Seen a raccoon fallen from the canopy, lying still and silent in the most peaceful-looking, sleepy sort of death.  The place is within shouting distance to civilization, but it’s an emptier wood than the raucous place of my childhood.

Solitary, in the way of human company.

*

I putter through the house.  Make tea.  I am thinking about what to wear to a party:  black stilettos.  A bracelet full of white stones that catch the light.

I plan a dinner for friends.

I check my calendar to see where a birthday gathering can be shoehorned in.  

I’m a social creature, these days — civilized and surprisingly grown-up — but I am still half-wild, too, and wishing for a little humanity in whatever wild places I have left.  I plan dinner and almost wish I could serve it on a summer night, in the forest of my youth — seat my friends at a long table crowded with candles and moss and stones.  

Teach these friends of mine how to whistle like the whip-poor-will — whose song I haven’t heard in years.

*

For so many reasons, this is impossible.

*

I go out walking in my woods.  I walk for hours.  The place is empty of children.

Every now and again, I’ll pass another adult human, looking purposeful and intent at walking a dog or finishing a run.  These do not look like wild creatures — not even a little bit — and for them, the woods are a place to finish a task, check a chore off a list.  The telltale white wire hovers at their throats, and as they flash past me, I hear their tinny electrified tunes jabbing through the birdsong, for just a moment or two.

And there is no doubt that these people are more put-together than I am.  Their days more ordered than I can imagine, or want to.  

Still:  sometimes I almost want to grab an elbow as they pass, and whirl them to a halt.  Jerk the white wire free, so they can hear the stream slipping over the stones.

I want to, but I don’t.

*

Winter overtakes the woods, and the bones of the trees sink into earth.

I walk long, in the cold air, under clean-limbed shadows.  Skeletal black stripes.

At the edge of the woods, I look out onto the close-cropped lawns of the humans who live so very near me.

The woods are silent.

The woods are empty.

There is no shouting, no hollering, no howling.

Still:  the forest stretches her shadows out across the lawns, out toward the houses with their lawn mowers and empty swingsets, and I open my arms, calling out without saying a word:

Come back.

Come back…

cabin6

We are still here, waiting for you. ❤

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35 thoughts on “An elegy – almost – for the wild children who grew up…

    • I think so, too.

      I’m not a parent, so I can’t really judge. It’s true that the world isn’t a very safe place, & I understand that.

      Still, I can’t help but think that so many deeply precious things have been lost in the name of safety. I choose the risk, myself. Glad I’m not alone. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • yogini.sharon says:

        I think a lot of it is just being overbooked with extra-curricular activities and kids more consumed with technology and TV. This weekend the kids spent most of their time playing games on their iPads around the fire. At least they were there but still. I’ve tried to invite my nieces and nephews a number of times, but they always have games or lessons on the weekends. I finally gave up.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re so right. It’s funny, but the older I get, the more I appreciate my special childhood. My parents *did* send me to a lot of lessons, and during the school year life was filled with ballet, Girl Scouts, skating, music and art lessons, and sports. During the summer, though, my parents let me run wild outdoors and do nothing for months — and I’m grateful for that. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, what a lovely read! As always, Ashley.

    I’m afraid my kids are the ones growing up without the true connection to nature, but being very connected to all cyber things. I think at some point there is going to be a counter reaction. Kids are going to choose to walk away from their Ipads and go out and enjoy the real world in stead. There will be a turning point.

    Is there a way for me to subscribe to your blog per email? I looked around but didn’t find any email subscription form? AND my new site is up now, if you wanna have a look 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • I so understand what you suggest about the turning point. I have a good friend who is a very serious foodie, & we’ve both talked a great deal about the current trend for local, sustainable food, for instagramming photos of our lush beautiful meals out, & the fascination among Millennials with all things delectable. We both feel those trends were birthed out of a time during our childhoods in which the human relationship with food was cold and utilitarian — I remember lots of microwave dinners, canned-goods casseroles and processed convenience foods (heavens, does anyone remember Doritos?? Most chemical-tasting snack imaginable!), as do a lot of 80s babies like me. It’s only natural that we now crave high-quality, gorgeous, back-to-nature types of food that bring life to all our senses. 🙂

      So I’m hopeful, too, that this cyber generation will one day long for a return to the woods. 🙂

      Like

    • Oh! And about subscriptions. (I’m such a bad blogger; I should probably set up a simple link for that.)

      To follow by email, go to the site online (not in the WordPress app, which will recognize that you’re already following there). Click on any post, scroll all the way to the bottom below the comments section, and there should be a link to subscribe. You can put in an email address — my husband follows me that way.

      (& that is way too complicated. I think I need to fix that, stat!)

      Can’t wait to check out your new site!!! 🙂

      Like

  2. Wow… You leave me wordless.

    The way you describe your childhood is beyond powerful. I can tell that words could never do it justice. “…messy mistake-makers…” I love it! If there is a better way to grow and to learn, I don’t know what it is.

    Then, you describe the gentrification of nature and the loss of youthful exuberance, and I feel ripped open. It’s sad that in becoming “mindful” of the world beyond our backyards, we adults actually become quite mindless. The saddest part is that I think so many people don’t even know what they are missing… But then I am grateful for the moments when I am able to stop and listen and take it all in without needing to be anywhere or do anything and without holding onto any expectations.

    As always, you leave me with a sense of gratitude, inspired motivation, and much to contemplate!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Lulu … I loved the long comment … And I love that these words connected with you so deeply.

      Most of all, I’m grateful that *you’re* grateful, that you can appreciate the beauty that surrounds you and share it with others. What a gift.

      Write on, sister. 🙂

      Like

  3. What a wonderful and heartwarming post. Felt the emotion. As a child I played amongst trees, I climbed them, hid in them, created worlds in them and dreamed. Simple days of innocence. Love your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a way with words. So, nicely written and expressed. In the “old” days, we can spend all day playing in the woods; the parents were, “long as I know where you are”. Today, not so much. It seems we have cast aside that part of our innocence (don’t know if this is the right word).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely memories Alpha Zulu.
    Similar to mine, a long time ago. We had a house in Normandy, where we spent the summer; there were woods nearby. And with all the kids we would spend our days in the woods, hunting imaginary jaguars or tigers, exploring the Amazon, looking out for the “savage” head-hunters who no doubt scouted us. Some days, we’d bring a sandwich along (explorers do get hungry) and not go home until late afternoon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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