Kim Stafford’s poem sent me deep into the woods of my childhood from which I wrote a much longer piece, but I will share a couple of excerpts to give you the flavor:
Within the 25 wooded acres reserved for faculty housing and known as The Woods lay a handful of distinct regions which had nothing to do with property lines and everything to do with the daily explorations and imaginations of the hoard of children, seventeen of us by one count, who peopled the wild around us. Though we took our green canopy for granted, it was a singular exception to the endless fields of corn which leveled and laid open the landscape of Jasper County.
Our house was near the “little woods” with the ladder tree whose horizontal branches made it easy to hang by your knees and the swinging maple that would send you sailing when you climbed up high. Within this narrow band of undeveloped green space, we gnawed on green sticks of sassafras, the shaft lined with “Indian gum” which I never chewed, though I sucked on the smooth green skin, my tongue relishing the tang, the saplings’ three-fingered mitts greening the understory.
We called it the little woods because it was small and the littler ones were safe there; light broke through from the meadow and cemetery beyond. It marked the edge of our world, though forays into the cemetery, and later, to the sledding hill butting into the cemetery, would become commonplace. We just never went there alone. But into the little woods we freely roamed with or without companions.
The “big woods” required a mob of us, siblings and friends, as it was denser, darker, and deeper than the little woods which ran along the opposite side of our universe. The big woods had its regional identifications, too. There was “New Mexico” which had few to no trees and lush grasses which lay down in cushy hummocks at our feet. We named it in response to the relative excess of sun which set it apart. We didn’t linger there for long, except in morel season, as it bordered the road on two sides and exposed us to view.
Not far from the grasses was a wild orchard of crab apple trees with their gnarly limbs, and in spring the snow of cast-off petals. My older sisters tied Chinese wind chimes–the kind made of glass “slides” painted with little flowers or calligraphy and attached to the ascending rings of its armature with red thread—to the limbs of the trees so that a breeze sent up a thrilling tinkling of chime as if of fairies passing through.
When the boys were leading or we were feeling particularly courageous, we would go to Devils’ Den which was a large basin maybe eight or ten feet deep and 20-30 feet wide, possibly from some felled old growth giant. There was a felled tree in the basin with its roots standing tall and perpendicular to the ground. We scrambled over or under the trunk as the length of our legs would allow. We imagined pirates and outlaws in such a place as it was very dark and wild—to our young minds it felt dangerous. We did not go there often….