Sunday, January 3, 2010


Resolving to take more walks, and I managed
to get out today for 45 minutes, in the woods
wedged between apartments and a mega-corporation.
Here in my pretend wilderness, with its remnants
of the world that existed here 100+ years ago --
nurse logs, huckleberry bushes, cedars, salal --
it takes only moments to forget that I'm surrounded
by civilization. It's easy to block the car-sounds
floating up from the bottom of the hill, easy to think
not of the strip malls and intersections a half-mile
to the west, and focus instead on the crows' nests
visible in the bare maples and alders, the lichen
which seems to drip from branches, the ferns clinging
to the eastern sides of tree-trunks.

I've never seen children roaming these woods:
do kids not do this anymore? My kids didn't because
there were no woods to roam. But I cannot imagine
a life beside a wild patch such as this without dreaming
up every sort of mossy encampment, or scouting out
the best trees to climb.

I did notice several stacks of sticks and branches
stacked beside the path at one point, with attention
given to the size of the stick. Not seen anything
like this in the two years I've walked these woods--
was someone gathering kindling for a fireplace?
A bit farther down the path I got my answer:
against an errant boulder was a primitive lean-to
with wobbly posts and a roughly-woven twig roof,
unfinished, an afternoon's project interuppted
by a call home for dinner, perhaps. (On the cell phone,
most likely.) Tiny, obviously constructed by equally
small hands -- maybe two children could hunker
down here in tender oblivion -- but no more than that.
(I cursed myself for not having my camera.)

I was a bit amazed that it was so close to the path,
so vulnerable. In my woodsy days our "forest"
headquarters were carefully concealed -- or at least
we believed them to be. Who knows if they truly were?
We kept house surrounded by fiddlehead ferns
and guarded by six-foot-high nettles: swept the "floor"
with Douglas fir branches, made stump-chairs.
Ate our bologna sandwiches (yellow mustard) from
brown paper bags. Gulped water from Mason jars.

I feel old talking about this but when I stop to consider
that before the Pacific Northwest was logged, just over
a hundred years ago, the trees were so thick and the trunks
so immense, one could carve out a reasonable hut
in the remnants of a massive stump -- albeit, a primitive
hut, and most likely suitable only for a play house,
but I'd guess that more than one solitary mountain-man
(or woman)made-do with moss for wall-paper
and a packed-dirt floor.

Nothing, of course, like the meager fir-twigs stacked
beside my path today, but trees hundreds and hundreds
of years old, and older.

I left on my walk today intoning my customary groan:
Don't Wanna Do This.

Came home from my walk dreaming of ferny hollows
and mossy ravines, wishing for a July afternoon, a book,
and no cell phone to summon me home.


  1. With similar good intentions of daily walks in the new year we found a new "wilderness" outside our front door today--and came across two grocery carts trysting off the trail. Near a gorgeous grove of madrone. Very odd, but invigorating!

  2. Back in the long ago when I was in Boy Scouts, our troop had a veritable lean-to village up on the ridge behind our scoutmaster's house. We picked a hollow in the side of the hill for shelter and went to work. This was deep in the woods on a trail that very few people knew about. We built them well, but time made them even better - after about 5 years of fallen leaves those things were vu=irtually weather-proof, and we used the place for Winter camping. I wonder if anything is left of it?

  3. Oh T, I remember climbing every tree in the park across the street from us. I knew each trees particular branches and made pretend rooms from them. I spent hours and hours in those trees and in the summertime, no one could see me up there.
    I hadn't thought of that in years and years....when I go back to my hometown, I always make a trip to the park and peek up at those long-unclimbed branches, hoping to see two little eyeballs peering back at me.

  4. Robin -- "trysting"?!! Sounds like you interrupted something very intimate!

    Polly -- we would've been fast friends if we'd known each other back in the day! (Did you name the trees, too?)

    Roy -- "a lean-to village" -- made me smile widely.

    Here's a riddle: what kind of outdoor shelter does a building contractor build? --a lien-to.

  5. T, you take me back to the woods where I used to play with my friend Theresa. We climbed Dinosaur Rock and slid down its sloping back, picked wild strawberries, sheltered in the bushes, far away from adult eyes. It was wonderful. What a shame, if children don't do that sort of thing anymore. Something tells me, though, that children will still find places to dream and play.

    p.s. Your secret word is hutbarke. How fitting.

  6. Sandra -- I believe that there are fewer places in which children may engage in this kind of play, but you're right -- they will find places to dream and play, regardless.
    And how cool is your word verification?!! Love it!

  7. Yes T.....named EVERY tree and later in life I named every plant. Had to leave Ricky (Norfolk Island Pine), Phil (philadendron), and Nancy (giant ivy plant I'd had since the 60's!) behind because no room in my car to move 'em. I felt like I'd left old friends behind and that is what they were, old dear friends!

    By the way, my silver little Honda Civic is named, you guessed it, "High Ho Silver", called "High Ho" for short...