A Walk in the Woods
Written in May, 1967
Dear Nephew Ray
I've been walking in the woods today and don't you say "At your age?" either. Age has nothing to do with walking in the woods in the spring. You shed years every step and the importance of your day-to-day problems diminishes with every Violet and Mayflower you see.
The old rubber boots I'd worn so many times when we lived on the farm were still hanging on the same nail in the woodshed when I reached for them. Joe jr, Trudy, and their twin sisters, Carol and Karen, are staying with their grandparents at the farm just now. Young Joe, their father, drove me out to help Sue look after the live-wires and this was their idea of the best way for their great grandmother to spend the afternoon.
"We'll walk slow, GramKaty." Joe jr promised me with all the confidence of an eager warhorse hearing the 'charge' ringing in his ears.
"I'll look out for the Twinies." Trudy assured me as she tucked Karen's stubby red braids under a green knit-cap.
I hadn't much faith in their promises but we set out down the well-worn path past the kitchen garden and hen coops to the woods beyond. Joe galloped ahead to clear the path and dashed back to report every few minutes. The twins trotted along in sturdy solemnity, gravely gazing at the flying birds and budding branches Trudy pointed out to them. GramKaty, walking-stick in one hand and a rush-basket for treasures in the other, brought up the rear.
Green has swept over the fields and trees like a multi-toned, single-color rainbow. Cardinals and Blue Jays, wearing their bright courting suits, flashed past leaving an almost tangible smear of color in the air. A Red Winged Blackbird poised tip-toe on a fence post to watch us pass.
The familiar path we followed led to a clearing in the heart of the wood. Side paths branch off and loop back, one through a berry bramble, another around a glacial rock deposit. A third leads to a spring which bubbles darkly from the earth and trickles off through a pebble-lined bed. Joe tried each path yet reached the clearing just as the girls and I stepped into it.
I settled myself on a sun-warmed tree stump and sent Trudy off exploring with Joe while Carol and Karen picked posies for me. Presently they came to lean on my knees, their tiny freckled faces upturned to me with purple-pansy eyes full of happiness and contentment.
"Look, my petlings, see Mr Grey Squirrel searching for the walnuts he buried last fall. He is getting his paws all muddy. Do you suppose Mrs Squirrel will make him wash up before he comes in the nest?" I whispered.
"He should have weared his boots, GramKaty." Carol suggested, entering into the make-believe.
"He can't find his walnuts, poor squirrely. Can I give him my cookie?" Karen asked. "Maybe he's got twinies at home and he could take it to them." She darted toward the startled squirrel, pulling a crumbling oatmeal cookie from her pocket as she ran. The squirrel ran too, not heeding her reassuring pleas that he come back for the treat.
"Scatter the crumbs where he was digging, Karen. Then come to Gram and we'll keep very quiet. Maybe he'll come back."
Both girls snuggled in my arms, watching the timid but hungry little animal advance on the tempting morsels of nutty oatmeal cookie. He examined the first bit carefully, turning and sniffing it before nibbling its edges. Having decided in favor of this strange food, he finished that piece and two more before taking a larger chunk in his mouth and scampering back into the trees. The twins wriggled with delight, imagining Mrs Squirrel's happy exclamination at the exotic food her husband had found at the market.
Trudy had a large, damp blob of moss in one hand and a small clump of fern in an oozing ball of mud in the other when she followed Joe out of the woods a while later. Joe carried a handful of seedlings and a very bewildered small toad. We quite obviously had the beginnings of a terrarium. I hoped Sue wouldn't mind. After the muddy flora had been deposited in my basket and the reptilian fauna secreted in Joe's pocket, we began our trip home.
Joe and Trudy took turns carrying the basket now laden with their spoils and my wild flowers. The twins, hand in hand as usual, gossiped as they trudged ahead of me. I was glad of my cane now that the cool damp of the woods had crept into that troublesome knee and made it more reluctant than usual to bend at my command. But bend it must and bend it will, for I am not ready to give up my walks in the spring woods yet.
There is a bowl of May Flowers on my desk as I write. These first wild flowers that bloom amid the still winter-chilled, slowly awakening trees, have a tenuous delicacy unequaled by any others. They bring memories of past years "May Daying", the carefully constructed paper baskets, gathering Dogtooth Violets and exquisite Trillium, carefully choosing flowers for each friend who was to receive one of my baskets. Then the excitement of hanging them in the early evening dusk, ringing the doorbell and running to hide so the reciever could only guess who had presented this token of affection.
Trillium and Maidenhair Fern were given only to those you loved best. Happy the girl who found such a posy and twice happy the slow-footed swain who allowed himself to be caught and kissed in return. But such simple ceremonies have fallen out of vogue. May Day is little noticed these days except by small children who have heard of the old customs and try to follow them with lawn Violets and Dandelions in place of the now rare wild flowers.
I have been watching the Lilacs unfold their oval leaves, impatient for their heavy white and purple blossoms to appear. I love to fill the house with huge bunches of them so I can bury my face in the delicately scented flowers whenever I wish.
"Katy Lou's pagan propensity" Joshiah calls it. Rama has a propensity, pagan or not, for tipping over vases of flowers. He kept the kitchen table a-wash when we tried to have Daffodils for a centerpiece. I dread to think what he'll do to the house when I begin my Lilac orgy.
It's time to put the kettle on for supper. I don't know what we will have but a singing tea kettle always inspires a cook to some culinary accomplishment and it makes the rest of the household think you know what you are doing.
Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,
Your Aunt Katy