Our beloved woods

To wander the woods near our house is to find a moment of joy. A moment when kids run ahead, enthusiastically shouting out each discovery as they pass by it in a blur, and stopping, just as suddenly, to look at some small detail that catches their fancy.

And with woods like these, there is a lot to catch your fancy.

Faeries live in our woods, as do dryads and wood sprites and brownies galore. I’m sure of it. The woods are just too wonderful for such a small space, and we find ourselves drawn back to it over and over again to find the hidden treasures and shapes and shadows and traces of creatures hidden from sight. Faeries must live in our woods. You can feel their magic with every step. You can smell it with every breath. And when you see the sun’s rays slanting down between the treetops… you just know that faeries had to have had something to do with it.

Faeries aren’t the only creatures who wander our woods. Right at the edge of the woods before you cross the creek, you can find minnows and toads and tadpoles and, if you are lucky, a deep-voiced frog singing his merry song.

Elsewhere, the water’s surface is a chaotically overlapping pattern of concentric circles. If you look closely enough, you can see tiny sets of four little indentations in the water’s surface that mark the ends of the water bugs’ legs.

Further down the creek, the beavers have left their mark in more ways than one. Over here, they are starting a new dam. Over there, they’ve left their footprints and a tail print in the mud.

The trees, too, have stories to tell. Overe here, there’s a fallen log with an interesting knot hole where a spider has taken up residence. Over there, a woodpecker’s buffet brunch. In the shadows, there, you can find shelf mushrooms glowing brightly in the dark.

But our favourite tree of all is the one at the top of the hill, for in its branches lies a tree house.

We don’t know who built the treehouse, nor do we know when it was built, but we like it all the same.

The treehouse is like an old friend, always there, never wavering, always inspiring us to look upwards and onwards. It’s not a pretty thing, nor does it look quite safe, exactly, but it calls to us every time we play in the woods: Come and look at me! Come and dream and play under my branches!

So far, seeing as how my kids are still rather short and the treehouse is still so very tall, they haven’t ventured up into its branches, preferring to stare in wonder from below, but I’m sure that any day now that will change and up they’ll go (and I’ll just have to learn to live with my heart in my throat until they climb down again and are safely on the ground).

The treehouse marks the edge of the boundary between the old woods and the new. The old woods, full of faerie and fae and old rotten logs, have a mysterious coolness to them. They feel soothing and calm and quiet and still — a stillness joyfully interrupted by children’s noisy voices and bubbling laughter.

The far side of the treehouse is a place of scrub brush, stubby young pines and cedars, slender saplings, and tall, tall grasses that hide rabbits and racoons and all sorts of mice. It has an entirely different feel to it. Young, for one. Thin, too, and easily warmed by the sun. Not as easy to run through, as the grasses tangle up your feet and small trees pop up without warning. It’s riddled through with rabbit trails and other paths, though, and is a marvelous place to get lost in.

Or rather, it was.

When we crested the rise and stepped out from under the shadow of our beloved tree house tree, the riot of yells and calls and laughter fell deathly silent. Even the birds were quiet for a moment, though that probably had more to do with the noise we had been making a moment before than with the sight that shocked us now. B had a stricken look on her face and looked as if she were about to cry. K, who had already been and seen, merely looked sad and old and wise. B’s friend L rounded her mouth into an ‘o’ of surprise that didn’t go away for some few minutes as she looked and looked and looked at what was no longer there.

This is what we saw to the left of us:

And this is what we saw to the right:

Gone. All gone. Stripped right down until all that remained was churned up clay and the old gravel access road that used to cut through the middle of the bush and now cuts through the middle of… dirt.

Had they cleared a single foot further, our beloved tree house tree would have been included in the cut. Some of its roots, in fact, did get cut, and I can only hope that the poor thing survives.

Stepping out from the shady shelter of the woods onto the churned up clay mess that used to be covered in living, breathing things felt somewhat akin to what I imagine it to be to step out onto the barren surface of the moon. There was nothing there. There was nothing there.

We walked all the way to the road bed in hopes that this wasn’t truly our beloved young woods. That perhaps it was an illusion that would fade away if we stepped carefully enough. The kids’ steps were heavy, their cheerful voices silenced. The only sound was that of our sneakers as they crunched along the gravel.

But as kids so often do, they soon started to ask questions. I didn’t have answers to some of them, and only had sad answers to others, but then, L piped up with a question of her own and just that suddenly this barren landscape was transformed.

“Where does the road go?” she asked, and just that fast, the gravel road was a clear pathway to a new adventure.

“I don’t know,” I told her, even though I did, in fact, know the answer. And then I said the only thing that really could be said at a moment like that:

“Shall we find out?”

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