In the woods
Travel back in time with me to Cherryfield, Maine in the summer of 1976. Some of my earliest and best memories are there.
Take a walk down the sleepy sideroad along the Narraguagus River, with the wildflowers in bloom. Hear the drowsy buzz of insects. Pick a piece of grass, put the end of it in your mouth, and chew on it like my dad taught me to do. It’s better than gum, that sweet wand of grass, and chewing on it helps you think as you walk along.
Before long the asphalt road turns to dirt, and continues on into the woods. We took many a family walk down this dirt road, through the woods and along the river with our dog Molly. At times Molly would trot along beside us, and at times she would run ahead. There were no leash laws in Cherryfield in the seventies, so Molly explored every corner of those woods, knew every squirrel, and memorized every smell. When she had enough exploring she’d come crashing through the underbrush, running back to us so she could trot beside us again, tail wagging.
Eventually the dirt road would curve away from the river, but we’d turn down a path and continue walking along the riverbank. This was the best part of the walk. There were three wooden bridges over the muddy streams leading to the river, and each bridge had a troll living under it. This was according to my father. My brother and I, at the ages six and four, delighted in those mean, invisible trolls, and considered ourselves billygoats whose job was to get across the guarded bridge. We could not fight the trolls with strength, but we could always outsmart them. My brother was smarter than I, so I followed his lead. He was the big billy-goat to my middle billy-goat. There was no small billy-goat, not yet, as our youngest brother had not yet made his entrance into the world. His time would come.
As you can see, my best memories are in the woods. When I go back to the woods in my mind, paths veer off every which way and years blend together. The Cherryfield woods become the White Mountain National Forest, where I hiked in my twenties and saw a cow moose through the trees. I heard the plodding of her footsteps and peered through the trees, to see her peering back at me. We stared at each other and I spoke to her softly, telling her what a beautiful moose she was. Then we both continued on our way.
The New Hampshire woods give way to the boreal forest of New Brunswick, where we camped on the Bay of Fundy. We walked a path along the rocky coast that was so heavily wooded, we could hear but not see the ocean. I was looking out for gray jays because I had never seen one, but read they were the friendliest of birds and would eat out a hiker’s hand. I didn’t see one that day, but my daughter did, because she was ahead of me on the trail. It flew away before I got there. “It was just a gray bird,” my daughter said so I wouldn’t feel too bad about missing out. I like to think I heard gray jays in the trees, even though I did not see one. I’m not an expert birder and never have been; I just love being in the woods.
That’s why I revisit the woods so often in my memory.