Thursday, March 19, 2009

ambling ramblings

"I'll go first, Mom, so you know how to get back," Christopher Robin says boldly as he heads off through the woods in the wrong direction.

"This way, bud. Follow the trail," I point at the well-packed path of footprints through the snow leading from our basement door, through our backyard garden patch, into the woods to where we're standing now and to every one of our tapped maple trees.

"Oh, yeah," he says with assurance. "I'll make sure you know where to go," as he misses the path again and heads through unbroken snow in more or less the right direction.

I decided to take him with me this time, since most days I gather sap while the kids are napping. Trecking through snow in the woods is rough going, especially for 2 and 4 year olds, so this day, when My Hero is home on a day off, I can take each boy with me one at a time. One hand for carrying a bucket, one hand for helping the lurching boy at my side keep from falling.

"Let's leave your green bucket here while we go down to gather the sap from those other trees, since your bucket is full and heavy. We'll get it on our way back," I suggest as we set it down in the snow beside the path."

"I hope we can find the green bucket," Christopher Robin says a few minutes later after sap from more trees has been gathered.

I smile, marvelling that the woods could seem so myserious and bewildering to him so close to the house, paths that lead our way back right at our feet, and green bucket actually within sight. Then he begins his brave assurances that he will be my guide and lead me home. As he marches in the wrong direction.

Phew! Don't you ever go exploring in the woods on your own, four year old boy. I may never find you again.

And it's funny how eyes can be trained to see what's important. A path in the snow. Landmarks ahead. My Dad knows maple trees by their bark. To me, pine, maple, and oak bark all look the same. I look up the tree and see pine needles and know it's pine. I look up the tree and see a few brown oak leaves clinging to a branch and know it's an oak. I'm starting to recognize the shape of maple branches, the way they spread at the top in a different way than oak trees do. As I travel from maple to maple gathering sap the trees grow more familiar to me. I liken it to the way it is with identical twins. To a stranger they're indistinguishable, but when you have become close friends with one or both of them, the differences are too obvious for error.

To Christopher Robin the woods is such a strange, unfamiliar place that the thick trees and reaching branches everywhere make everything look the same. I know what it's like. When we were young, my sister and I decided to follow the stream that forms at the far end of the apple orchard every spring, and see where it lead to. It led us into the woods for quite a distance, until after a while we realized the stream had lost shape and become a swampy area of puddles. When we tried to turn around and go back, we couldn't find the stream we had been following, and were hopelessly lost. I don't know exactly how long we wandered, but I do remember feeling surprised that we could become so lost, and the relief we both experienced when we finally saw an edge to the woods and came out on a nearby road, less than a mile from our house.

For some reason my favorite thing in the world when I was young was following streams through the woods. My dad used to take each of us kids on a "date night", probably one of us each week, and when my turn came around, and I could pick anything I wanted to do, I remember some of my brothers chose going for ice cream on their turns, but I chose going to the woods and following a stream, leaping from rock to rock down the middle when I could, or climbing along the edges.

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