A Walk in the Woods - Part 1
By W. Forrest Altman
I’m calling this story a Walk In the Woods, Part I because if given the opportunity I’d like to tell you more stories later about walking in the woods.
Now that I’m in my ninth decade of life on Planet Earth, I do a fair amount of reflecting on the previous eight decades, including my very first. It’s interesting to me to trace the roots of who I am now. When my parents brought me home from the hospital as a new-born infant,it was to an old three-story farm house on the edge of town. Since that house burned down when I was 5 years old, my memories of that place are the impressions of a very young child.
Inside of the house, we children went on imaginary journeys when Mother read to us—mostly nursery rhymes—and sang to us in her sweet-shrill soprano voice.
Outside the house I made up my own adventures, safe in the sand box my father made for us.
If I wanted more excitement I could travel UP from where I was, or OUT.
UP meant on the swing that Dad hung from a branch of the old pear tree. I loved to go up high, high, high on the swing,
Up in the air so blue!
O I do think it’s the pleasantest thing ever a child can do.
From the swing I could command a spectacular view of the Youghiogheny River valley below. I could get an even more spectacular view if I climbed to the top of the old pear tree. I had that adventure only once. After I had enjoyed the view, my reward was to feel the sting of my father’s belt on my tender bottom.
The other direction I could go was OUT—out of the yard completely, if I could manage.
I was not allowed to go down the lane to the main street that crossed the bridge to McKeesport. Anyway, I preferred to cross the lane and keep on going—into the woods. I wasn’t allowed to do that either--by myself. Luckily I had a sister nine years older who was sometimes willing to take me with her.
My adult brain tells me that our destination on those walks was not anything like a scenic wonderland. It was a creek bottom crossed by an elevated sewer line, two-foot diameter concrete pipes along a line of concrete pillars. I didn’t mind the ordinariness of the place, but I really liked the walk through the woods to get there. We followed a little path through the woods.
Traveling that path with Big Sister was a marvelous adventure to a 4 or 5 year old boy. Everywhere I looked there was something new and interesting. Under me. Over me. All around me. Squirrels. . .rabbits. . .chipmunks. . .turtles. . .insects. . .toadstools and mushrooms (I didn’t know the difference). . .tall trees—different kinds. . .wild flowers—all sorts. Summer heat. . .fall colors. . .winter snow to tramp in, making an impression on the pure white landscape in my new galoshes. . .then the first spring flowers.
I remember especially looking for early violets in those damp woods: their fragrant, complex, deep purple blossoms surrounded by healthy, lush, deep-green, heart-shaped leaves. Finding them was an adventure every bit as good as being read to or climbing the pear tree. Taking the path through that little stretch of woods was a new and different adventure each time we went. In nine decades on the planet I have never lost the sense of wonder in the natural world that began for me in those early adventures.
It has been my life-long wish during my city-dwelling years to live in the country and have access to the woods. Moving to Caswell County has fulfilled that wish. If given the opportunity I would like to share with you on the [Gunn Memorial Library] Story Line some rich experiences walking in the County’s woods—in places accessible to everyone. Maybe the librarians will let me tell you about walking in the new Yanceyville town park, or the new Senior Center pilot trails; or to old mill sites, or on horse trails, or along rocky streams, or through tall beach woods or by quiet Wildlife Authority ponds or the Hyco Reservoir, or Farmer Lake. I’d like to tell you about up-close encounters with deer, wild turkeys and other fascinating creatures large and small.
Maybe next time I go walking in the woods I’ll see YOU there. Now THAT would be exciting.
Forrest Altman recorded this story on the Gunn Memorial Library's Children Story Line in August 2010. You can hear the story line by dialing (336) 694-6439. Dr. Altman is the author of: The Dan River Book: Odyssey, Epic, Guide; Rusty the Ready, That Good Old Red-Haired River Dog; 26 Wilderness Adventures; Afoot and Afloat; and The Story of Your Ancestors (Cosmology, Ecology & Earth History).