I’ve been reading God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us by L.L. Barkat, and actually started a journal to record what the 12-week process asks you to record. Things like, “When I was a child, I lived…”
When I was a child, I lived in a suburb of New Orleans, along what is now called the “Metairie Ridge,” some of the highest land in the city. It had been built up over a long period of time by deposits from the Mississippi River. And while it had been “swampy, marshy,” it was still high – which is why my mother’s house has never flooded during a hurricane, including Katrina in 2005.
It was a neighborhood of tract ranch homes, largely populated by people like my family – World War II veterans and their families. The husbands commuted to their jobs in the city (yes, this was the 1950s) although there were some working mothers as well. Not to mention extensive evidence of the Baby Boom. Kids were everywhere.
Behind the houses across the street from my house was a small, shallow drainage ditch, which we kids knew contained “polio water” – some parent (I would bet a mom) had told their child that he (invariably a “he,” since girls had more sense) would get polio if he fell into it. (The Salk vaccine didn’t arrive until 1956 and 1957, and polio was something we all knew about.)
And behind the ditch was – The Woods.
This wasn’t a forest by any stretch of the imagination. It was a small stand of woods – but large enough (say, half-a-block wide and two blocks long) to be a place of magic and adventure to a 6-, 7-, and 8-year-old. A well-worn and narrow trail meandered through it. Somehow, most likely the result of a land title dispute or general disinterest, it had escaped subdivision development.
Where else to play cowboys, war, hide-and-seek? Where else to go hang out? You were far away enough from parental oversight to feel daring but still close enough to feel comfortable. As I got older, and the childhood games stopped, I’d often go walk through the woods, find an old stump or downed tree, and sit. And listen.
It changed from “The Woods” to the “Little Woods” when we discovered the “Big Woods,” a large undeveloped area a few blocks away. This one was several blocks long and wide, few trails and loads of blackberry bushes. It much more resembled “forest primeval” than the Little Woods did. You didn’t play games like hide-and-seek in the Big Woods, because you could easily get lost. Instead, you traveled in groups, looking for blackberries and anything that might smack of mystery and adventure. If you didn’t find adventure, you’d make one up.
Whenever we visit New Orleans, I’ll walk every morning through what had been the Little Woods and the Big Woods. It’s all homes and subdivisions now, and the levee along the big drainage canal is now West Metairie Avenue. (The first time we scaled the levee and looked down at the big canal and across it to undeveloped marshland – we got an inkling of what it must have been like to be explorers on an expedition.)
But I walk it, and I don’t have an ounce of regret that it’s gone. Because it’s not.
Laura Boggess at The WellSpring is a week ahead of me in reading God in the Yard. See her Parachute: Learning to Fly.