Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Little Woods and Big Woods

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.


Jeff Jordan said...

Sounds like these woods live on in your "place" as you've mentioned before.

Funny, my earliest memories of home include the woods behind our back yard and some large trees that fell there during a large tornado. Those woods are still there now after 35 years though.

Melissa_Rae said...

My husband and I were just talking yesterday about how sad it is that we don't feel comfortable letting our kids play out of our sight. Granted, they're still a little young (under 6), but we know that when they're 8, 9, or 10 we will not be as willing as our parents were to let them roam around the neighborhood.
It sounds like you had a wonderful place to play, imagine and grow! Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

i can just see
all the little hoodlums
in the woods
bright eyes
and wearing
sweat beads
around your necks

Maureen said...

"But I walk it, and I don't have an ounce of regret that it's gone. Because it's not." Wonderful how you conclude. . . the deep understanding of what it means to carry "place" inside and forever with us.

We had blackberry bushes (we'd pick bowls-full in summer) and lots of forested land behind our house, and my brothers learned to drive by taking an old jalopy into those woods and running over the rutted paths, getting stuck after the rain. And sometimes imaginations ran wild in those woods and they became something other. The woods and the people are all gone now, too; and they're not.

Duane Scott said...

I love the conclusion. It really isn't gone.

And remind me when I go back to college to write a paper on your "polio" memories.

You write so well. Very interesting!

Laura said...

I love how this book is making me remember...happy rememberings. That's pretty special for this former country girl. Isn't it funny how children find the wild? No matter if it be woods or some other secret place in the city, they know the magic in having a spot to run to.

I enjoyed reading this, Glynn. Lovely memories. How time flies...

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks for stirring my memories too Glynn. Your poetic words ripple and wave like the prairie grasses of my memory.

Lovely. Just lovely.

L.L. Barkat said...

I loved this. The woods, big or little, are partly what we make of them.

But for me, they are also what they make of me. And so, if they are gone, something is lost. Fascinating how we can feel differently.

What did the woods make of you? A man of imagination. What could another tract of woods make of you today? That is something yet to ponder...

Billy Coffey said...

What a great post, Glynn. I think memories get a bad rap a lot of times. We're taught to let go and forget. Thanks for the reminder that there are plenty of things worth hanging onto and remembering.

Red Letter Believers said...

I had some woods growing up too. That was where I kissed a girl. Where I rode a bike. Where I first spoke to God. I miss those woods

~*Michelle*~ said...

I love this trip down memory lane. Sounds like something out of the SandLot.

And this is the third time I am hearing about L.L. Barkat's book....gotta go grab me a copy soon!

H. Gillham said...

I just wrote down the name of this book, and I added my name to your follower list.

My nephew recently wrote about "the woods" behind the house where he grew up -- we all have our "woods" -- metaphorical and literal.

Nice blog.


S. Etole said...

and there was a creek where we would float boats to imaginary places ... and walk on rocks to cross ... and occasionally fall in