The suburban ranch houses backed onto a parkway, separated by a wooded roadside 45 feet deep. That was deep enough to offer strengths away from the chaos at home. My two sisters and I were all nearsighted by age 10. We had learned what we were and were not supposed to say we saw. Our eyes went inside and only part of the distance outside.
I took the energy of the family’s implosion into a long, hard stare at these “woods,” square inch by square inch. I became the biologist, geologist, forager, chronicler. The roadside tangle of sassafras, maple, spicebush, juniper, Jack-in-the-pulpit, ferns, muddy leaves, pool of spring rains was a home without judgment.
The main path, a remnant road of furnace clinkers, was crisscrossed by “trails,” footpaths of exploration. I usually walked “the circuit” trail that looped past a large gneiss outcrop, with a cedar rooted in a deep crack, then swung left around a spicebush with brambles beneath, and passed the muddy pool under maples, which disappeared by summer. With the changes day-by-day, season-by-season, I practiced coming out of my shell.
So much to see! The gneiss (my Golden Guide named it) sparkled with mica, feldspar, and quartz. To smell! I awaited the globular flower of skunk cabbage as the first sign of spring. To do! Climb a fir’s downward swooping branches high, higher, to track the crows’ airy neighborhood. I made discoveries—a glimmer of yellow revealed trout lilies nodding beneath an arched tartarian honeysuckle.
That was years ago. Even before I left home, people used this “disused” stretch to dump grass piles from a lawnmower, prunings from a hedge. Perhaps half the species were not native; the tartarian honeysuckle, native to Siberia, was introduced in 1752.
I went back once. How small the stretch of land! How exposed to the parkway, with speeding cars connecting to the interstate. The ground looked trammeled. A couple of trees leaned, awry. There were fresh green and green piles of grass clippings.
Do I have hope for it? Or do I hope only to hold onto my particulars? Do all successive generations hang on to what had been wildness as an idea, even when it is no longer truly wild?