It wasn’t that large, maybe three times the size of Winnie the Pooh’s “three acre wood,” but it was big enough to be magical to a boy who loved feeling close to the earth.
We called them “the Spring Woods” because there was a fresh spring there, just up from the “whitewash hole,” where a crook in the creek had exposed a wide band of white clay that could be mixed with water and turned into poor man’s paint.
Where the pasture ended, the woods began, rambling over a ridge and into a steep hidden valley on either side of a mossy-sided brook where I once caught crawfish and watched chipmunks play. Towering oaks provided a high canopy that gave refuge to the squirrels I used to hunt, and in their deep shade my grandmother taught me to identify pitcher plants and fiddle-head ferns and the occasional jack-in-the-pulpit.
Untold deer were taken in those woods, though none by me. I didn’t have the heart for that, but I loved to tramp down into the hollow and sit on the trunk of an old deadfall hickory and listen to the world breathe. When I try, I can still hear he drone of cicadas punctuated by the call of a crow, the chatter of a squirrel, the leafy splash of a falling acorn.
Stories also populated the Spring Woods: how the Indians used to hunt there, how my great-uncles Pete and Aaron hid their moonshine in old stump holes, how big the deer was that got away.
I loved those woods, as did my brothers. Just knowing they were there was a comfort.
But change is the way of the world, and ownership of the woods passed to a cousin who chose to harvest the timber and clear it out some. There’s nothing wrong with that; the woods may come back healthier, if different. For the moment, the verdant dark of the woods is a dusty jumble of twisted detritus, with a few scattered pines on the hills and a thin line of hardwoods left by the stream to satisfy environmental regulations.
I wandered across it last weekend, musing that we’d have to change the name to “the Spring Barrens” or “Winter Knob,” though I know we’ll continue to call it “the Spring Woods.” I mourned the change but reminded myself that the dust will settle, new plants will grow, and life there will go on as a different sort of ecosystem emerges.
Perhaps the wounded woods offer an appropriate metaphor for the dark end of Holy Week, reminders of sore loss and deep sorrow, redeemed by the hope of resurrection.