The woods are the same for man and boy.
April 18, 2014
A VG Serial: Hills of Eden
There were two woods for me when I was a boy. There was the play wood that bordered the 16-acre pasture near the house. That was where I built my secret fort, stored my wooden guns, my pine-cone hand grenades, my inner tube rubber bullets. Across the road from the barn, the servant’s quarters, the chicken coop, hog pens, and stables, there was the big wood with the tall pines, the chittering fox squirrels, the secretive wood duck nests, all the mysteries of big, empty forests. That wood was where the raccoon, the ‘possum, the woodcock, the bobwhite quail dwelled.
That wood, too, was where the guinea hens made their nests, and though I tracked them many a day, I never found a single nest or egg. This wood was where I went to listen to the great silence, to block out the sounds of my small civilization across the road. We lived on Cross Lake then, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and had few, seldom-seen neighbors.
A black man lived in the woods. He did little work, but hunted and trapped for his subsistence. I saw him a few times, asked him his name once. He said it was Big Boy and that was what those who knew about him called him. But I stayed far away from his shack when I roamed the woods and I never saw him when I was hunting out there. He was big, and he was fearsome to a boy of eight whose imagination ran like the rushing waters of a millrace.
Those woods are gone now. The farm is gone, too. Gone from the earth, but not from mind.
I wonder now if my life course was not set back there in those southern boyhood woods, the woods of play and the woods of silence. I did not take up the gun and become a soldier. I chose the pen instead. And, here in the Ozarks, I found the woods of silence, the place where I can go to shed the impedimenta of civilization, the steel armor of ego, the sword of anger, the lance of resentment.
The feel of oak bark against the palm is oddly comforting at such silent, solitary times when I go into the woods. There, I sit on a fallen giant of a tree and listen to the strange ancient music of forests, away from the daily concerns of commerce and the bellowing blat of the business world.
In silent woods, the poetry returns, the memories of a childhood of islands among trees a good forty yards tall. I remembered, the other day in the woods, some lines from a poem Dylan Thomas wrote on his thirty-fifth birthday (he did not celebrate many more before his rich Welch singing voice was stilled in New York), when he heard “the bouncing hills Grow larked and greener at berry brown Fall and the dew larks sing Taller this thunderclap spring…”
I felt the lyrics move through me as they moved through him.
And, in silent Ozarks woods, my own child-owned woods came back to me in full bloom, green and golden with columns of sunlight pouring on the acorn-strewn earth. The cleared land rose up again in my mind, bigger than ever, and I remembered the secret ponds, the thrilling terror of a covey of bobwhite bursting from cover, the whispering wings of a timberdoodle climbing straight up in defiance of gravity and the laws of flight.
I remembered when I was “green and carefree, famous among the barns about the happy yard and singing as the farm was home. In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means, And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, And the Sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams.”
Like Dylan Thomas, I had my own Fern Hill and though it is gone like my childhood, it lives again in these Ozarks woods, springing forth like a seldom Brigadoon when the sun is high and I sit beneath a scaly-bark hickory, all alone, of an indeterminate age, a boy again, perhaps, or only a man who has not forgotten from whence comes all strength.
In secret woods I lookup at the hills and I feel strong again and remember when I, too, was “young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green…”
And though the woods are different, somehow they seem the same for both boy and man.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.