The road less travelled

The road less travelled

The little path down the woods, covered in autumnal foliage, was — and is — still the favourite playing field for kids



By Melinda L. Wentzel

Published: Fri 25 Nov 2011, 6:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:11 AM

I remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment — the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilisation it seemed. The place where a delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts — one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer — untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road, we’d barrel down the gully — half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks — eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there — foraging through the woods and hiding out in our ramshackle forts — were ravenously consumed chapters of our lives I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time, I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late — a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift — only the leaves back then had long since burst with colour, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favourite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

· Planet Mom: It’s where Melinda lives Visit her at: www.melindawentzel.com and www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom

· The author is the winner of the 2009-2010 Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association Editorial Award for Original Writing — Category: Personal Column.


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