Instead of flooding the earth with more rain, the sky was flooded with the perfect blue of a high-pressure system. Light breezes rocked tulip poplars, white oaks, and sycamores in the nearby woods. It was a day for meandering deep into the hollow, and through a field of thigh-high broom sage, now August-worn.
I am reminded of the Last Child in the Woods when I wander. This summer, an owner of an “ice cream” van who wandered neighborhoods in search of children shared with me there were no longer children at play in yards, or tree houses, or on the sidewalks. She found that her ringtone horn brought no one clamoring for a rocket pop to the sidewalk unless pre-arranged for a birthday party. “Where are the children?” she asked.
When I walked the fields, woods, unpaved roads, and backyard today, I was reminded why I still love the seeking of undiscovered possibilities of the natural environment, and why there never should be a last child in the woods.
It seems as if just yesterday, I was such a child wandering the fields, woods, and swamps of the low country, caught by the sun filtering through Spanish moss and the scream of the Pileated Woodpecker flitting from Cypress tree to live oak. Such meandering uncovered an afternoon of I-Search moments for me in my childhood yesterdays, and for me again today. What was the raccoon – if it was a raccoon – hunting last night at the water’s edge?
Or, why did the Eastern box turtle, a study in slow locomotion, get motivated to cross a gravel road?
In the garden, a Snowberry Clearwing moth allowed me to slide close enough to capture its image while it hovered a whisper above the blooms of a butterfly bush.
How could I not wonder what secrets its evolution holds, this moth that so closely mimics the hummingbird?
This perfection of a blue-sky day led me up a well-washed gravel road, one once traveled by natives, colonials, revolutionists, presidents, citizen-soldiers in blue and grey, farmers’ families, country doctors, hunters, and now the occasional mountain biker. I imagined what it would be like to stream together the generations of inhabitants and wanderers who have traveled into this hollow and over the sagging mountain for which the road is named. What questions would we have for each other? We might ask, what led us here? What do we share?
There’s patience to be learned in the natural world that I inhabited today. I stood in a roadbed with a bank that extends 10 feet over my head. How long did it take to wear the soil down until a vein of quartz now lies exposed? And, what about the rounded chain of mountains through which I walk? How much time needed to pass for them to become great-grandfather mountains, unlike the mere youth of today’s spiked Rockies?
I’ve been led outdoors over a lifetime to find things that I otherwise would not know. I am drawn to a palette of watchet-blue of Virginia Day Flowers and the purple of thistles to which tiger swallowtails cling. On this day, amidst a brushing together of leaves in the slight breeze and an occasional cacophony of cicadas, there is much that remains silent- no planes overhead, their flights grounded by the hurricane.
In remembering the conversation with the ice-cream van entrepreneur, I am reminded today of silent children who spend their moments mostly inside the built environment, removed from the wonders of backyards, sidewalks, fields, woods, and ponds – and I consider what they’ve lost.