I am teaching my children to read the landscape, to navigate their childhood wilderness. I am sharing the place based wisdom and woods lore of my tribe. I am reconfirming my own connection to a piece of ground as central to my being as any on Earth, to those I have loved who loved this place, and those people we were when we, too, were young.
I have lived long enough to have decades of place memory, tracking changes through the years in the trees, shore and sea at the head of Buzzards Bay. I notice the dusty rose drifts of slipper shells along the beach and wonder what great imbalance beneath the waters has produced this superabundance of a single species. I see the remnant in a maturing white pine forest, clinging to closing pieces of canopy. I believe it has been thirty years or more since this land supported wood cock or bobwhite quail. Another great gale could reset the clock of succession, as indeed the cups and pillows of tip up mounds in the sandy forest floor can attest. Other changes may well be irreversible, like the slowly rising waters of the Bay that overtop the breakwater at high tide as they never did in my youth.
They are curious children: my dark eyed daughter of nine years a feminist since birth, and my blond, freckled son who first learns the rules and then improvises his own theme. Emily loves to orchestrate, and marinates in words. Elias has a pitch perfect ear and an imagination to match his big sister's. They are boon companions, saplings seeking light. Emily is a beech, her generous limbs bending low for climbing. Elias is a maple, with pinwheeling seeds and inner sweetness. Are they also, like beeches, survivors of permanent scars? Will someone core them to distill that sugar? And can I who sired them ever prune their wind damaged branches, or trust that they have landed on good soil and can find their way despite what I know and do? Fore and hindsight intertwine when we walk through these woods, and wheels turn within wheels.
The best that I am, and the best I have to give to these I love above all, is this grounding to carry them forward. To dissipate the charge and let the jolts pass through without consuming them. To sustain their sense of wonder and connection. And yet, what comes from them, as Lincoln knew so well, is"far above our poor power to add or detract."
On a subsequent walk by the windswept shore, my children ranged ahead of me, quartering like hounds on the scent of fresh discoveries. They stopped, and Elias called out; "Dad! We've found a story!" Then he added; "Emily thinks it's kind of gross, but I think maybe it isn't." He then explained to me the mess of breast feathers and bloody cavity of mourning dove they had found. "Something came walking along here, Dad, and it found a bird, and ate it." They had indeed found a story, and one we are forever retelling. I cannot improve upon this. I can only love and let live.