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The Hundred-Acre Wood

Sunday, January 7, 2007


Although I deeply appreciate your enthusiasm for our little sanctuary and the stories it contains, as a onetime assessor of habitat quality for the Nature Conservancy, I know in my rational brain that this woods is nothing special. It's been grazed and cut over too many times to count, it is eroded and exploited, and it's still struggling to recover a fraction of its former diversity and glory. All it needs is time, and we're giving it time. It gets a little more special with each passing year. But in truth, it is special to me, because it is ours to protect. The core of its enchanted nature: It's being looked at a lot more closely than most given 80-acre parcels.

The same could be said of Chet Baker. He's really nothing extraordinary, any more than anyone else's dog, despite what I may think as his proud owner. He's cute and smart and comical, but all dogs are. The difference is that Chet has a dedicated chronicler of his every move, down on her stomach taking pictures of him as he goes about his doggly bidness. Listening to dogs having a barkarama down Goss' Fork, here. His spirit, captured. Did Erma Bombeck lead an extraordinary life? She'd have been the first to deny it. What she did was use the ordinary to create something extraordinary. We all responded not so much to the events she described as the way she described them and brought them to our attention as funny or poignant. Noticing what was funny or quirky was her art. I feel that noticing things like bottle gardens is my work. I find the best things when I head off in a direction I've never taken before. A good metaphor for the creative journey.


It makes me happy to think that "The Hopes of Ferns" post might inspire someone to get off the trail and kick around behind an old homesite. I think that most of us are too afraid of getting lost in the woods, bitten by a snake, or caught doing something illegal, so we mindlessly stay on the beaten path and miss a lot of the coolest experiences by doing so. We let our fear be our guide, and fear is a dull guide.

Down in the woods to the left of this road that I travel every day is a pond, and in that pond is an enormous breeding population of red-spotted newts. It is the most magical of places. Would you know it by looking at the road? Would you know it if you sat in your car every afternoon, waiting for the bus to come at 4:18 p.m., and never made the time to take the kids down the enchanted path?
People leave traces of their inhabitance everywhere, and the visible efforts of nature to repatriate old homesteads are very moving to me. I owe that spirit of curiosity to my dad, who loved to poke around in tumbledown sheds and bring home relics. When I was old enough, I joined him, though he was always afraid I'd fall through the floors when I ventured upstairs (especially spooky!). Nobody else much liked going upstairs, and I still climb the stairs of abandoned buildings in a half-crouch. As for taking relics: I'd clean up those liniment bottles, and leave a few for the greenhouse fairies. I felt Emily Morgenstern smiling as I picked up her watering can. I think the spirits would rather see their belongings--even their discards-- being appreciated than left to moulder. Abandoned homesteads aren't tombs with a curse. They're just what they are--poignant leftovers for most to ignore, and a few to cherish.

On leaving Baker home: A touch of melancholy and loneliness pervades most of my favorite songs. It's a potent creative kicker. I had a huge lump in my throat as I walked out alone--it reminded me of my first shopping trip without Liam in the seat of the grocery cart. He was in his first morning of preschool, and as nice as it was not to have to buy animal crackers and open them before buying them, I cried all the way through the market. I didn't realize how absorbed I had become in Baker's enjoyment of the woods--seeing it through his eyes-- until his happy little presence was taken away. Dogs do change one's encounters with and perception of things. Like squirrels, foxes, turkeys and deer, to name four. I have two weeks to think about how taking Chet Baker along changes my experience in the woods. (Taking Liam to the grocery store certainly changes that experience!) By walking without him, Ill be able to see better what walking with him actually is. I'll see the negative space he leaves. And perhaps I'll be able to alter my brisk "dog-walker" pace and outlook when he's finally able to rejoin me. There are runes on the beech trees, and they all need to be deciphered, so I must be going.

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