The Woods

The woods of my youth grew complete with creek and wildlife. I knew every nest, den, and footprint. In summer briars, snakes, and mosquitoes swarmed into the woods. In winter they retreated, surrendering a fey, brittle place where I got lost for hours without ever getting lost. Escorted by a pack of dogs, sometimes by the bravest of our cats, I chased over and around and through the creek, straggling home at dusk muddy and matted with burrs.

In early spring lamprey came to spawn. I gloated over the lamprey, certain they lived nowhere else of consequence. Each March I knelt for hours beside the shallows where they dug their nests. I counted them and marveled at their spots and stripes. I cupped my hands under them and watched them wiggle free over my fingers.

I’m sure I did other things, had other habits and hobbies. But my memory is overgrown, buried in underbrush and fallen leaves, forever snarled in the woods. Should I return now, I don’t believe I’d find my woods. Only a few acres of trees and a little stream.

So where does my nostalgia lead? Not back into the woods. But spending time with these pictures feels like an invaluable luxury in my busy world of adult anxieties.

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I wrote this piece a few years ago. I’m reposting it now because these pictures have been calling to me. They are more than shadow and light, more than pixels. They rustle like leaves and smell like wet, happy dogs. (All four dogs are long passed and well grieved.) I can almost taste the crisp air from that misty day in 1992, a rare elixir of youth and solitude and happiness. Perhaps, despite my earlier claim, this nostalgia DOES lead back into the woods.