The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Granddaughter stars on discovery channel

Bluebird hovers at the houseOn the way from one place to another, she and me and Grady the Golden and the Jeep crossed over a stream. She saw the herd of cattle enjoying the summer afternoon.

“That’s pretty cool,” I commented.

She gave me a thumbs up.

A short distance along, I pointed out where the same stream crossed under the road, and a couple turns later, crossed again, going the other way. It turned out, when I measured on the computerized map at my desk, the distance the stream had covered – across a field, behind several houses and a farm – was about 500 feet less than I had driven the vehicle.

We don’t say much to each other when we’re out like that. I can live without conversation if there is no one around, and I can hike long distances even with a companion and trade no more than a few words. On the other hand, I like to explain things and point out discoveries, and I crave at least a small grunt in acknowledgement.

Someone who doesn’t know her would think she was not paying attention.

So she did not become excited when we found the spider with the huge spiked bag on her back. And the youngster just stood and looked when we happened upon a tiny gray toad, about an inch long, trying to blend in with the roots of an oak sapling.

A hundred or so feet up the stream, I showed her where the water, when it was higher from a heavy rainfall, had deposited gravel in what had been a mini-pool, and I pointed out piles of brush amassed on curves and between trees as the post-storm raceway had struggled, sometimes unsuccessfully, to contain the rushing flow.

She found a small, flat stone and scaled it at the calm wide spot in the watercourse. It plunked to a stop with a small splash. She tried again, with the same success. I looked around for a couple candidate skippers, and found one I liked. Standing beside her, I side-armed the irregularly rounded mini-saucer at the water and got a couple skips before it stopped at the opposite bank.

I gave her another stone. This time, she got a four skips from it, and went in search of more of the right specimens. She started having reliable success, then decided it was time to see what could be found elsewhere.

She stepped into the water, stepping from rock to rock across the run, then turned to come back. At one point, she slipped and her flip-flop came off. She chased it down, and I commented, “that’s why you wear sneakers or hiking sandals when you’re in the woods.”

She scooped up handfuls of fine gravel and made a pile on an exposed rock surface, then used both hands to scoop and splash water against the pile until she had washed it all back to its place on the streambed. Then she started “painting” the gravel onto her arm, slowly so the water could drain and the almost-sand stick to her skin. She washed it off, then repeated the process.

I asked her later why she did that.

“I don’t know,” she replied quietly, with a hint of a smile.

I think I know. She knows something few of her fellow 11-year-old friends know – the shape of a rock that will skip across calm water, and the feel of fine gravel being washed off her arm by handfuls of water from a crystalline stream.

It’s taken me awhile to learn my job is simply to put her and the stream in the same place, and sit back and watch my very own Discovery Channel.

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful story. I take my boys to local county and state parks but they seem more interested in the playgrounds. The oldest one (7) is and has always been particularly observant. His first word was tree, said a couple months before he said mama. He picks up leaves and feels their texture and notices its shape. He puts bits of grass and twigs in an empty water bottle, then adds tiny creatures, often slugs. He’s noticed that slugs are snails without shells.

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