Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Memories of Thanksgivings past found in the woods
In a few days Thanksgiving will be with us, a time of reflection — of remembrances of days gone by — of special days with family and friends.
From the time I was allowed to walk the woods by myself, Thanksgiving morning meant a "hunt" in the forest. I'd throw a wooden stick (my imagined fowling piece) over my shoulder and start out in search of a turkey for dinner.
As youthful years pressed me forward, the woods in back of Grandfather's farm became a sanctuary — a quiet place to work my imagination. Those walks became a tradition.
Now, in my "Indian summer" years, I take my walks in memory, not in reality. In them, I have a choice to return to youthful days or later days as I recall past Thanksgivings.
Looking out my window I'll see only an isolated few of once fall-brilliant leaves turning listlessly in the wind. Most now have dropped from our maple trees — trees that gave shade from a hot summer's sun. Those once high-colored, hanging paintings, now lie rain-washed-dull. They cling tightly to the ground with a grip that impedes easy raking. Eventually, though, their hold will slip — as mine has — on the warmth of summer. All too soon winter winds will force black branches to move their shadows across seeming lifeless sunlit spaces.
As late November skies darken, the first flakes of swirling snow will drift downward and at storm's end will cover the settled leaves. When skies lighten, the voices of the wind will gentle. Quiet sets in. A hushed gray and white New Hampshire will be readied for a winter's sleep.
Whenever I begin my usual Thanksgiving walks I take the pasture lane that leads me to my beloved brook. How welcome its voice. It rushes down from the hill and moves swiftly to the open meadow, then at a slower pace heads for the river. I like to hear its full-throated sounds ringing through the woods. Contrary, on its journey through the meadow, it merely mumbles.
I like to see the brook's sunlit, flashing colors as they leap at me from out the splashing water. I seize its beauty and press it as carefully in my memory as I would a flower, given with love.
On a fair day the leaf-strewn path beside the brook is dappled by beams of streaming sun. Leaves of wintergreen, bright green in spring, now summer-worn, poke through the forest thatch to offer their red berries, so flavorful on the tongue. Here and there straight young maple trees reach skyward grasping for what light percolates the heavy leaf canopy above them. Within what light their is, miniature perfect leaves shimmer.
After a fall rain the brook hustles downward. Rushing water picks up sticks and twigs broken by the wind. In their travels down the coursing water they become as wooden crafts, bumping along the stony bottom and against the softer stream bank. Occasionally a twig will spear a fallen leaf, emerge as a tiny sail boat with barren mast, twist and turn for a while, but not long does it remain upright.
When its speed is slack, the brook runs cool and black. As it flows from shade to sun, clear and lightly rippled it becomes. And, when the rushing brook speaks above the breeze it sounds a high-born note, full-mouthed and more sharp to the ear. Within the woods above the moving water, passing breezes twist held-fast leaves upon their stems. Their colors shift from dark to pale, then back to dark again. I take note of the way the fallen leaves crisscross one another. O'er the top of them, the wind-tossed, near bare limbs weave their thin shadow-tapestry across the forest floor.
Later on, as the snow becomes piled high along the fence rows, the pasture lane is a reminder that the time to bring in the cows from pasture has long passed. Looking across the meadow, I see a spread of sun-struck silver that stretches to where the woods interrupt the flatter view. The northwest hill, the up-grade of its forest trees is steep. A ridge of ledge at the top catches my eye. The naked ledges of granite gaze across a valley that lies between two heights of land. Both are softly clothed with tree cover and appear equally noble, for both guard my beloved brook.
Recent remembrances fade. Former Thanksgiving days drift to mind. An open patch of ice on Grandfather's meadow beckoned. After locking my double-runner skates onto my shoes and tightening them with a key, what fun it was to go skating on those ice patches. Not always able to cling to an upright position, the ice's lack of depth allowed my fall to be softened by the grasses beneath the crazed ice.
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.