This may be my longest blog yet:
I have been feverishly cleaning out my basement in
preparation for a garage sale. Last night I came across a myriad of memorabilia,
including tons of old photographs. One stack of photos I found is from about
five years ago and the subject is the junkyard in the woods behind my
grandparents’ house. (It is not so much a junkyard as a ravine behind about a
dozen houses where people dumped their unwanted crap over the years). Until I
found the photos, I had forgotten all about the spontaneous afternoon we spent
exploring and documenting the untamed playground of my childhood.
One afternoon in the very early spring, my longtime friend and roommate at the time, Mary, and I decided to go for a hike in the woods with our cameras. All I had was a throw-away Kodak, which ended up taking decent pictures for a disposable camera. We mostly took pictures of the deteriorating old cars that people used to push down into the creek bed when they were beyond repair. My grandparents were not above this crime of littering; if I have the story right, the old green Studebaker truck was theirs until they rolled it over the hill.
A little background: I lived in my grandparents’ basement apartment for about two years before I got married, but I really grew up traipsing through those woods on a regular basis. My best friend Shandi lived in a little neighborhood about a three minute walk away, and together she, my sister Amanda, and I would spend hours exploring the woods. Sometimes we would get lost and have to follow the creek until we found our way home. By then, our scrawny little legs would be scratched and bleeding from briars and our arms covered in mosquito bites, but we would be happy just to be in familiar territory again, close enough to hear the clang of my Grandma’s cast iron dinner bell clanging in the distance.
The woods behind my grandparents’ house were and are a juxtaposition of beauty and garbage. Not all of the forest was a junkyard; if you walked far enough you wandered into areas of untouched loveliness-delicate wildflower covering the hillside like a lush carpet of white and fuzzy green moss growing on stones in the small, trickling creek. I am not sure if it was the beauty of the outdoors or the sense of freedom I experienced by being allowed to meander for hours on my own, but the forest was something magical to me. I would wander around and lose myself in my own imagination, inventing little worlds and kingdoms that existed only to me.
Even as a kid, the junkyard condition of the woods both fascinated me and sickened me. I knew the woods had lost much of their beauty and natural wildlife over the decades because my mom would tell me tales of a noisy rushing creek that teemed with minnows and frogs, unlike the little trickle of today that sometimes forms puddles inhabited by the occasional crawfish. She told me she once saw a mama quail followed by her tiny babies. My grandparents had a small orchard business for a while and the hill on the opposite side of the ravine was covered in apple trees.
Because of all the stories my mother told me of her childhood in the woods, I would sometimes imagine the ghost of my mother as a little girl trailing behind me, a friendly companion from another era. Even then, I was nostalgic for a time I had never lived in. I would often uncover old glass soda bottles with names now unknown to my generation, lovely glass medicine bottles so unlike the amber-colored plastic of today.
I always preferred to imagine the woods they way they were before I was born. To this day, I still have dreams centered around those woods. They were a huge part of my childhood and will forever remain a part of some of my happiest memories.