When we first saw our house 37 years ago, it was about this time of year. It was a traditional Cape built in 1929 and occupied by only one family all that time. We fell in love instantly. There were old lilacs and many trees even with the tiny lot. The house itself was old and very small, rundown and in need of a lot of work. We didn’t care. It was in a neighborhood I had played in many times as a child, was within walking distance of downtown, the elementary school and the beach, was on the town sewer and it was still a neighborhood for families and children.
We knew from the start it needed us and we needed it. Our children grew up here, pets arrived as puppies and kittens and faded away as old timers when their time came. Our grandchildren think of it as their house, too. We love the light in the house in the early morning, the late morning, the early afternoon, the late afternoon, and the early evening. We love it with snow, with rain, with fog and full sun. We know every creak and crack, every drafty window, and every spot a cat will knock a plant off to sit in the sun. We have grown old here amongst neighbors we’ve known for years, and it is our hope to stay here as long as we can. It is our comfort zone, our comfort home.
As ice has melted off the trails and paths in the woods this past week I have found myself drawn back to places I’ve always loved. When you live in the same place a long time you have many favorite places, each with their own special memories and adventures. Over time layers and layers form as each new visit brings a new perspective, or maybe just a bit of reassurance in the familiarity. There’s comfort foods, but comfort places as well, I think.
A recent walk around a pond brought up many of these thoughts. It’s a walk I’ve taken for 60 years. I no longer walk the perimeter of the pond in the water with a pail to carry captured tadpoles in, but I could. In fact, why don’t I? I may have to do that when it gets warmer.
If you’re a walker and nature observer you probably have your own favorite places to walk, to sit, to enjoy and take in the day. Perhaps you like to find the first mayflowers, the first lady slippers and the first nesting robins of the season. These things can all be found in many places, but I bet there’s one you know you can count on, one that has special meaning for you. Maybe your dad pointed out mayflowers there or your grandmother showed you where the robin’s nest was. It could have been a school field trip that showed you where the vernal pool was or just a wander with friends to look for frogs and snakes.
Some of us walk for exercise or to see birds and flowers. Some walk to remember and some walk to forget. Walking in the woods is good for all these things. Being surrounded by trees that have grown tall and strong over the years, in spite of wild weather and random brush fires, is comforting in a way that is difficult to explain.
If you were a tree climber like I was, you may remember the joys of sitting high on a branch, watching the world below. There you were with the birds and the squirrels, hidden by leaves, your back warm and tender against the scratchy bark of the tree. Maybe you read a book there or chewed on a blade of grass. Daydreaming was my activity of choice up high in the trees. I could watch clouds for hours, make up stories as I watched chickadees and nuthatches stuff their beaks with bugs to feed their little ones. I always hoped to see a deer from up high but never did.
As I made my way around the pond on this sunny morning, I waited while my dog sniffed his way along. He is the fifth dog I’ve brought to this place, not counting the two dogs I grew up with. He’s getting old and slow but so am I. We hear a rustle in the leaves and a little red squirrel jumps out and races across the path in front of us. Once secure on a branch not too far from us, the squirrel lets loose with a long litany of scolds. It makes me laugh. This same area is where little red squirrels have raised families for generations. It is also a place where towhees nest and where painted turtles come to lay their eggs in the sunny, sandy spots off to the side of the path.
As I walk I take note of the bright green patches of moss on fallen tree trunks, the rocks on the path and the tired leaves of last year’s mayflowers. It won’t be long before the new leaves poke out and then the tiny blossoms will appear and bloom.
I pass one vernal pool and then another and I think of all the spring peepers I’ve heard, all the wood frogs that sound like ducks when they call and the American toads that trill later in the spring. Whole concerts have been heard here, both amphibian and bird. A Cooper’s hawk lets loose with a strident call as it flies overhead. Another familiar friend in its usual place.
There’s comfort in visiting places with layers of memories and stories. In these times of uncertainty and unease, a good walk in a familiar place may be what the doctors should be ordering. Now if only one could sign up for a vaccine by whispering to the wind.