Pilot Knob glows like an amethyst in the last slanting rays of the setting sun; the whole mountain is bathed in soft lavender color.

Our hills are still wrapped in the arms of winter; the trees are bare of leaves, yet the woods have an expectant waiting look, as if they are longing for the touch of spring. It is a miracle every year when the hills are covered in snow, and icicles hang down from the rock cliffs, how spring can transform the bare trees with new leaves and the ground can put forth new green growth.

The landscape looks drab and dreary, yet down underneath the surface tiny rootlets are growing and expanding. When spring touches our hills with a warm hand, the little roots will send sprouts growing upward until our land is covered with lush, new growth. This is a waiting time — for us and the little plants underground.

Until then, the winter woods have an austere beauty all their own. Cold weather did not deter us from roaming the hills and woods when we were kids; we played outdoors in all but the most extreme temperatures. These mild winter days makes me remember … when the sun would shine on the fields of broomsage, highlighting the golden-wheat color … and the dry, whispery rustle of the stalks as we ran through the clumps playing hide-and-seek … how the wind would blow through the field, moving the broom sage in undulating waves.

We played in the woods all winter … crossing the creek at the Big Rock and winding our way up the hill … the ground underfoot would be wet and spongy with its mat of thick leaves and humus … patches of moss shone bright green, and decaying logs were covered with a thick green coating. The trees were bare, of course, but scrubby pines stood out here and there … we would stop and examine a bird’s nest … knowing the bird had long flown, but curious anyway … sometimes there would be the fragment of an eggshell … and we marveled at the intricate workmanship of the nest … sometimes with horse hair neatly wound around and around.

The woods were not deserted by any means. We would catch the glimpse of a big-eyed field mouse … scurrying across our path to disappear into a hole … an indignant chipmunk perched on a log, his tail jerking furiously … loudly chirking in no uncertain terms that we were on his territory. We would examine the animal tracks … thrilled when we discovered a “big” deer track … which was probably where the milk cow slipped in the soft mud.

Single-file, we tried to walk like Indians in the woods … carefully avoiding the dry sticks and crunchy leaves … watching fearfully lest a half-naked savage  stepped out from behind a tree with his tomahawk poised. I loved the woods, even in winter.

Country kids are at home in the woods … we could identify the sweet birch twigs by their spotted bark, even in winter … we would break off and chew these flavorsome tidbits … along with the pungent spicewood bark … and last year’s mountain tea leaves, edged with brown, tough and slightly bitter … we ate it all. I remember tasting the wild ginger leaves; heart-shaped, light green veined with a darker green … I can still taste the acrid, “medicinEy” taste — nothing seemed to hurt us.

The pine thickets were my favorite place to play … branches thick-laced to form a cozy hideaway for children … the sun would coax the entrancing, resinous fragrance into the air … the dry, brown needles forming a carpet underneath. Sometimes there would be little pockets of unmelted snow deep in these thickets where the sunshine couldn’t reach … the pine groves always spoke to me of mysterious things … private worlds … delicious secrets … and they still do.

I want to go back to those winter woods again … these same woods. I want to cross the creek at the Big Rock, although the rock looks so much smaller now, and the creek is different. I want to climb up the hill, covered with dry leaves, and find winter-blasted mountain tea, wild ginger and birch bark. I want to disappear into the pine grove and feel its mystery reach out to surround me as of old.

However, I cannot re-enter that long-ago world inhabited only by children and barred to adults forevermore. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the other side … and memories abound. But, oh! There are times when I wish I could go back.

I guess there is a longing in most older people (like me!) to return, at least in their minds, to an earlier, more innocent time when childhood was carefree and the days were long and happy.  (In retrospect, anyway — time has a way of making the happy times happier, and the bad times dimmer.) I received a poem from my cousin Bobby (Frank Samples) who lives in Florida. When he was younger, he owned and piloted his airplane wherever he wished. Now he revels in his memories, just as I do.

 

                                                     TO FLY

By Frank S. (Bobby) Samples

I have risen from the mundane view of sometimes boring scenes

And had the chance to see this world in marvelous machines.

I loved the sight of woods and streams and houses small below

That only those who soar above are privileged to know.

The far horizon beckons one to reach for distant skies

Where lakes and fields and quaint new towns and towering mountains rise.

Ah, just to leave earth’s shackles is wonderful to find

That all the cares of life below are driven from the mind.

No wonder the Creator who looks down from above

Preserves this jewel we call Earth, because of His great love.