Friday, July 14, 2006

For the Love of Nature... Part I

A recent reading of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, brought some interesting questions to mind.

I was asked what I did as a child, in nature. Truth be told, I did not think I had done much (especially when compared with the other ladies in the group) but when I thought about it harder, I realized I had done more than I thought.

When I was little, we lived in Essex, England (I’m English, but I live in the States). I don’t recall much about it there, but I do remember the ‘beach’ by the river. I apparently loved the river :)

At the age of four, we moved to Kent. We were not far from my Uncle and Aunt, who had a garden I dearly loved. It was there that I’d sit in the old Elderberry tree, fascinated with the wine my uncle brewed from the berries. It was there that I picked chives and ate them. My brother called it onion grass and was forever picking it (rather like my son now *LOL*). It was there that we helped pick beans, raspberries, blackberries, apples and tomatoes. My uncle had quite the vegetable garden going, and he always gave some to us (something which we children LOVED and anticipated). Perhaps that is where my love of vegetables comes from!

Across the street from them was an old cart track, down which we would walk. I loved to cross the stile (being very careful of the stinging nettles- although I knew how to find the dock leaf remedy for them) and collect snail shells there.

Our own garden was overgrown for a while (our mower broke) and we loved to play ‘jungle’ in the long grass. We were fascinated with slowworms (legless lizards-look below) and other wildlife that congregated there… particularly birds and the neighbour’s rabbit, which we found, loved dock leaves to eat.

Mum took us for walks into town, because we had no car, and our favourite trip, was down by the river. The walk was quite a long one, being a little over a mile, and was very tiring for the short legs that made it four or five miles with all the running and backtracking! We loved the path, the willow trees (under which we hid), and the ducks and swans on the river. When we were lucky, we’d take bread to feed the ducks, geese and swans. In the spring, we’d watch the mother duck with her ducklings, swimming on the castle moat. We’d try to feed the squirrel babies too, but only the mother was tame enough to feed. We’d throw sticks into the weir and watch them tumble over and under the bridge. We’d play ‘Pooh Sticks’ like Winnie-the-Pooh and pretend to be the Billy Goats Gruff when we crossed the wooden bridge.

You can see the town in photos here... they are very good :)

There were horses in the field across the road from us, and occasionally we’d go to pet them or give them a mint to eat.

When I went to school, we’d walk to the bus stop (if we had time), taking the track through old alley ways and dirt roads. The myriad weeds and rocks we saw here were very interesting to us… as was the playground in the alleyway! We only got to stop there on the way back home though!

We had one path TOO the bus stop and one path home from it… making our trips interesting. We commented on the trees in bloom or the other things we saw.

One year, one of my teachers at school started the Countryside Club. To join, we had to learn the names of a number of trees, flowers and birds. I soon got to know most of the trees, flowers and birds that I came into contact with.

When I was 10, we moved. This time, our house was more rural.

There was a field over the road and woods behind the house. In the winter, we’d explore the woods, squealing as the snow dropped down our necks.

There were old abandoned shacks in there, dating back to World War II… in these we found an old mangle, and myriad other interesting things.

In the summer, we’d walk around the field. There was a field beyond it in all 3 other directions, and we’d follow around those too… peering into a pond, looking at the hedgerows.

In May, there were bluebells that carpeted the woodland beyond the second field, and I liked to walk around the woods then. There were tracks, carved out by dirt bikers, but the woodland was old. It was named Badgerdell Woods because it housed a 500-year-old badger sett.

Beyond the woods, you could look down on the towns below, and the motorway (Interstate) that ran along there, and if you turned, you could look back along the fields that you had travelled.

When I walked the dog, I liked to go into the treed area down the street. This connected to the woodland behind the house, if you were willing to traverse all the nettles and brambles in there! There were pits all over, because there used to be a brick works there. Some people had dumped junk into one of them, much to our horror.

I liked to count the small ‘Cuckoo-pint’ plants when walking the dog… they were very obvious in summer when they were covered in berries, and I recall walking along counting how many I saw, competing with my sister to see who saw the most! (In the picture, it has berries).

Our garden was interesting too. Our back, there was an empty lot, which we had the use of. When we moved, it housed two cooking apple trees, gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant and loganberry bushes, a patch of rhubarb and long grass. We played in the long grass, and picked the fruit. Mum made a delicious Summer Pudding with the berries and some bread.

In the spring, I’d pick rhubarb for her to make rhubarb crumble with. This did not occur often as Dad did not like rhubarb, and Mum did not like crumble… *I* however, loved them both!

At Easter time, I’d pick mint for Mum to make mint sauce. I’d hunt underneath the blooming, bubblegum scented, Mock Orange bushes, to see if I could find any. I always did!

Mum and Dad would grow vegetables in containers and Gro-Bags on the patio. Here I’d pick lettuce and tomatoes for them, or various herbs, which were used in cooking. I am lucky enough to have grown up with a mother who was a GREAT cook!

We always had a bird feeder up and a pair of binoculars ready to take a look at the birds there (or squirrels). Bird books were handy too.

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