Some of the happiest outings of my parents and grandparents and I were treks in the woods. Sometimes it was a trip that ended in the Davy Crockett National Forest, where we walked under the many different types of pine trees and competed to see who could name the species first. I loved the “loblolly” pine. Who wouldn’t with a name like that? Then we’d rest on a bench and unpack our lunch of ham sandwiches, Fritos and Dr. Peppers.
Often we’d go to the woods for a different purpose – to get humus (not the edible hummus!), the wonderful soil that is produced by decaying leaves. Rich in nutrients and marvelous in texture, it is perfect for flowerbeds. Instant naturally composted topsoil! We’d bring our bucket and shovel and set out driving down the back roads, eyes peeled for side roads and a promising stand of thick trees and healthy undergrowth. All the while we’d be watching carefully for the “Posted, No Trespassing” signs that we often encountered. We knew to steer clear of them, especially the homemade ones with a rifle sketched underneath misspelled words. “Trespassers will be shot on sight” was also effective.
But it would always end in a good tramp in the woods, as we carried our bucket, shovel and Field Guide to Wildflowers. You never knew, after all, when you might spot something you’d never seen before. Soon we’d be shoveling a bucketful of rich earth, inhaling that wonderful fragrance that is so dear to the heart of every country lover.
The biggest thrills of these trips were the wildflowers we encountered. I still remember my first Jack-in-the-pulpit. And of course there were always the beautiful Texas bluebonnets that lined the highways. Indian Paintbrush was another favorite. There were so many. And if we hit a snag on naming one, my grandmother would whip out the wildflower guide, lick one long elegant forefinger, and turn the pages until she found it. Then she’d carefully annotate the description with the date, time, and place we’d first spotted it. Everyone would stumble over the Latin pronunciation of the names until my father could bear it no more. He’d take over and carefully pronounce the long, scientific name.
The most curious of all was one singular tree that grew in the woods, near the side of the road. We never understood why someone hadn’t dug it up and carried it off as a garden trophy long before. It was a Grancy Greybeard. Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. They tell me that up North it is called a Fringe Tree. In spring it is a small tree covered with lacy white blooms. The car would fill with “oohs”s and “aahh”s whenever we’d pass it.
Back then we lived among such a profusion of trees and flowers that it never occurred to us that we might be upsetting the balance of nature by taking home a bouquet of wildflowers and a handful of pine cones. Who knew that one day, in our lifetimes, these things would become endangered by their very admirers?
Once home, my father and grandfather would man the shovels and work the humus into the flowerbeds under the watchful eye and direction of my mother. My grandmother would be making the ice tea – plenty of lemon and sugar, please – and getting ready for the best part of the day: a long time sitting on the front porch, aching pleasantly from digging, talking to gathering neighbors about what we’d seen, passing around the Wildflower Guide for everyone to admire all those dates and check marks. I would always be trying to make an arrangement or a daisy chain as the family dog pushed her nose into the blooms, trying to get the attention she’d missed while we were gone.
Those were happy days.
Text copyright 2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.