It is a soft autumn day, the kind where it is chilly in the shade but when you step out into the sun you are warmed like a fresh-baked loaf of bread and things smell about that good, too. We start out along an old logging road and soon my husband is bending down looking for chips from arrowhead-making thousands of years ago by the people that used to live here.
Animal tracks appear in the soft mud—it had recently rained a lot– deer, raccoon, turkey for sure and, coyote? We’ve heard the howling coming from the place where we are now. Only a few years ago, there were no coyotes but now we not only hear them but are hearing stories from neighbors about disappearing chickens and cats.
The air hovers expectedly, perhaps attempting to catch the leaves as they dance to the ground on a whisper of a breeze. How lovely and safe it seems in the warmth under the glowing trees, a reprieve from the now hostile dangerous woods of summer.
Oh, my grandchildren. You do not know what it used to be like. My mind wanders to the time when my children were small and the summer days took us by the hand and held us safe while we played and hiked, picnicked and picked berries. There were chiggers, yes, poison ivy, and the occasional copperhead but easy sensibility took care of these.
Now, we don’t have that world in this North Carolina Piedmont. My babies’ babies have never known it. The woods, and even yards, from early spring to fall are dangerous now—full of disease-spreading ticks thanks to an over population of deer and other environmental changes. People sometimes get sick, and occasionally die from these diseases. Outdoor freedom is gone. One cannot lie in the grass, go into the garden, plunge into the bushes, look for a path in the woods when the mood strikes—not without spraying down or changing into special clothes, stripping afterwards to do a tick check, and risking infection no matter how much care is taken.
New invasive plants have changed the looks of the forests and meadows and the hungry deer unfortunately eat the young valuable trees and native plants leaving the invasives like Russian olives and microstegia, that awful grass-like weed from Japan. I still remember the first time I noticed it about 30 years ago. I grew up with invasive plants like kudzu and honeysuckle and the new ones pile on the old. I think about what the woods much have looked like before too many deer and introduced plants took over the forests. Must have seemed like a paradise. I think about what the woods and fields looked like in my own lifetime a long time ago. Strange to be old enough to remember such huge environmental changes and landscapes seen no more.
It is such a lovely afternoon walking along, I try not to think of these things but even as the golden sun warms my body, my heart is sad remembering. I used to take off with a good book on a hot summer day and find an old tree and settle against its trunk and nestle in the bed of last autumn’s leaves around its roots. No more. So sad that my grandchildren can’t know this kind of freedom. I tell myself there are still places one can go and feel safe but they are hours and hours away from home. Perhaps the childre n cannot miss what they never knew. But I know and it is gone. I am aware, also, that each generation has had its laments, that each must have felt the same despair I am feeling. Life goes on.
Still walking on the old road, I latch my thoughts to a sun beam and focus on the fluttering leaves, the jewel-red dogwood berries, and the golden glow and soft swishes from the air breathing and see there is still beauty all around to feed our souls.