How Life Taught Me a Lesson in the Woods
I think most of us have had a moment in our lives when it seemed all was right with the world. Must be true.
Because even I’ve had one.
During my early teens, I spent a big chunk of three years living with my grandmother in Southern Illinois.
Growing up in Chicago, I had only seen a few wild animals. Mostly pests. Rats. Pigeons. Seagulls sometimes, because I didn’t live too far from the city dump.
Maybe the occasional cardinal.
My grandmother and I lived in a single-wide trailer, miles outside of a town of less than 4,000 people. A two-lane strip of blacktop ran into our little community and out again. Other than that, we had gravel roads and well water. We burned our trash because there was no pickup service. My grandmother and I heated the trailer from a giant propane tank that would be refilled by a truck. One year, propane was too expensive and my grandmother bought a cast-iron pot belly stove and had a truckload of coal dumped at the house, instead.
I’d get up in the morning and feed the fire before taking the school bus into town.
There were maybe a dozen of us kids out there. We’d mostly been sent from Chicago or East St. Louis to live with retired grandparents in an attempt to keep us out of trouble. It took a little getting used to. For months I would wake up at night, my ears accustomed to the rumbling of heavy traffic on city streets.
But, in time, I learned to wave at everyone that drove by on the road. I got used to needing to dress to get the mail. I even got so that I could recognize cars at night by the cant of their headlights.
There was a big sycamore tree in front of our place that I would climb, hiding from my grandmother in its broad leaves.
And it was fascinating to see all of the different animals. There were the basic farm animals, of course, with one family near the highway even raising peacocks.
But the woods were full of deer and raccoons and hawks — even skunks. Some days we kids would find huge snakes sunbathing on the road. There were creeks and ditches full of crawdads and…