The large vacant lot next door to the house I grew up in was one-half open field and one-half woods. The woodsy section was referred to by us as “the woods.”
The woods was light and airy and welcoming. As I remember, what we mostly did in the woods was create “houses” — not the kind made out of solid materials, but simply the kind made from clearing an area of the floor of the woods to make a “room,” and then opening one side to clear a way into another “room,” Tree roots and small rocks and old stumps became furniture and appliances. Small branches with berries or seed pods were stuck in the ground around the edges to be the garden. Stones outlined a path up to the front door.
One day, as we were digging around in the dirt to find good stuff to use in our “houses,” we uncovered what looked like a glass plate. We dug deeper and realized that we had discovered a whole stack of glass plates. Here was a mystery in all its glory! Another time, on the edge of the woods, we found the remnants of a vegetable garden — tiny carrots in the soil. Both the plates and the carrots added tremendous reality props for our “houses.”
During one summer, the woods became a place of excitement tinged with fear and awe. In the lower part of the woods, the older boys from below the hill built a real club house. The Schmitz boys were a bit “edgy,” not quite trust-able in our eyes; they verged on being “wild.” The club house was definitely off limits for us younger kids. Then late one night we saw flashing red lights down in the woods and heard the roar of a fire engine. The club house was on fire! We were totally transfixed by this event, and, the next morning, we cautiously went down to see the damage. In my young eyes, I visualized the Schmitz boys being punished with imprisonment for the rest of their lives, however, I never heard of any consequences from the law in response to their escapade in the woods. More mature thinking prevailed.
The woods is still there. I look at it with some longing whenever I go back to my childhood home. To this day, I do not know who owns this property. The open field part of the property is gone, a modern home built on it at some point over the years. Perhaps these new neighbors own the woods. But, somehow, in my mind, the woods will never be “owned” by anyone. It is still there — for all of us. And if I walked through the woods again today, I think I would still be able to find that one particular tree that had a hollow area under one of its roots that I pretended was an oven in my house.
*Henry David Thoreau, Walden