Clearing Leaves


I imagine my mother watching me from the kitchen window as I headed off into the woods once more, a sturdy, slight kid, dressed in old clothes and rubber boots, striding all by herself into the trees.

. . .

I was gone, and she did not see me drawing away the previous fall’s clotted leaves from the thread of water that ran through the springtime oaks and hickories. It was a self-appointed task I took seriously, digging my numbed fingers into wads of leaves, watching the water rise and pearl and run.

. . .

A number of years later, when I no longer went into the woods to clean out the leaves from running water, I read Robert Frost’s poem “The Pasture,” which begins:

“I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away.”

I thought he had been watching me doing what I needed to do then and that perhaps I had not been entirely alone. Or, I thought, perhaps helping water run free is something many people long to make happen. I discovered, reading the poem, that I had been right all along: stories are about us.

. . .

What will happen to us when our children have no connection with what is wild in the land, its depth, danger, generosity? What will life be like for children who do not grow up paying close attention to it and testing themselves against it? And what will happen to those children who ache for it, as I did, but cannot find it anywhere?

We humans evolved along with other species. We became who we are by figuring out who they were: prey, predator, and the thousands of other important things in between. We weren’t just looking at something, we were participating in community. We were the soft clay. The wild world was the potter’s wheel and the potter’s hand.

Who will we become, when only witchgrass, gray squirrels, herring gulls, Norway rats, and others like them conduct their astonishingly adaptable lives outside our houses? Will we live as hostages to what we have made, stunned by loneliness and homesick for what we can no longer imagine?

~ Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly

Picture found here.

One response to “Clearing Leaves

  1. i remember, age 4 or 5, walking up the steps to our apartment and seeing a large, bright green insect on the front porch deck. I dropped to a squat ( I remember this clearly, no fear or concern) and stared in wonder at this marvelous and never before seen creature. I wanted to touch it but stronger yet was a sense of not wanting to hurt it. I turned to my mom and asked what it was. ‘A grasshopper” she replied and tugged me inside though I could have watched that green grasshopper for a long time.

    Even before that we had “prairie”. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. East of our apartment building was a full city block of grass boarded by a concrete wall supporting railroad tracks. In the “Prairie” ( as all kids and adults called it) were rabbits, pheasants, ragweed and other tall grasses. We would pull the ragweed stem apart and chew the pulpy core. It was called Indian gum. Tasteless but essential to chew every late summer because it was the ritual. And mulberry trees. A large old one stood near the mom garden on the fringe of the Prairie. We would eat our fill of those mushy sweet fruits when we could. And there was a lagoon in a small city park just across the street to the south. Water striders and whirl-a-gigs and toads and frogs. My sister and I would watch and never harm.

    Today, a flock of wild turkeys walked down the snowy hill into the soybean field west of us. I thought, this cannot be enough for them. So I hurried out with cracked corn and seed in hopes they would come closer. In the last three years hundreds of acres of wild grass had been plowed under about us for soy and corn. How can the natural lives survive without their home and foods?

    Thank you so much for your writings. I am so happy I have found your blog.

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