Swinger of Beeches

 

“One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cowsSome boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.” -Robert Frost

Pushing out on the screen door it seemed as natural as breathing to yell over my shoulder into the cabin, “I’m going up to The Woods! ” the long spring nailed to the door brace and jamb ‘twanged’ as it stretched out and the door slammed shut. I barely heard the “ok!” from my mom as my red ball jets scuffed up the gravel running across the road and diving under Mr. Pike’s electric fence. There were no second thoughts about safety or worry about criminal activity. It was a different time and The Cabin was in the middle of nowhere. Down in Grand Rapids I’d given my parents scares when I’d ride my bike from Plainfield and 5 mile to my great Aunt Dolores’ house near Monroe and Ann street; a small matter of a few miles and quite a distance for a 10 year old, (I pretty much lived by the philosophy that Its better to apologize than ask permission). Dodging under the electric wire I Ran through the pasture, cows scattering as I passed. I’d only met Mr. & Mrs. Pike a few times. This was decades before cell phones and the Pikes had the closest telephone. If anybody needed to reach my grandparents or us for that matter, they called the Pikes, and usually Mrs. Pike would walk the message over. I remember being amazed at how much Mrs. Pike could do, years before she’d lost her hand above the wrist in a Combine accident but she was very adept around her house the couple times I’d gone with my mom and grandma to visit.
Beyond the pasture the hay fields rolled like waves in the sea as gusts of wind swept through the grain. The field was alive with grasshoppers and other bugs that jumped forward away from my legs like waves rolling away from the hull of a ship. The ground sloped upwards as I approached the fence line. Standing on the edge of the woods everything was sunshine and sound. Lowing cows, bells clanking as the herd moved slowly through the grasses, the occasional car speeding down the county road, the monotone droning of crickets and grasshoppers playing their own symphony of language. The sun warmed my neck and scalp as the day progressed to noon. Inside the woods slender saplings stood their ground against more ancient trees, their wide gnarled trunks, some smooth some rough barked marched along the fence line and on into the deeper pathless ways where all color turned to a dark grey haze. There is a trick to passing an electric fence and sometimes getting a slight poke is inevitable. The ‘crouch-hop’ can be difficult when there are trees in the way. For a split second as I lift my leg over the middle wire and crouch under the top I think of a dog marking his territory and my ‘hop’ brings my back into contact sending me dancing into the trees. Shaking off the electric charge I continue further into the wood. The change is startling, sunshine and insect life, cow sounds and the occasional car recede quickly. Some sunlight trickled down through the rustling branches high above but mostly the woods were bathed in muted light. The biggest change is breathing in the oxygen rich air that comes from being surrounded by so much plant life. I almost felt like I was swimming in the air. Greenhouses and public gardens can give the same effect. The woods were made up of mostly maple, oak, and beech. An occasional stand of cedar created an almost magical scene since those conifers were so different from the rest of the wood. Sunlight didn’t penetrate a stand of cedar. The ground beneath the branches was dark and mossy, and if it were possible the area seemed to gather silence; a quiet place within a quiet place. Almost everywhere I went in the woods I could find beech saplings. Beech trees grew tall and in the woods all the branches were high up in the crown probably searching for sunlight. In Frost’s poem he swung from Birches. There were very few Birch trees in our woods. Beech trees were plentiful and served the purpose. It was nothing to climb up a tree as close to the crown as possible until the shaft could no longer bear my weight and, hanging on, the tree would bow down until my feet lightly touched the soft loamy ground and then snap back up through the other saplings…then on to another, and another. It could be quite exciting if a sapling is chosen that had a bit of starch. I would climb up and up until, sometimes, 40 feet up the tree would finally bend and carry me spectacularly down. How does one discover this pastime? Like me most probably learn it from their fathers who, in a moment of remembrance, tells his child to start climbing, and like me the boy or girl looks at dad a little crazy. ‘Just do it,’ dad says. And we climb. ‘Keep going,’ says dad, ‘you’re not high enough yet.’ We think, ‘he Is crazy.’ And we keep climbing. ‘Now,’ says dad, ‘hang on tight and don’t let go. Kick out with your legs and hang on!’ Such a simple thing in which to find enjoyment but once back on earth, breathless and grinning in excitement we scamper like squirrels into the next tree and dad stands smiling, perhaps remembering days long past when he did the climbing and grandpa stood earthbound smiling in a moment of remembrance.
I stayed up in those woods doing nothing and exploring everything; swinging from Beeches until the Sing-song call of my mother sent me back. I don’t know how her voice penetrated the vast, heavy wood but it did. Many of the kids I knew at home heard that call carrying the ‘home’ command from the top of the hill on 5 mile road down through the neighborhoods. Bursting through the tree line I could look down the hill, through the grasses and meandering cows and see my mom and grandma in the garden, probably picking kale. Grandma was big into kale long before they started putting it in shakes. Putting hands beside my mouth I called back and watched my mom straighten and wave; and leaving the beech saplings bent askew and the darkened heavy woods for the sunlight, flinging a wave of grasshoppers along a sea of hay, the ten year old me pelted down the hill.

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Kevin

Kevin is a Life biographer, factual and fictional. Humorist, Dreamer, and Romantic. "I wanted to live deliberately. ..to suck all the marrow out of life".

One thought on “Swinger of Beeches”

  1. This is wonderful! I always love to hear of the adventures you older kids had. I always thought that I didn’t have these adventures because I came along so much later and mom and dad were older and “worn out”. Then Mike explained that Denise was my playmate, and Denise never went far from wherever mom was; so…I stayed close to both of them. I guess that makes sense. I am sure I was content to do that. I was much less adventurous as a child than I am as a an adult.

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