A Lifelong Love of the Forest

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I spent a brief time in the forest recently on an untouched piece of wilderness one rarely finds in the South. A young boy was playing in the creek, snapping twigs off tree branches, tossing them into the clear water, clearly delighted to be out in the woods, as was I.

It reminded of my childhood, seeing that boy and the fun he had being out there. As a child, I spent as much time in the woods as allowed, back in a time and place when it was safe for children to roam unsupervised, especially in the summer. I would leave the house not long after breakfast, likely after doing a few chores and pedal my bicycle up Valley Street in Allenstown, N.H. to Bruce Courtemanche’s house. Perhaps a few other partners in crime would join us as we delved into the woods behind the modest neighborhood at the top of the hill. We were headed to a magical place called White Cape.

White Cape — which as children we believed to have discovered but of course we didn’t — was a large granite cliff that reached an elevation of nearly 550 feet. We hiked and played Army around its summit as children. Bruce, who still lives down the street from his childhood home, loved the place so much that he bought White Cape and a 14-acre parcel nearly 30 years ago. It remains as I remember it as a child a half-century ago. I visited it with him several years ago.

We also explored the woods behind and in front of my grandparents’ house in Hopkinton. In the winter we built a trail in the snow for our sleds and toboggans to slide down the hill, with a few twists and curves. My grandfather, an accomplished carpenter, built a toboggan that would hold about 10 cousins. In my memory it’s about a dozen feet in length, an unwieldy contraption on which we would plunge down a hill, with usually a few casualties tumbling off before the trip ended.


After moving to East Texas at age 12, the forest changed, but the attraction remained. Now it was pine forests, summer stints at Camp Pirtle, the Boy Scout retreat where my late grandfather worked in the 1960s as part of his duties. I also explored the woods in the rear of the campus of LeTourneau University as a teen-ager, when we lived on South Twelfth Street, a few acres still left relatively untouched on the west edge. We rode our bicycles through there, later my Cushman motorcycle once restored. Once walking home at night from Gibson’s — the precursor to Howard’s, which was a precursor to Walmart — across Mobberly through LeTourneau, I came across a ghost in those woods.

A young girl was sitting at the base of a tree. She wore a white dress and appeared to be in her teens, a bit older than me. She was there, and then she was gone. She didn’t say anything, just looked at me. But I saw her, and she saw me. Every time I think about that, as I have hundreds of times over the past four-plus decades, the small hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I don’t know what I saw, or whom. But I experienced something that still is as real to me today as it was so many years ago.


I continue to treasure a hike in the woods, whether it is a day-trip to Beaver’s Bend, Okla., to hike along a fast-rushing river, or our recent foray to Colorado, where we hiked up a steep trail along which waterfalls plunged down granite cliffs. Every morning I hustle through our quiet neighborhood with Sam the Dog down to the Boorman Trail, which cuts through an urban forest filled with mature hardwoods and scattered pines. Deer graze along the power-line right-of way, a family consisting of a doe, fawn and a young buck. I saw them a couple of days ago. The buck is beginning to grow a rack of antlers. He stood warily to one side of the trail, while the doe and fawn grazed on the other side. We stopped, not wanting to spook him into a misbegotten attempt at protection. Finally he turned around and went back into the woods, and we continued our walk.

Thoreau once wrote, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” He wasn’t talking about a shopping mall, of course. Some of us naturally go to the woods when we can. It brings us joy, perhaps a reminder of what it was like to be a little boy.

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