Helios and Selene
A thick, deliciously dense and ferny woods beckoned behind our house when I was young. This other world presented itself next to a small white church, obscured behind a few modest homes in our gritty working class neighborhood. Beechnut, pine, ferns, moss, and decaying wood all sent up a heady amalgam of musty scents easily recognizable to those who’ve grown up around deep woods.
My younger brother Buster and I risked sticky pitch climbing up high in the giant white and scotch pine trees of those woods. We’d select a limb, scoot as far out as we dared, and bob up and down, creating a momentum much like cantering atop a small pony. We called it our “fun fun.” It really was fun too, suspended out in nature above composting layers of living materials, feeling the glory of limitless possibilities. On the ground, a small circle of an imaginary fort materialized beneath the canopy. Here, using small switches of needles, we swept away sand and leaves creating paths and imaginary rooms. Once the ground seemed sufficiently groomed, we’d climb up, up, each to our own higher limbs. Grabbing hold of our rough piney limb-reins we’d rock up and down fiercely to create momentum, as breezes and needles brushed at our faces. At times I’d lose sight of my younger brother Buster, but understood exactly where he was by the undulating waves of branches and breezes he created. For that brief moment in time, we were as Helios and Selene, riding riotously across the heavens not in our chariot, but rather precariously perched atop our furiously fast winged steeds.
Today, the woodsy classroom that taught us kids about lichens, moss, scat, dug out canoes, tree and leaf varieties is but a pleasant memory. Housing developments carved up land all the way back to the running brook where Jack in the Pulpits once grew with their curvy little bonnets along sandy banks. A path extending from behind the church, through these deep and piney woods, used to lead about a half mile back to my friend Kat’s. As we got older, she and I joined as modern explorers riding mini-bikes and snow mobiles through woods so thick we just knew we disappeared in some sort of time warp for a bit. Now, fences keep wayfarers, referred to as trespassers, out of peoples’ private properties. Wild blackberry and raspberry bushes, once favorite summer snacks easily procured from bicycles, are being grown in other parts of the world, or private gardens.
Progress. In 1969 our country conquered the challenge of putting a man two hundred thirty eight thousand miles from earth all the way to the moon! Today we are looking to Mars, over seventy four million miles away as a salvation ground. Less than twenty million more miles out, Icarus found the sun. Treasuring what trees and fauna we have left here on earth, I have to wonder, why are we headed in that direction?