August / September 2023

Whose Woods These Are

By Dory George

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,” writes Robert Louis Stevenson, as if he owns it—but I know it really belongs to me and my dad, because I am his shadow, wanting to know, to see, to touch. The vivid memories of childhood, my childhood, are impressed like leaves or petals flattened on sheets of paper with screws and nuts to keep them in place between wooden tiles. An Oklahoma landscape claims these years of wide-open spaces full of laughter. I have no need of technology, wanting only to find out what Dad has in his hand or to see what he’s pointing at through the trees. I am easily amazed.

He shows me the beauty and the “ick” in life—one moment a startled deer and the next a hooked worm. It’s a summer afternoon at my grandma’s cottage on Lake Garrison. We sit on the pier of an afternoon with our lines in the water; my red bobber floating a short distance away. Nothing appears to be happening. At intervals, I reel in my line, only to discover that my worms keep disappearing. First one, then another, till I get to worm number five. I finally catch a small, slippery sunfish. It has shiny, colored scales and I run my fingers along the rough edge of its fins. I am so proud. Minnows are one thing but this is large and beautiful in my hands, dripping wet. I realize it’s worth the “ick” to get to the beauty.

My memories echo the songs of John Denver, playing faintly yet familiarly. My dad and I take walks in the woods together, enjoying companionable silences and at times the inviting space for spoken confidences. It is here that we connect with one another, communing with nature in all its elements. On the chess board, we are opponents, with organized figures moving in predetermined patterns. Here, we have spontaneity for taking the diverged road in a yellow wood. 

Indoors we read books that exercise the mind; nature exercises the body. His Sunday sermons require that I be quiet and sedentary a while, but here I ask questions and go skipping ahead of him. I don’t need a dictionary to look up “ecologist” or “conservationist” because I know what I am: I’m an “enjoy-ist.” At the age of seven, this is really all that matters.

Now, in the woods, I find my dad listening to me as he always does, wanting to know how I’m doing and what’s on my mind. I tell him, of course, wishing life were less complicated and that I were only seven again. Perhaps the Hundred-Acre Wood is where I want to be, in which I can go on “expotitions” and spell “birthday” wrong and move a friend’s house by mistake and discover hums come easily. Animal friends seems less complicated than those I have as an adult and in those stories, everything comes out fine, after a bit of confusion. Or, perhaps what I have is a desire for Eden—where beauty and goodness reside. Maybe I could keep a bit for me, where I catch a fish on the first worm instead of the fifth, I win every chess game and sermons require skipping along. Yes, it’s all rather ambiguous at times.

Meanwhile, my dad and I go “wonder-ing” together—the Eagle Scout and his daughter. Poems of leaves, of barely noticed creatures and of surprising splashes in lakes are our escape. Prayers for sunshine on our shoulders are part of our ventures. And, as always, there’s the promise of another outing.

About the Author

Dory George hails from seven states, including the plains of Oklahoma, where imagination begins and roads never end.

Poetry in childhood was as natural as a homemade bedspread covering surreptitious light while reading underneath, with Robert Frost a frequent favorite. In memories of harmonizing around Mom’s piano or fishing for adventure with Dad or playing in snow with a sibling, the cadence of family togetherness lingers in the prayerful request of Psalm 90:12, as the author petitions the Lord: “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”