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  • Kevin Castle

Childhood memories

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

I recently moved back into my family home which sits on the edge of the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt. Growing up here, I spent many a day with other neighborhood kids roaming the urban woodland. The earth was soft underfoot. Birds darted in and out of the Indian plum, and during autumn we could hear the squirrels as they plucked the fruits of beaked hazelnuts from their hard shells. When the soil was damp in spring our shoes squished in the black mud and left tracks. We drank in its loamy smell as we ran along trails just wide enough for our feet.

We stripped the small inflorescences of fringe cups from their stems and threw them at each other, shrieking when the green ammunition bounced off our backs. We built outdoor rooms and forts by gathering branches into bowers. The seed heads of clematis that formed cottony puffs draped their vines on overhead branches.

Tall maples dropped leaves by the hundreds each autumn. We gathered them into tall mounds and flung ourselves on them. The smooth leaves of Salal hid swags of sticky berries in spring. The stiff fronds of sword fern brushed our calves.

Here and there, the fruit of deadly nightshade hung like beads. One year a chunk of fool's gold appeared, half hidden in a tangle of small branches. Visions of instant wealth inspired us until our parents punctured our dreams. Sometimes, we hid behind the brush and peeked into the yards of bordering houses. We knew it was forbidden to trespass. In one, a white stone fountain gurgled. We listened, hushed as the sparkling water trickled into its bowl.

In summer, we spent our mornings in the woodland and returned there after lunch. We hardly noticed the changing light until our parents called us for dinner. By then we were flush with the exertions of our day. But we rarely spoke of our adventures. It was hard to imagine that adults would understand.

Now I walk rather than run through the woods. I join with my neighbors to rip out the blackberries, ivy and other invasive species that have choked this woodland. We plant tender young natives and nurture them to life. We tuck in new starts of evergreen Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar to restore the forest to its ancient state. We continue the work begun by families like mine, and the Sussmans, to reclaim the land of a generation ago. We hope that the kids of today can explore and discover, like we once did, this urban forest that is reemerging under the watchful eyes of a whole community.

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