by Neale Adams
I suppose my first experiences with Nature came from the time my family moved to rural New Hampshire. I was a war baby. My father was away when I was born in 1941, the Tuesday before the Sunday that was Pearl Harbour. When he returned he wanted to return to his roots, and bought acreage near Reed’s Ferry on the Merrimack River. There was a farmhouse dating to the 1700s, a chicken coop, a well encircled by stone which often seemed to run dry, and in the back a stand of trees with a tiny stream running through – in all ten acres. I was about five at the time and used to spend hours hidden in the trees, playing in the stream – a trickle really – building bridges across it or damming it up and creating little ponds on which to sail boats made of leaves.
I remember one day when I was splashing about and happily playing, all alone, when I heard a crack and a growl behind me. I didn’t look, I just ran as fast as my two short legs could carry me, down the path towards the house. Only when I heard laughter behind me did I look back and see one of the neighbour girls and realize it had been her, and not a bear or a wolf or a monster of some sort. I kept on to the house. Ever after I was a bit leery of playing alone in Nature.
* * *
Many years later I attended a small college in Massachusetts. The campus sat on a hill, amongst rolling hills in the central part of that state. It was in a beautiful setting, with brick 19th century semi classical buildings – a lovely place, especially in the fall when the New England maples and beeches and oaks and alders show their red and brown and brilliant yellow colours. But the leaves disappear when the really cold winter sets in and the days get dark. I remember one time, just before Christmas break, when I was walking through one of the college quadrangles, not feeling very good about the way my studies and assignments and papers were going, and I looked at the big, bare oaks and saw them as I never had before – as monstrous beings, parasites upon the earth, that all year had sucked water and minerals and life out of the earth. They were dark and big and scary – and in the dark, cold winter, they seemed dead. I hurried on across the quad, wanting to get back to my warm dormitory and close the blinds. I felt Nature could turn on me.
* * *
And yet… a third picture. This time I was a boy scout in Dallas, Texas. Each summer we’d go pile into a school bus with our knapsacks and tents and other Boy Scout stuff to go camping on property the scouts owned about 100 miles west of the city. We’d take the long drives (this was before Interstates were built) through Fort Worth, and then Mineral Wells, and come to Possum Kingdom lake. The camp was situated on a peninsula that jutted into the lake. The other side of the lake was bounded by a cliff. You could shout out from a canoe in the middle of the lake and receive a strong echo. I loved canoeing – and hiking. We would go for a weekend – get there Saturday morning and leave Sunday evening. To make use of the short time we would get up early Sunday morning and go on a short hike. The scoutmaster, Mr. Myers, however would insist that we have a short devotional as we set out. It was Sunday, after all, and a Boy Scout is reverent – that’s part of the Scout Law. He would say something to the effect that being out in Nature made us closer to God. Well, maybe. Then we went a little further and crossed a river and hiked up a low bluff. There was a morning mist on the river below. The water, where it peeked through the mist, was a mirror. There was a bit of a cold nip in the air – this was late summer – which made everything seem fresh. I will always remember that scene as I looked up the river in the morning sunlight as far as I could see till it disappeared around a bend. Nature was a dream.