By Susan Gallacher-Turner
Yesterday, Jilly and I walked into our favorite part of the woods, the birch tree circle expecting to see the path, undisturbed as usual. What I saw stopped me on the spot.
There was a deep hole cut into the earth exposing tree roots and inside was trash. Candy wrappers and unopened taco sauce packages lay in a heap at the bottom of the hole. On the ground, next to it were tree branches and wood pieces stacked and held together with the dirt from the hole to create a make shift ramp. Obviously, some kids were at work, here, making a place to ride their bikes or skateboards in the woods.
I was mad at first at the destruction and littering. I was worried that some new birch tree had been uprooted for their ramp and trash bin. And I was tempted to take it all apart.
Instead, I stepped over it all and went to my place in the woods by the Birch Tree to do my morning exercises. After I’d cleared my head and stretched my body, I walked to the arch between the two birch trees. Feeling the energy, I reached out and asked the trees about the ramp, the hole and the destruction. Their answer was simple.
It’s child’s play. No one was hurt. In fact, the trees told me, it was important that I did not disturb it. The children needed to play there. How else would they get to know the trees and animals in the woods? Where else would they be able to create, to take the earth in their hands and form it, to collect sticks and stones and make something from it? Yes, there is some trash here, but not much more than there usually is, and it will get cleaned up in time.
What’s most important is that the children feel safe here. That feeling and the knowledge of the woods as their place will grow with them into a reverence for the trees and animals they share the world with. It's child’s play that will lead to adult understanding in a way no other experience can.
Then, I remembered. All those days biking through the woods on the edge of my suburban neighborhood, making little stick houses from fallen branches and mixing potions from the mud dug up by the creek. I watched my brothers and their friends climbing up the trunks, hauling up boards and making a tree house. One day, they hung a knotted rope from a large tree limb and swung across the creek. It was child’s play. Yes. But it taught me to love the woods, the trees and the birds. Sitting there by the creek digging in the gooey mud, I heard sounds I didn’t hear at home. I listened to the whisper of the leaves in the breeze, the chirp of the birds, crickets and squirrels. I watched with fascination as the tiny, swimming polliwogs turned into frogs. I learned to catch and hold snakes in all their smooth, slithering glory without fear.
I saw what the trees were trying to tell me. This was not destruction but creation. Not just creating a place for bikes to play, but a place for the children to be, to learn and grow under nature’s guidance. Here the woods nurtured the children's growing muscles, minds and imagination, teaching them skills that were new to this generation whose world now consisted of techno toys. It was child’s play. But here, the toys were real and the lessons learned would be carried into the real life and, hopefully, to yet another generation of children playing.
If you're interested, you can see my sculpture work at Susan Gallacher-Turner Sculpture or visit my blog Sculpting A Life.