When he was two they scampered
on the field far towards the trees
and he picked wild cherries off the grass
and tried to eat them; her
restraining hand said “No! ”
So he ran wobbily onto the path
and tried to sweep it of its yellowed mowings.
By the time they reached the woods
he raised his arms
with “Granny, carry me! ”
High hoist upon her hip he rode until
they climbed down to the river shallows where he splashed
and claiming her hip he rode back home again.
When he was three they ran across the field
reaching the path that stretched towards the trail.
First a snack – “I am so hungry! ” – sitting on a log
and then a plunge into the undergrowth
where they heard bears and lions
and he blew the cotton off the cuckoo plants.
This time the river lapped against the rocks
while he fed ducks with crusts,
then lifting up his arms along the trail:
“Granny, carry me! ” but she said “No, ”
and to distract him acted fairy tales:
the three goats, trotting on the wooden bridge
back and forth, clomping their feet
over Jordan Creek
until the wicked troll had dropped away
never to rear his hungry head again.
In the Fall they walked along the trail
hand in hand
and listened for the bears
but there were none, so she lay down
and he beside her, acting lost
like Hansel, Gretel, sleeping in the leaves
with just his eyes and red hair peeping out
between the russets, yellows, browns and gold.
Their foxy ears caught crunching leaves, oak, maple, beech,
the screeching of a hawk above their heads,
the swelling river roaring past the rocks.
Next Spring, aged four, he ran down to the creek
and threw round rocks to watch them splash and sink,
so she chose flat ones, teaching him the trick
of skimming, bouncing pebbles on the pools
with cries of “Two! ” or ‘Three times! I won! ” till the stony bank
was quite denuded and the sand below
lay damp while in the reeds
frogs uttered croaky cries and jumped like stones.
A winter visit: snow defined the lines
of twigs and ghostly branches
but the creek
was lapping high and rushing after storms; just a few ducks
sheltering beneath a leafless willow;
an upturned stump loomed like a dinosaur
and he told her not to be afraid:
it was extinct.
Spring came, aged five. The trail to the woods
was shorter and the bears were gone,
“Remember, Granny? ” Then he shook his head,
No, no more bridge and no more trolls, just climb
a stony hill, looming like Mount Whitney or Mount Everest,
“It’s too high, Granny! ”
so she sang the song of little folk
“Now you can do it! ”
Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men….
Her song stopped short, for little Bridget died
because she had no Hansel by her side.
They reached the top: the trail
undulated onwards; down below
the river glistened silently
and so they turned and slithered down again.
Autumnal leaves - still five -
he only wanted airy heights but she
let him go clambering, as she was slow;
“I’m sorry darling, but my hip
will just not let me climb as fast as you –
perhaps we’ll go along the river? ” He held out his hand:
“Now you can do it, Granny! ”
and she did it.
Summer came – aged six – she followed him
along the path, into the woods, down to the shallow creek,
“Let’s skim the stones! ”
A fallen trunk straddled
the splashing creek. An invitation!
Up he climbed and tightroped bravely…
then he stumbled, slipped –
and caught his tumble standing knee-deep wet!
Astonishment, a glance of fear
until he heard her laughter
bringing out the sun.
They left the river; slow climb up the slope…
“Moss grows where…” “Yes, I know! ”
A hidden arch,
granite, sandstone architrave
buried by two centuries of leaves and fallen rocks,
a mystery of treasure, boys
lost in the greenwood, armed with cunning bows.
And then late Fall – because he would soon leave,
moving to cities, schools and busy friends –
a final walk to Jordan Creek, across the muddy field,
onto the path that led towards the trail;
he marched ahead, “This way! ” first to the water’s edge
where pebbles waited to be skimmed, “Remember, Granny,
how I fell! And how I won? ” “Remember, Max,
the story of the troll? ”
“And Hansel saving Gretel in the woods! ”
“And how we heard the lions? ”
“Granny! ” and they laughed.
The pebbles in the rime
bounced on the thin ice, so they broke
small sheets apart and watched them slide and shatter,
icy fingers, dazzled eyes
sparkling as they reflected.
Up the hill – she did it –
“How’s your hip? ” and summit-wards he ran, waiting until
they both could see the river’s bend
and geese above their heads
flying in V formation crying “Craank! ”
Then as they slithered down
(“There’s that old cave, let’s look inside, ”)
he made Last Call:
“Goodbye Walk in the Woods,
I’ll never ever come again! ”
And goodbye troll and bears and hip
and Hansel, pebbles, river, Robin’s wood
and wild cherries
lying in the field.