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The call of the wild (10/23/2011)
By Janet Lewis Burns
I left the feather-light, plastic bag sitting beside the library desk, during the mad rush to unload our van, as we arrived back home in Lewiston from our final seasonal stay up at our northern retreat. “Farewells,” a few more laughs, tears and hugs sent us all on our separate ways, back to reality. A desperate longing to return next spring was already weighing on my vulnerability.

On her next visit, I directed our delightful ten-year-old granddaughter Ally (who also answers to Allycat) to the plastic bag in the library. After poking around and examining unique leaves that resemble figments of her busy imagination, purple and coral-toned mushrooms, tiny, green vines still cool to the touch, acorns and the bushy straw-like caps yanked from their bald shells, unknown anomalies of the ecosystem, and stringy, tangled clumps of something’s roots, she gushed, “That’s beautiful, Gramma!”

I expected that very reaction from her! Ally and her sister Alyssa, 15, have explored rugged paths with me, through forests, flower gardens, and in the dingle weeds somewhere. I’d chortle, as I threw my fully absorbed body at perfect specimens, “Oh, look at that!” (What a drama queen!)

When they asked me what it was, I often didn’t know, technically. That kind of learning is for stuffy classrooms. The Peterson field guides back home did come in handy. At times, when compiling an article, as I look up the scientifically correct names to identify some species, I have to wonder, “Now am I any smarter than I was before I knew that?”

I told Ally about my latest obsession! It’s actually what one sees and whiffs when peering into our plastic bag. I envisioned it as I returned to the camper from gathering miniature, eye-catching gems of the wilds, from a strip of deep-set mossy humus, surrounding a storage shed behind our camper. My compliments to the Earth’s unmistakable manifest artist! I got busy creating miniature “forest floors,” on glass plates and in woven baskets.

The most stirring, impassioned discoveries were teeny-tiny mushrooms still rooted in their little tufts of grass, a small black feather with white spots, acorns turned lavender, rich green, threadlike vines, their white flowers barely distinguishable. Leaves with engrossing flaws were my favorites (wabi sabi me!)

An inexcusable tragedy evolved from the earthy creations, however! I happened to spot a dainty, round, light green bug, with a red dot on its back, as it crept out from under a leaf on one of the forest floors. Not thinking, by some animalistic instinct, I pressed the life out of the harmless creature with a fingertip.

Immediately regretful, I flipped the deflated, little fella over. Two of his four spindly legs gave a final jerk and a pathetic dangling antenna twitched its farewell to this hardened weed hugger. The scent of a senseless death lingered on my trigger finger’s flesh for hours.

The acorns wildly pelted camper roofs in resounding clumps this season, making walking painful and bonking a few body parts. Ally absently rolled an acorn between her fingers. I was delighted when she found the pinhole in its shell! A couple up north had filled a pail full of raked acorns to take home to feed the squirrels, when they saw it firsthand! A barely visible creature’s writhing head had forced its way through a perfect pinhole in an acorn shell. It had wriggled and squeezed until its white, wormlike body clung to its nut’s shell like a pimple on an old man’s chin.

Each of the acorns Ally and I examined at home already had a hole in them. Darn! No more worm sightings! Days later, I spotted a handful of acorns in the miniature Radio Flyer wagon. One was adorned with three perfect holes.

I was really ready to be done with acorn worms and brittle leaf fragments snagged to the carpet! I bent over to pick a crumb up off the floor and it curled at me. I squeezed it just a little and a red streak shot through its body. I was about to put the puny worm in a jar to show Ally, deciding to leave well enough alone.

The call of the wild is already echoing through our red maples from a distant, wanton force, drawing closer and more intense.



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