Mondays with Mom: Woods


Mom and Dad moved to Clarkesville because of Mona and Grady Brooks. They had been stationed together and Grady sold part of his land to Dad in the late 1960s. This parcel was wooded and undeveloped. When Mom and Dad decided to retire to Clarkesville, they had the house built about an acre off the road, deep in the woods.

We were living in Duluth, Minnesota at that time. Dad would come down to check on the house and I would come down often with him during construction. I remember watching the different phases of the house as they were completed and crying as many of the beautiful trees were felled to make room for the house and garage. There was one dogwood in particular with a perpendicular arm where I loved to sit that I couldn’t bear for them to cut down. It stood for many years until the dogwood blight destroyed it.

Mom loved the dogwoods. I remember sitting on the back porch with her during their yearly bloom and enjoying the white flowers like a blanket of snow across the woods. Unfortunately, now there are only a few dogwoods left on their property.

Mom and I would walk all through these woods, down to the spring-fed creek at the bottom of the hill and back up to the house. We studied the mushrooms and fungi growing on the downed trees. She taught me to recognize different trees by the texture of their bark. We dug ferns to move up to the house and made lattice out of the dead mountain laurel branches. I was quite a tomboy and I loved to get dirty and play in the trees.

Mom indulged all my crazy wood travels until the ticks would come out. First one she’d see, she’d leave the woods until the first frost. It wouldn’t deter me, so I’d have to endure the dreaded “tick check” before Mom would let me in the house. She’d also fuss about me running barefoot through the woods and down the gravel driveway. It’s still a rite of passage for me to lose my tender winter feet in time for summer barefoot weather.

The woods are changing now, putting on their spring green finery as they transition into the summer glory. I still have my child-like wonder of the trees and the moss and ferns and rocks – I love them so much. Mom gave that gift to me. Although I clip branches to bring inside to Mom, I still miss exploring outside with Mom.

One of the blessings of dementia is the fluidity of time for the patient. Although it’s been years now since Mom and I have walked outside together, when I bring in clippings of her azaleas now in bloom, she’ll say, “Oh yes, I saw them yesterday and they were beautiful.” Cuttings of forsythia bring on declarations of how quickly they’ve grown since we just planted them last year (really 10 or more years ago). In her mind, she walked in across the fields on the farm of her childhood with her daddy just last week. Her mama and the horses and chickens are fresh in her memory.

She has no idea how long she’s been homebound. She doesn’t feel the long hours, days, weeks, months, and years of being stuck inside like I do. She doesn’t recognize the passing of the seasons as she sleeps. When I bring in reminders of the woods, she enjoys them, but she doesn’t miss them when they are gone. I lament the end of winter – I love the cold – even as I enjoy the spring (with its dreadful pollen). I always hope for a long springtime, wishing the unbearable heat from summer wouldn’t come.

Meanwhile, Mom rests inside, well-cared for and loved, as the woods change and the seasons march on.

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