lost in the springtime

Lost in the spring time

We welcomed the visiting grandchildren with a backyard seeded with plastic Easter eggs. No candy, but a promise that the one who gathered the most would get to be first in choosing which chocolate Easter bunny they would receive. Eggs just laying in the yard sounds easy, but Grandpa had saved his first mowing until after everyone had seen the pretty purple flowers in our far from perfect green yard.

Carefully the six year-old and three-year-old walked back and forth, acquainting themselves with the backyard and bits and glimpses of the neighborhood. They did a great job hunting. They found 79 of the 80 eggs tucked behind trees, in bushes or in deep patches of grass.

They found the lost eggs, but finding their way around the county took a bit more confidence in the adults than the preschooler would allow. On the way to the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, he wanted to know, “Are we lost?”

We assured him we were not.

Each time we headed to yet another new location, he asked the question.

We assured him we were not lost. We directed him down the hall to the temporary exhibit and then to tinker corner. He forgot about being lost as he built, experimented and tried his hand at connecting pipes. His sister had her own concerns during the brief ride in the time machine elevator. We landed in the hall replicating the oil boom in Smackover which includes the Smackover Goat Woman’s trailer. Our granddaughter had received a copy of Ramona Wood’s book about the woman prior to their visit. So, no we weren’t lost, we were right in front of a piece of a story come to life.

As we walked around the square in El Dorado, the little guy found his way into the coziness of the telephone booth-book exchange with his mom and sister for a quick picture. But the afternoon his dad and I took him, his sister and baby brother on a walk, he simply could not stop his concerns, “Are we lost?” he asked time and again.

“No,” his dad assured him. Then Daddy did the unthinkable – he stepped off the street into a wooded lot and we really began to look lost. It is reasonable observation for a person half our size, who has spent most of his time inside the confines of a city house and lot. For him simply stepping off the road into the woods would seem like entering the world of the lost.

But my son knew exactly where he was taking his children. He had traipsed through these woods many times as a child. He remembered more dirt, fewer leafy trees and more pines, but still he recognized the area.

As we walked down memory lane through the bit of forest, little brother squatted down to trace patterns in drying mud. He patted the red clay until it stained his hands. Big sister picked up a stick and pounded the fallen limbs and trees. Their dad tugged hard on the vines to see if he could yank them down. He peered down long overgrown paths and shook his head at a density of vegetation he did not remember. Really, had it been that long since he walked freely in this area?

As he turned over memories, the children discovered the fun of exploring the forgotten woods. City parks do not include long forgotten car seat reduced to just springs sunk deep in the dirt.

But still the question remained, “Are we lost?” the tike asked looking up from a tree stump where he examined a pile of moldy leaves.

“No, see that house? It is time to start going home. You be the leader and walk toward that house,” his dad said.

The sturdy little fellow stood up and began tromping along a faded path through the trees toward the house. Fallen branches and logs made a path directing him out of the woods. Soon we saw the asphalt street to the left. “Now you can lead us out to the road.”

He looked around. Not the house? the street? I could see his mind slowly switch gears. That night he proudly told to his mother, several times, “I was the leader. We were lost. I showed us the way home.”

I hope he finds his way back to our house again soon.

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk.” Email her at joanh@everybody.org)