Sunday, September 18, 2011

How a Happy-Mom Herb Saved the Day

At the tender age of 14, I was dragged relentlessly into the woods and lost there by my own parents.  Well, alright.  I went willingly, with my younger sister, my mom, and my dad, all in the name of a relaxing walk in the woods.  What we didn't know was how long we'd be there, or that we'd eventually run out of mozzarella sticks.

For as long as I can remember, my parents took us for these walks.  We'd unwittingly follow shoddily marked trails, never thinking to drop bread crumbs or tie colored string on trees as we went, and for the most part, our lack of planning worked just fine.  It never occurred to us that we might just lose our way someday.  After all, wasn't the forest our friend?

These walks were a great joy to me, even into my teen years when my parents mysteriously lost their edge of cool.  In the woods, no one could see me actually laugh at my dad's jokes, and my friends would never know I was listening to what my mother had to say, and enjoying it.  I didn't have to roll my eyes (much), and the blue jays were not impressed with my sarcasm.  Even my little sister became my best friend once again, and not just that little rat who stole my curling iron and used the last of the Aqua Net.  No, instead we had fun being the kids we still were deep down, running up and down hills, picking up colored leaves and shrieking over large bugs.  My mom would pack the usual mozzarella, meat sticks, and fruit so we'd have something to enjoy under a big tree somewhere about halfway.

That day in particular, we stopped at what we thought was halfway, enjoyed all our food and most of the water, then pressed on.  After the third pass around an eerily familiar downed tree, we started questioning my dad's leadings.  "Don't worry.  I was a boy scout."  That mantra was funny.  The first 12 times.  After about two hours of wandering, hungry and refusing to pee behind a tree, it'd definitely lost its luster.  My dad's boy scout membership should be revoked.

We eventually found our way out, I'm sure completely by mistake.  And despite our hunger and thirst, we still found it in us to pose for some hilarious family photos of my mother comforting her distraught daughters, my father wearing a confused and slightly dopey expression while shrugging his shoulders in hopelessness.

Fast forward 20 years.  I'm in the woods with my husband and my two-year-old son, taking a walk through the beautiful forests of Northern Michigan.  A very well-marked trail took us through some truly stunning scenery - pines, oak, sand dunes with vistas of Lake Michigan, wide open fields of wildflowers.  I couldn't help myself.  I stopped to pick some St. John's-wort, calling to me in all its sunshiny beauty.  We'd packed snacks and water, but the snacks eventually wore out.  I started munching on the St. John's leaves, enjoying the mild citrus flavor that tasted like the sunshine itself.  Everything seemed perfect.  Until we got lost.

We didn't have a baby carrier, no way to strap our child to ourselves, aside from two arms each.  So taking turns carting him (my husband got the bulk of this one), we followed the trail's markings around and around, certain we were so very close to our parked car.  Our unsuspecting child bobbed happily in our arms, enjoying the scenery and drinking most of our water supply.

Normally, I'm a terrible worrier.  But despite flashbacks to that day in the woods with my family so long ago, and despite our lack of food and the fact that we were lost with a two-year-old, I felt inexplicably... calm.  

The bag of St. John's-wort swung at my side, continuing to offering its many tiny leaves as a woodland snack.  I got lost in the beauty of the sun sparkling through the leaves on the trees, the crunch of the earth beneath my feet, and the endless variety of plants, trees, and animals that seemed to be waiting for us at every turn.  I wanted to run up and down hills, pick up colored leaves, and shriek at big bugs.  And sometimes I did.  Being lost was becoming way too much fun.

The long walk finally ended when we accidentally found our way to the parking lot.  We rubbed our aching feet, drank the last few swallows of warm water, and headed out of the park for food.  On the way out, we told a park ranger that we'd suspected a missing path marker.  Indeed, the very last of the arrows was missing, and we'd been passing the parking lot again and again, unknowingly.  But it was one glorious day, one more family adventure I'll never forget, filled with memories of a child napping in our arms, sunlight shimmering through the leaves, and one half-empty bag of St. John's-wort.

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