[Note: There are always many things to illuminate and educate and entertain at the venerable Woodpile Report with Ol' Remus. Chief among these are the pocket essays written by Remus. This is one of them from the latest Woodpile.]
Around here we pass on useful tips. How to identify Tulip Poplar for absolute sure in the wintertime, where not to be while chuck hunting, how to touch up chain saw teeth with a hand-held round file, identifying rare critters, like the Fisher, and sounds heard only occasionally, like the Vixen Scream, and so forth. As for finding water, the problem in Appalachian hill country is how to cross it or avoid it—hint: when your dowser goes up, camp there.
By the time a kid is in his teens he's a walking Foxfire magazine, without knowing it. It's fully the equal of urban "street smarts" in terms of value for its setting. I've hosted people from cities who have never, literally never, been outside their urban confines, i.e., they're "cosmopolitan". Their assumptions and anxieties are often touchingly hilarious but, you know, courtesy precludes being dismissive.
They're exceptionally good walkers on level ground, with admirable stamina, but they're dangerously inept in wooded hills and have a dogged preference for doing everything the hard way. While refreshingly enthusiastic about some things they commonly look without seeing, have little sense of direction—being landmark navigators suddenly without landmarks, grossly over or underestimate distance and have an annoying tendency to walk in aimless loops.
They see it all as a Disney production, or a sort of walk-in painting, so unless a need arises, and one day with another no need arises, I take care not to mention rabid raccoons, poison ivy, underground hornet nests, bears, ticks and other unsettling notions.
There is an up side. When they see, perhaps for the first time, an inky black sky full of stars, when they hear real silence or the tinkly murmur of a little creek, when we step into the back yard and shoot wiley coffee cans—"can we really do this?"—when they listen to owls trading insults at night, when they savor fresh eggs from hens wandering at will, when they come in of a chilly evening and bask in woodstove heat corpuscles, I take pleasure in their pleasure.
Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
- - Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout by Gary Snyder