Nature Photography

Blogging My Book: Lessons from the Woods

When I was eight years old, my family moved to the woods. Although we were an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, the city seemed like it was light years away.

And light, what was that? The interior of our new house was so dark, we had to keep the lights on during the daytime.

No sense in complaining about it. We lived in the woods, the woods were dark, and we humans just had to adapt.

Those Oddballs in the Woods

Around our new neighborhood, there were all sorts of houses. Some looked like they’d been transplanted from backwoods Appalachia. Others were worthy of features in Architectural Digest.

The Retallick residence was somewhere in between. It was the fire-engine-red house in the woods with no lawn.

Those things got the Architectural Digest wannabes talking, but we didn’t care. Mom liked bright colors on a house, and none of us wanted to cut grass. We were busy pursuing other interests, like chemical engineering research (Dad), earning a master’s degree then getting a job as a foreign language teacher (Mom), and developing writing and photographic skills (me).

Youthful Naturalist

While I was developing my professional skills, I was becoming quite the naturalist. Mom found a willing audience for her extensive knowledge of birds, and she installed a feeder outside her kitchen window so we could watch the birds together.

I also assigned myself the task of learning the names of all the trees in our woods – mostly beech, maple, oak, and poplar, but a few chestnut and walnuts had managed to work their way into the mix. Beneath those trees were a wide variety of low light-adapted plants, including the jack-in-the-pulpit shown above.

Across the street was a row of pines that stretched for half a mile. They were perfect for an intrepid tree climber like me. I’m proud to report that I never slipped or lost my grip while I clambered 10, 15, even 20 feet above the ground.

One day, I encountered an elderly gentleman who told me that he and his father had planted those pines during the 1920s. He was glad to see, that 50 years later, they were still going strong.

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