The big picture
Sunday October 29th 2006, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I grew up in a house in the woods, right by a ten-mile-long regional park running along Cabin John Creek in Maryland, flowing out to the Potomac River. In a normal year, I make a trek back East for a short while, visiting friends and family, taking walks down the towpath of the C&O Canal, where my husband and I went on our first date; always dipping a toe in the Potomac, just because. One friend and I had a Great Blue heron take off into the air right in front of us on one of those outings. It lifted up in graceful slow motion, right there. Glorious.

But this has not been a normal year. My trip got cancelled by a Crohn’s flare (yeah, got that, too) and I didn’t get to go–and my parents suddenly decided to put their house on the market and move into a downtown condo two thousand miles away, to the city where my mother had grown up, where they could get by without driving anymore. Which makes sense at their stage; everything’s right there for them. I wanted to say goodbye to the house, where some of my earliest memories are of the day we’d moved in. It didn’t happen.

A few years ago, I was back there, and it was distressing to see that the English ivy the neighbors had planted to tamp down the erosion on the hill had grown like kudzu across the back yard, destroying everything in its path. Where were the jack-in-the-pulpits? Had the mayapples even made it through the ivy cover earlier that year? Where were the turtles? But the trees! There were several trees that had ivy running up them now, sinking roots into the trunks, threatening to kill them. Tall dead trees are wonderful for feeding pileated woodpeckers, but twice in years past, hit by lightning earlier, the folks have had one land on or go right through the house in a hurricane and a tornado. Not to mention, these new ones would be dead, and then the next ones would be, and the next. Ivy so much does not belong there.

No way was I not going to try. Short-breathed or no, dizzy or not, that ivy had to go. I spent I don’t know how long ripping it out, which was easy where it was young growth–and a lot of it was–and where it was not, well, I ached for days, but man, was it worth it. The next year, when I came back for the wedding of a friend’s daughter, I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to see the forest floor rebounding fast where the ivy had been cleared. And I’d cleared quite a lot.

My friend Robin of the comments lives in Bethesda, and drove over to the folks’ house on their moving day. Snapped pictures and sent me the link, including this picture of the back yard (thank you, Robin!) I had never in my life seen the front yard so sunny before; since my last trip, a storm had finished off what had once been a big, shady poplar in the center of the yard.

Today I was wishing I could see fall colors in all the glory to be had back there. Northern California claims fall colors, but it’s just not the same. The trees here change with the seasons the way a fifth grade band class follows the music teacher: every random which way when, notes often squeaky and never in concert together, with the class clowns in the back holding out till January.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before. I love this photo, showing the trees I pulled that ivy off of, scarred, but still growing tall and strong, holding the weight of the sky off the young saplings below. Light bursting through at the top. I was knitting this evening, and just needed–something. What? I glanced around, and suddenly found myself reaching for a copy of that shot and putting it in my lap, so that when I glanced down at the knitting in my hands, I would have those woods as the backdrop. It completely changed how I felt about that particular project, which had lagged earlier, but now was just sailing off my needles.

I took a break to come write this.

I wonder who will pull the ivy off in the years to come. I hope that, rather than looking at that large lot with the For Sale sign only as a place for their Washington McMansion, the buyers love those woods the way we kids did. The mayapples have such a short season. Don’t forget to look for the turtles. 

8 Comments so far
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What a wonderful story, and a great way to help yourself continue on with your project. 🙂

I don’t think I e-mailed you on Friday, but I mailed you something good via Priority so you should receive it soon. 🙂

Comment by Joni 10.30.06 @ 4:30 am

Wow–thank you! Now I’m going to be spending all day listening for the mailman. Can’t wait!

Comment by AlisonH 10.30.06 @ 10:38 am

The big tree in the front yard was a hickory, and after it died we had a professional put on the ground, and then Brian Johnson came with his chainsaw over several weeks and cut it up. It was the hardest wood he had ever encountered, and he finally put a new chain on his saw. The blog picture made me homesick, too. Love, Dad

Comment by Lawrence Jeppson 10.30.06 @ 1:05 pm

Oh, that’s right. Hickory. And the tree in the back yard that the tornado had a temper tantrum with, that one I remember trying to reach around it with Anne when we were little, seeing if we could make our hands reach. We couldn’t at all.

Comment by AlisonH 10.30.06 @ 2:59 pm

Yup, it is different out there. Woods and green places. We import Those Trees to give us some of that color that you wish for but the native look around here is golden with big oak trees that just go on and on and never change.
I will watch for Those Trees as I come into the airport tomorrow and as we drive around Maryland a bit. Good to know about that darned ivy.

Comment by Lisa S 10.30.06 @ 4:23 pm

Enjoy Bal’mur, Lisa. And there are some places where you’ll see ivy climbing along the telephone wires overhead. It’s a jungle out there.

Comment by AlisonH 10.30.06 @ 5:01 pm

When I was taking those pictures, I stood there knowing that there must be places that had special meaning and just hoping against hope that that’s what I would capture. Thanks so much for letting me know that I did!

I didn’t mean to make anyone homesick, though.

Comment by Robin 11.04.06 @ 7:45 pm

It’s okay to be a little homesick; it means you remember and treasure the good in a place, just like we want our friends to only think of the good in ourselves and let the rest go.

Thank you so much for going over and taking those pictures, Robin. If there are any out here you’d like us to take, let me know. I can send Richard, if it’s too sunny for me. He’s gotten some good shots done of some of the birds along the bayfront.

Comment by AlisonH 11.05.06 @ 12:03 am

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