I stood still and listened to the Laughing Brook today, and mused for the remainder of my hike about the Old Mother West Wind Stories that I was raised on. Many might recognize the term “Old Man Winter”, and my love of the natural world around our family was fostered by the Thornton Burgess books.
The characters were wild animals, featuring Lightffoot the Deer, Jimmy Skunk, Reddy Fox, Johnny Chuck, Thumper the Rabbit, and many others. The titles, such as Peter Rabbit Proves a Friend, A Robber Meets His Match, and What Farmer Brown’s Boy Did all drove home lessons about life. Each animal had character qualities to emulate—or not! Favorite reading spots for me were up in the old apple tree and the woodbox behind the kitchen stove My mother made sure we were well supplied with books, and as I worked on the farm with my father, he made frequent reference to these same stories that he had loved as a boy, pointing out Blacky the Crow, the Merry Little Breezes, and Jolly Old Mr. Sun, as we went about our farm work.
As a young boy, the author, “Thornton, Jr. was brought up by his mother in Sandwich (MA). They lived in humble circumstances. As a youth, he worked tending cows, picking trailing arbutus (mayflowers) or berries, shipping water lilies from local ponds, selling candy, and trapping muskrats. William C. Chipman, one of his employers, lived on Discovery Hill Road, a wildlife habitat of woodland and wetland. This habitat became the setting of many stories in which Burgess refers to Smiling Pool and the Old Briar Patch.”
When I read about the author, I thought of the many enterprises our family has tackled, from mowing lawns to sleeping over with an elderly woman who feared being alone, to selling dried fern fronds to a florist, to taking down trees in yards in town. Lemonade stands, maple fudge, milking cows for a neighbor mauled by his bull. Experience builds a wealth of character—and fodder for writing!
My mind is on my work—of course—while walking through the sugarwoods, but I never fail to note who’s been there before me: Whitefoot the Mouse, Thumper the Rabbit, or perhaps Blackie the Bear!