The pine trees towered over us, swaying precariously in the winds high above, but down on the pine needle-laden ground my boys and I hardly felt the gusts. Besides, we were hard at work and couldn’t be bothered with the weather. We had gathered pieces of mostly rotting wood with plans to erect a grand establishment: a place that would say, “We were here, and we did something great.”
We have a handful of trees in our backyard: one large maple that provides plenty of leaves to jump in, a pecan tree (which is mostly to supply all of the dang squirrels with plenty of food for the winter), and a climbing tree with random pieces of wood clinging, leaning, and laying near it.
But occasionally we go to one of the nearby parks to play in the woods—for a more proper tree experience. After all, there is nothing like leaving the paved sidewalk and entering a less colorful world with a palette of mainly greens and browns, though this day the green was sparse. On this particular day we went to North Park because the woods are larger.
Often I hear from other mothers that Jackson doesn’t have enough playgrounds, splash pads, amusement parks, and colorful centers of sensory overload to keep their children content for hours on end. I am fully supportive of playgrounds, sidewalks, the whole nine yards, but sometimes its nice to step off the path. I tell other moms to head to the woods, but that statement is sometimes met with a blank look.
It’s neater to stay on the paved, winding sidewalk placed a safe meter or so from the dark woods. It’s easier to walk on the concrete than the unpredictable grass. Pavement is pleasant for pondering with no need to consider the next step because it is the same as the one before. Sidewalks aren’t evil, but perhaps we no longer have the energy to question the road we are on.
Have we become so lazy that we have forgotten the ingredients that made our own childhoods magical?
My ten-year-old is intent on making the structure more secure. He finds large pieces of wood and great pleasure in breaking apart big sticks by holding one side with a strong grip and jumping onto the other side of the long stick to break it. He carefully arranges each slab in its rightful place according to the blueprint he’s laid out in his own mind.
My eight-year-old happily walks around, creating stories about the shadows in the woods and imagining the great future of the fort. He wants to know what will happen next, planning a great war that will probably never happen. Grabbing a handful of pine needles, he announces that pine needles are now the currency of the woods, which his brother promptly denies because pine needles aren’t rare.
We examine the life cycle of plants and observe mushrooms bursting from the ground, feeding on the life that is gone. Large birds circle overhead, and since we can’t tell what they are, we decide that they are a pack of falcons, not buzzards or crows. Last year we read My Side of the Mountain, so we watch eagerly for a falcon to come down into our burrow and let us train him as a hunter so we can have lunch later.
We found a hole in the pine needles, which we decided was a proper hole for a snake to hibernate. And my children learned a little bit about life from objects unexpectantly found arraying the forest floor: drinking beer is sometimes done in secret.
Trees are a common part of Jackson’s landscape—so common they are often overlooked.
Take, for instance, Union’s campus, arrayed with crepe myrtles and, near the chapel, a single weeping willow. For those who don't know, the tree was planted to remember 911; and now you know. Did you know that the University of Lambuth’s campus is a certified arboretum with more than sixty species of trees dotting the landscape? And how often have I driven to Nashville in the fall in awe of the changing leaves hanging over Interstate 40?
But my favorite tree in Jackson is a cherry tree in my backyard with buckets and string hanging from its branches. The bark is peeling where small feet have pushed against it to climb higher. Flowers still dare to bloom every spring, knowing that dirty hands will shake the limbs to watch its petals rain down.
It’s easy to not see what you have seen every day of your life. I am from Jackson, and often I forget to remember that I once hung from kudzu vines and made forts in growing oaks and gathered maple leaves for school projects. I drive back and forth down the same roads that I traveled on as a child seeing the same trees, only they are older, and I am grayer, but many of them are part of my story.
This year I don’t want to overlook the common because I just might miss something great.
Maybe I’m just getting older, and it’s winter and a new year, but that day in the woods I felt like I wanted to step off of the path more often. I wanted to climb a tree or make a fort or just do something that says “I was here.”
Every time I am around the members of the Our Jackson Home team, I am reminded of my children—not in a nurturing, aren’t-you-guys-so-cute kind of way, mind you. The writers, photographers, and thinkers on this team are imaginative, and most are still at the beginning of their lives, walking in the midst of great pine trees, looking around at rotting pieces of wood and making something great. The people that are staying in Jackson seem to have that creative aura and courageous initiative that I see in my own kids. They, too, are hoping to say, “We were here, and we did something great.” And I love standing on the sidelines, watching them create structures out of rotting wood. If you aren’t watching, Jackson, you just might miss seeing something great.
Proud to be a local Jacksonian, Ginger Williams tried to move away in college, but Jackson has that magnetic quality that pulls you back. As a child she lived in the trees, read lots of books, and wrote stories, and not much has changed. Ginger is a writer, a journalist, a volunteer, a homeschool mom, and a marketing associate for Reed Marketing. Her husband Matt and sons Blake and Ethan love living in Jackson and enjoying ice cream at the Old Country Store, soccer at North Park, and being only ten minutes from everything so that they are almost never late. She loves to tell the stories of Jackson so that others will become endeared to the city that she loves.
tags Jackson TN, Tennessee, Ginger Williams, backyard, family, tree, woods, park, North Park, parenthood, parents, mother, motherhood, childhood, children, My Side of the Mountain, imagination, Union University, University of Memphis Lambuth, arboretum, plants, pretend, leaves, creativity, explore, exploration, discover, discovery