Mara; or, Child in the Woods

Mara; or, Child in the Woods

It’s a minor miracle that I survived my childhood. I was born female, grew up to be feminine, but acted like a tomboy in the first grade. We lived at the edge of the woods, and for lack of other play ideas, I played in the woods. Alone. The scariness of this arrangement is somewhat relieved by the fact that at first I was only allowed to stay within clear sight of the house. Our house was a huge cube with five large windows facing the woods, so I could spy on my mother doing chores through the windows while I was playing in the woods. The moment she opened the middle top window and yelled my name, I had to report back immediately. When I made her yell at length, Maaa-raaa, hooome, nooow, I was in trouble.

Do you know the tree houses from American films? Well, forget it. That’s what we call a fancy summer house in Eastern Europe. A real tree house is a tree that you carefully pick to spend your play time around. You sweep the forest floor around it, you bring stones and stuff to decorate it and when you’re done, you climb it and contemplate. The best feature of my tree house was a thick low branch that worked as a swing. That is, until a big kid from the neighbourhood intruded my house and broke the branch. He didn’t find my treasure though: a set of toy kitchen utensils buried in the tree’s roots and containing actual sugar, salt and coffee that I stole at home. It horrifies me to think I mixed it with water and ate it. The coffee tasted particularly revolting.

Stopping by the woods on a summer evening

When in the woods, I was always on a mission. I was a prehistoric gatherer. I gathered leaves and twigs, bark and pebbles, flowers and berries. I was at least smart enough not to eat these. My mission could be circling around a molehill and waiting for a mole to peek out. It never did. Or it could be clearing from obstacles a tiny stream that was springing from the ground at one spot and disappeared in the earth again a few hundred feet farther on. My favourite mission was very unsavoury. It consisted of crossing the road that cut through the woods and trespassing on a local dump. For some reasons I thought it was amazing to rummage through other people’s waste, and there were awesome things to find, including dresses and toys.

Sometimes the woods scared me to death. When I climbed the board fence enclosing an area with freshly planted trees, I was frightened by the noise of something big and heavy moving nearby. I was wondering if the thing was inside or outside of the enclosure and if it could be a boar, which were spotted in the woods before. I was sorry to die, and I experienced an unpleasant epiphany that my mother was right to warn me from going so far from the house. I never learned what it was, but it didn’t kill me, and I could live with that. Speaking about past tense, once I quite literally stumbled on dead deer. It was staring at me with one huge brown eye as flies were feasting on it. Seeing that I couldn’t bury it, I prayed for the corpse. This must have been ridiculous, because I wasn’t instructed in religion, so I made up a prayer for dead deer on the spot.

This was in summer. Winters were less fun because the slopes of the woods grew too slippery to climb, and it was really too cold to hang out on a tree branch. There were two sledging hills behind the house. The small one was parent-approved, and it took about two seconds to slide from its top to the bottom. The big one was a different thing. It was a long and winding cleft in a hill, potentially dangerous to manoeuvre. I went down it on a sledge several times, and it was exhilarating. Until I made a manoeuvring mistake and hit a tree. The tree was fine, but I got briefly unconscious and spent weeks in the hospital with a concussion, a swollen eye and half my face grazed by the bark. I made a full recovery, but the woods were never the same again.

20 thoughts on “Mara; or, Child in the Woods

  1. That was a very good read l enjoyed reading that, had me intreged from beginning to end, also l love the pictures of your cat absolutely beutiful

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  2. For someone who grew up in an apartment in a city, this is just the sort of childhood that exists in dreams alone. Although I don’t envy the concussion, life at the edge of the woods sounds wonderful.

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    1. Ooh, and I would have loved to experience an apartment childhood… I guess we all want what we don’t have. It was fun to have the woods available for all sorts of boyish games, but as my post warns, a bit dangerous too! Anyway, when I started to go to a grammar school, I lost all interest in the outdoors and became a nerd. And now, though I live in a village, I absolutely love the city and hope to be able to move out of fields and forests into one 😉

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  3. Did you grow out of being a tomboy? I never did. I wear some pink now just because I’m surrounded by males but I’m still not remotely girly. I’m just a grown up scruffy tomboy. My kids have inherited my feral behaviour and now I have insight into how frustrating it was for my mother to deal with pots and pans used to make mud pies, dirty footprints across floors and ripped clothes.

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    1. Yes, I actually grew out of being a tomboy and became not precisely girly, but certainly tending to elegancy and respectability, as appropriate for a teacher 😉 I think I’d still love to make a mud pie or such, given the opportunity! I think you’re lucky to have children who are happy to be outdoors, it’s surely healthy for them, despite the occasional dirty footprints on the floors, as you put it…

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      1. “As appropriate for a teacher” did make me giggle. My female students were always trying to give me make-overs when I was teaching. They particularly despaired of my scruffy hair. I have always loved jewellery. That was always my one concession to girliness.

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        1. Haha, well, my students fortunately never attempted to give me any makeover, probably seeing that it would be effort wasted. I’m quite proud of my carefully colour-coordinated decent style too. I’m no fashionista, but I feel the urge to try to look a bit representative when working with people, and even more so when I happen to represent my university at a conference abroad… At least at home I wear yoga pants and a headband 😮 And yes, jewellery, that’s my sin too! I even got a mounted jewellery case to store all my treasures…

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  4. it sound slike you liked the same childhood things as me. I would spend my life in the wood, normally get there by bike, with normally an older friend or by myself. I would be an intrepid adventurer too but never hid treasures in there as I never had my own treehouse so you were lucky. But goodness eating coffee, bleh urgh, how disgusting haha, oh my you must have been hyper when you got home x

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    1. Ah, that’s nice that we sort of shared the same kind of childhood! I took it that you lived in London for your whole life, but now I see I was wrong? Or are there woods in London? Please excuse my lack of knowledge…

      Haha, yes, I did eat coffee, sugar and salt and such, and it was all horrendous. Little did I know that I’ll grow up to become a coffee addict. Also in retrospect, I’m shocked as to what children come up with.

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      1. ah no i grew up in a small country village with hardly any public transport around lol. I used to go on my bike, walk through rivers and climb trees if i was not at boarding school, or of course play in my room, i was a bit of a loner!

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        1. I see! Excellent, in that case we have one more thing in common. It was the same with me, growing up in a small village, hardly any connection to the world and either roaming outdoors and being shut in my room when I got older. I don’t blame it on my concussion incurred on the sledge but it’s true that afterwards I preferred to stay indoors.

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  5. Yo might be surprised at what great percentage of kids over here grew up similarly to you. Well, out parents didn’t yell out the window in Chech at us, though😌

    Did you cut that willow tree?? Your arms must be tired😲

    Have a great w/e😊

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    1. Haha, you put it nicely! I think I’d love to have my mother yell at me in English rather than Czech from the window, that would make my childhood interestingly quirky. And no, I didn’t chop down the tree because I can’t be trusted with sharp objects. Have a great weekend!

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