Which parent is the nurturer? It doesn’t matter, so long as you’ve been nurtured.
Dads traditionally don’t get a lot of credit for nurturing their kids.
My nieces and nephews are raising their young families and putting a lot of work into teaching their children well. Both parents wholeheartedly embrace the nurturing.
I was lucky to have a hands-on dad when it wasn’t as common.
Every time I drive the road from the highway toward my birthplace, it’s like I’m looking through my four year-old eyes again, but also like I am seeing the land for the first time. Is that possible?
Whether it’s yellow-green spring, deep forest summer, blazing red fall, or white frost winter, the beauty of this countryside stuns me.
Approaching from the west, I can feel the car climbing. It isn’t like this in Ohio, where the landscape is mostly flat.
Crossing the border into Pennsylvania, the land undulates in soft rolls until the elevation becomes steeper and the softness gives way to hard rock and jagged edges, vestiges of the violence that must have formed these mountains long ago.
It is mostly empty road except for me. That’s good. It gives me a chance to slow and look as I enter a land that I once knew so well.
I cross a wide creek, high on an overpass that shows me how abruptly the elevations can change here.
Looking down, I see the running water of the creek. It’s not frozen yet, but it looks icy cold. It ripples slowly, the water appearing black because of the steepness of the banks holding and guiding the stream.
This creek runs along the mountainside. The mountain itself reluctantly makes way for the road, and you can see where workers cut the road’s path into the mountainside.
Exposed and raw, the mountainside is adorned with icicles that form thick stalactites hanging from rock ledges.
Notably different from Ohio, too, the woods are liberally sprinkled with pine and hemlock. It is more colorful and interesting than the deciduous woods I left behind today.
This landscape brings memories of happy days when I was young and every morning promised new adventure.
I remember trekking to the land’s end with my parents.
Our destination was the edge of our mountainside, to look over the river that carved its way through the Allegheny Mountains.
After dinner, we headed to the end of our gravel and dirt road. There, three paths extended into the woods, one straight ahead, another to the left, and the third to the right.
The path to the right led to the river. We always took this path, which was wider than the others. Two tire ruts with sparse grass between them made a flat and easy road for us to walk.
It was bordered with the same hemlocks I’m seeing now.
There was also low-growing ground pine and wintergreen that my dad collected to make Christmas wreaths.
Both evergreens were so fragrant. He crushed the wintergreen’s shiny leaf between his fingers and coaxed me to inhale its pungent yet slightly sweet smell.
I remember that there was a chewing gum with this same fragrance. It was called Clark’s teaberry gum.
When we got near the end of the path, my brother and I raced to “The Jack and Jill Tree.”
It was a funny looking old tree near the cliff that dropped down to the riverbank.
The tree had survived a lifetime of prevailing winds, and its trunk and branches testified to this with twists and gnarls.
Two rotten, broken branches near its base offered perfect seats for us both.
We recited “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after!”
The nursery rhyme seemed appropriate, given the height and slope of the cliff to the river.
In fall, which is how I remember this scene most vividly, the landscape was evenly covered with orange, gold and red, peppered generously with dark green.
The river cut through wide and green-blue.
Sometimes the river’s flow was accented with silver ripples.
Other times, the water looked deep and dark. Mist covered the lower part of the river valley at those times because the land cooled slower than the air.
My dad taught me a lot about the animals and plants in those woods. I learned to identify the berries I was allowed to eat: blueberries and blackberries.
He also taught me to watch for snakes when I was foraging for berries. Back then, copperheads were not unusual.
It was from my dad that I learned to love nature, and to respect its beauty and power.
And in times like these, when we have human worries, it is a great comfort to know that nature’s got us.