December arrived gray, wet, and chilly this year. When the sun finally broke through today, the wind whipped through the woods and sent the last of the leaves flying. Due to the rain and an extended Thanksgiving break, the kids had not visited their forts for some time. There was much talk of repairs needed, of missing valuables, and of new ventures.
Someone came running to tell me exciting news: “We have an employee of the month!” The lucky child was chosen, I was informed, by virtue of always wearing a big smile, and was honored with the gift of a special curved stick. Meanwhile, at the far end of the woods, two 3rd graders worked with a hockey stick and a homemade sickle to cut back a multiflora rose bush that was invading the play area. New welcome signs were hammered together, decorated, and displayed. Two gardeners dug and planted a small plot of soybeans that had been part of a holiday display, hoping for edamame in the spring.
All this, plus it was Thursday Trashday, one of our very favorite days of the week. I am already missing the Jemicy woods.
This week, my JE classes are looking for artifacts, to try and piece together the mystery of Jemicy’s history. An artifact, I told them, is something made by hand. Maybe a piece of pottery, a chunk of metal or glass, or a stone shaped for a purpose. Jemicy’s wooded hillside leading down to the stream is loaded with artifacts, having been backfilled with the construction refuse of prior tenants, including a dairy farm and another small school. We headed out with collecting bags to search the woods. Immediately, old bricks and chunks of clay drainage pipe were discovered. Pieces of thick, oddly shaped glass surfaced, and large slabs of concrete protruded from a half century’s collection of forest detritus. It seemed impossible to account for all the pieces of human activity strewn around us. We spent an hour hunting, spreading out through the woods, and when we finally gathered to share our finds, “artifact” had expanded its meaning. Here, among the scattered clay and glass shards, were spherical garnets and chunks of sparkling mica schist, jagged pieces of quartzite, a handful of scarlet spicebush berries, some wild apples, a black crow’s feather, and a red-tailed hawk’s red tail feather. In these woods so altered by humans, many of the most attractive artifacts are those that are not shaped by hands. They are the collectible bits of evidence that other animals have been here, fruits announcing ripeness, and the gleaming, perfectly pocket-sized rocks that weather and time have revealed.