Lessons linger from long-ago summers

There is no gift quite like the gift of a child turned loose with a vivid imagination. And there is no place quite like a farm for that imagination to be set free.

As summer marches on, I recall other summers in which we tried so hard to make the most of those waning days of freedom. With a pack of crackers and a Thermos of Kool-Aid, off we would trek back the lane, past the growing cornfield to the woods for our own little vacation, an adventure in the making.

There were cowboys and Indians lurking there, you know. Or, depending on the moment and the mood, it might be those African safari animals just planning a sneak attack on little old us. We had to be strong and capable and swift for whatever was sure to come our way.

The woods held many secrets, and many clues. That magical place was filled with intrigue, for who knew what could be hiding under the huge canopy of trees that had grown there for hundreds of years? There were so many wonderful and intricate hiding places in that woods. Every hollow log held hidden treasure or served as someone’s vault of enormous clues to what might come our way if only we searched long enough and hard enough.

It seemed the woods held us as happy captives, especially as the shifting slant of sunlight and the touch of autumn breezes changed everything, warning us that our freedom was about to end. Soon, no more long days spent under the big blue sky. Soon, our wonderful scents of green grasses covered with dew and wildflowers running rampant would be replaced with that stifling smell of chalk dust and industrial-strength school cleaning supplies.

Nothing, no matter how long I live, will erase those smells from my memory.

When my sisters were still willing to play these summer games with me, life was grand. All too soon, though, they were too old for such nonsense, and my brother was still too little to want to go. I was sandwiched in this middle place that sort of left me in the lurch for a couple of years.

It was then that I think I learned to become an animal lover. My dog, Chippi Chan, would go anywhere I invited her to go. We took glorious bike rides, this happy little dog perched in my bike basket, a book tucked in beside her. If I could no longer find side-kicks who would play cowboys and Indians with me, I could certainly find a nice shady tree, lie down on a blanket of soft green earth, and travel through my solitary adventure, page by page.

Then, one day, my little brother was old enough to come along. By then we were quick and slick with our bicycles, practically flying off to seek our fun. We were high-tech adventurers now, our inventory made complete by a pair of walkie-talkies and the lingo that went with it.

“Come in, we are about to rendezvous. Do you copy?”

“Ten-four.”

There is no place like the mind of a child, where a farm gate can magically become a horse, a tree can become a highly-technical spy tower, a long-idle tractor can become a get-away vehicle, a fallen tree an intricate trap.

These are things that cannot be learned inside the walls of a school, and these are gifts that can’t be bought, wrapped and placed on a fancy table.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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