Remembering a day in the woods

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh Photos
Box turtles are having a difficult time keeping away from today’s lawn mowers, weed whackers and speeding cars, etc. When given a chance, these turtles have been known to live 60 years or more.

One thing that age brings on is memories of the past that are strongly set in our mind. One example of this was years ago when, I remember, I was sitting down quietly in a warm and comfortable spot in the woods away from everything. There was nothing special about this spot; most would never have given it a second thought, including me, but then time gave me a chance for a closer look.

And here is where the story begins. My eyes picked up a spot of white that shouldn’t have been in an area where there was nothing but trees, bushes and dead leaves. I got up from my comfortable place in the sun and walked over to check it out and there, partially hidden among the dried leaves, was something from the past. It seemed to have cried out to me, “Here I am, over here!”

What appeared to be just a spot of white from a distance turned out to be a beautiful flower. I bent down to see if I could identify it and it turned out to be a Star-of-Bethlehem blossom. I was familiar with these flowers because my dad had some growing around our house, but what was it doing here in the woods away from everything and everybody?

The Star-of-Bethlehem is a small, hardy plant that belongs to the lily family. It is a native of Europe but for many years has been grown in gardens in America. Named for its star-shaped flowers, it has six petals arranged roughly in a star shape. The delicate petal-like parts are white but have green stripes on the outside. It flowers in May or June, and recently we found three of these delicate plants growing in our lawn. At one time we had a few plants along the edge of our woods. They are gone now, but after the blossoms, little black seeds form and are dispersed in the area and spread more plants around. That is what happened in our lawn and perhaps that is what had happened in the woods where I found that single plant by itself.

I found a few bricks with the imprint “Sanford,” which could have come from the Sanford Brickyard in Greenport, where red clay bricks were once made. The brickyard is no longer there. It is now a marina. When they were making bricks they shipped them out by railroad and coastal steamer. They also brought in cord wood from Connecticut to fire the kiln in the days before they used oil. You can still find Sanford bricks around if you look for them. We have a few in our walkway we found years ago.

As usual, my eyes and ears are always looking and listening for that special bird, and, in my spot in the woods, as my binoculars scanned the area in the treetops, a mass of purple caught my eye. Focusing more closely, I realized it was that beautiful climbing vine that blossoms this time of year, the wisteria. This particular vine must have been 50 to 100 years old by the size of its trunk.

Things were beginning to fall in place. What I must have stumbled on was the site of a homestead from years ago. Perhaps there had been a farm and a farmhouse here, and workers working in the fields and a family that was enjoying the good life.

As I continued to walk, searching for more clues, I heard some rustling in the leaves and looked until I found what was causing it. As I moved the leaves away there was a large box turtle. Box turtles actually live to 60 years or more, so this particular one could have been around at the time the family lived here. Perhaps the children had seen this very turtle and kept it a few days to observe it and let it go. Turtles do not make good pets. It is best to watch them for a while and send them on their way.

Box turtles usually stay in an area the size of a football field or a few acres all their life. When disturbed or moved or the land changes, they want to get back to their original familiar place. Many of you have seen box turtles or other turtles trying to cross a highway. If possible, try to move them off the road a ways in the direction you found them moving. If you do not, they will only return to try to cross the road again.

This happened to us the other day. Friends of ours found a turtle that had evidently tried to cross our long stone wall driveway and had fallen into the roadway. They brought it up to us. We put it down to photograph it and then thought it might like to move farther away from the problem of the driveway, so we put it farther back in the woods away from the highway and road. Don’t try to out-think a turtle!

The next day the turtle was back in the driveway and trying once again to make it up the other side of the two-foot-high stone wall. We cooperated this time by picking it up and placing it over the wall and on the ground, and off it went. It appeared to be a female and has probably dug a hole and laid her eggs by now. The box turtles you observe out and about are either females looking for a place to lay their eggs or males looking for a mate.

How does the song go, “Memories are made of this…”? Here is one example of how one’s mind works as we get older. A long life is full of adventures, and here is just one from my book of memories about that day years ago when I sat pondering about what I thought was probably someone’s homestead there in that special place.