Belleview Forest

In the late fifties, before there were cell phones or computers or color tvs, I lived on a lovely cul-de-sac near Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood called Belleview Forest. Belleview Forest was on the edge of an extensive forest through which, if we walked the half mile or so to the Potomac River and headed far enough west, we would arrive in West Virginia. There were about 2 dozen children on our cul-de-sac and all of us were at home in our forest. Our forest was our playground, our muse and our science classroom. We imagined native footsteps soundlessly hunting for game, revolutionary and civil war soldiers standing guard at the entrances to creeks along the Potomac, bear and wolves prowling on thickly padded paws, creeks bubbling with fish and fowl. We could run along the paths at full speed, over fallen trees and we charged across streams rock to rock, only occasionally landing in the water. We lifted up rocks in the streams to hunt for newts and crawdads; we took in box turtles, tadpoles and wounded birds. We learned about plants, dead trees, mushrooms and moss. We also learned that we were strong enough to run full speed up steep hills, across slate walls and downed trees. We challenged our bodies, our minds, our imaginations and became passionate about the beauty and mysteries of our wild backyards.

It was a different time. We ran in the forest without adults. Our parents didn’t worry about what we might encounter in the forest. The fearsome threats we made ourselves. One day we scratched huge bird tracks in the snow and told my 5 year old, blond, blue eyed brother that these were the tracks made by giant birds that only eat 5 year old, blond, blue eyed boys. My poor little brother was terrified. Worse than this was when a dozen or so of us decided to walk across the frozen Potomac River. The Potomac does not freeze very often and when it does, it does not freeze to much depth. At the time, crossing a frozen river was a lot of fun but in hindsight we shudder knowing that but for the grace of God, we would all have fallen through the ice and drowned.

The one serious concern of the moms on the cul-de-sac was getting their children home in time for dinner. With so much to explore, none of us came home without a call from home and because it was a different time - one without cell phones - the moms in the neighborhood devised their own system. Each mom had her own bell she would ring to call her children home for dinner. Our mom had a cowbell, Gladys Herrell had more of a choral bell with a big black handle. Other moms had other types of bells and each one had its own distinctive ring. We recognized our own bell and when that bell rang we didn’t wait, we ran home. In this different time without cell phones, computers and color tvs, we managed to stay connected and responsive to others, not instantly and not as completely as today, but we managed. More importantly, while outside, deeply involved with the very real rocks, streams, insects, rivers, soil and weather, we were also vividly indulging our imaginations.

Jean McGavin
August 2011
Bethlehem, CT

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