At the back of Shelter Valley Mobile Home Park in Newfield, New York sits single-wide trailer number 541 on the South Way. Growing up I knew it as 55 Shelter Valley Road. I haven’t been back there in years, but as a child it had to have been the best lot in the park.
Situated on a yard large enough that it took hours to mow in the summer and even longer to rake up the leaves in the fall, we had a large vegetable garden that produced substantially-sized zucchini, tulip beds lined with rocks, and a blue and white metal-framed swingset (the one with two individual swings, a two-seater swing, and a slide) on which every country kid of the ’80s spent their formative years. My sister and I created mazes in the fall leaves ending with the requisite pile in which to jump. Dad and I practiced softball, scaring the living daylights out of Mom while she washed dishes when I hit a home run from the bottom of the hill and bounced it off of the metal siding of the trailer. We tried helping Mom wash invasive gypsy moth caterpillars off the hardwood trees in our yard until we couldn’t reach any higher or we were completely grossed out by the sheer number. We were the luckiest kids in that our own hill was steep enough to sled down in the winter on orange plastic sleds with blue handles. The old, wild raspberry bushes at the edge of our lawn between us and the forest were enough to keep us from sliding too far too fast when all of us piled onto the sled.
In those days, we were allowed to venture much further than our yard. One of my favorite places lay just down the road before the bank of country mailboxes with the red flags that indicate there is outgoing mail to take. Tucked in between a stand of hardwoods and the riparian zone of the west branch of the Cayuga Inlet was a flat grassy patch perfect for sitting quietly, listening to the water or pretending we were the next great scientists, exploring beneath every rock, examining each shrub, investigating each tree, and soaking in the smells of wet earth and moving water. It was a great spot to catch the firefly show during early evening in late spring or early summer.
My other favorite place was behind our trailer. We used to be able to access it by a makeshift trail but it washed out in the spring rains one year, so we found an even more fun way to access it: creek walking.
Yes, our little world had an easily accessible waterfall. As long as the water levels weren’t unmanageable (and always with an adult), we would throw our old sneakers on, don our bathing suits and head down to the mailboxes for the easiest access to the creek. Getting there was half the fun. We kicked over rocks, examined the banks for salamanders, and watched dragonflies hover. Once there, the platform of the waterfall became our stage.
Colors seemed more vibrant, smells more pungent. I’m now in the process of retraining all of my senses after years of living in cities and tuning them out.
Up for discussion: I’m curious though: what are your favorite memories of being in nature during childhood? What sights, smells, sounds, can you recall?