The Princess of Montgomery Woods

(This series of blog posts is excerpted from Sarah’s book, Windows to Our World: Sarah’s Journal – Growing Up, Crossing Oceans, Finding Love & Giving Life to 10 Children)

There is a season, even a day, which glows brightly among my memories. It was a chilly day in early spring, and I was fourteen years old. The sunlight had found a path through the budding trees to the bare floor of my very own cabin where I sat wrapped up in a handmade patchwork quilt. My shelves were lined with canned goods and my simple pottery collection. A piece of calico fabric hung in the open doorway, and a sparrow perched quietly in the high window. I was very still and quiet so as not to frighten the little bird. The missing door didn’t bother me. The opening was my way of welcoming the birds and the squirrels into my tiny home. This was the day I would make a map of the forest. I had spent the warmer days of winter clearing trails, naming them after the turtles, chipmunks, moles, mice, baby bunnies, and raccoons I had befriended. I felt animals made more loyal friends than humans did, and they didn’t seem to mind my presence or my songs. I loved my little world in the woods: my place of peace, discovery, and wonder.

The little sparrow left its perch as I began to gather all the things I would need for the adventures of the day. I placed an unmarked can into my picnic basket with a sweet potato and a pile of books to study. I didn’t need a teacher, a classroom, or a school bus, because I had everything I needed in a sketchpad, pencils, and a can opener. I tied my apron around my waist and blew out the candle. Though the year was 1991, I was determined to live as if this was 1891. This was how I would learn history. “Just take your books with you into the woods!” my mother had called out when I left the house that morning. “And don’t neglect your math!”

“Don’t worry mom,” I replied back, “I’ll be working on my map most of the day!”

My path was damp with the dew of morning, and the daffodils glistened in the sun. I smiled with delight to see some of the tulips also were opening. I discovered a pattern in the stones and noticed the flowers made perfect rings under the trees. I wondered if long ago my forest had been a secret garden. I gathered sticks on the way to the clearing in the woods that I called my kitchen. The circle of rocks around my fire hole was untidy, evidence that the raccoons searched my woodland kitchen every day just after sunset. They never cleaned up their messes.

I opened up the can and dumped the contents into my cast iron pot. Green beans. I wrapped the sweet potato in a small piece of foil I had carried with me from the cabin. For a moment I was distracted by the distant sound of an old school bus passing through my neighborhood. The sound gave me chills, but I shook off the bad memories and returned to my old-fashioned world. I arranged a perfect little fire, watching the flames dance around my meal. I knew that I would need to complete my daily studies before I could take the time to draw the map of my secret world. So I laid my patchwork blanket on the ground in the clearing by the fire. After sharing breakfast with the squirrels, I laid on my back, watching the sky, working, and waiting for the day to grow warmer. (click here to continue reading)

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