Whose Woods These Are?


From the archives, a funny little post from nearly two years ago.  Enjoy!

As I step over the stone wall the leg of my coveralls gets caught on an old piece of rusty barbed wire that is draped across a lichen covered rock.  The snag nearly trips me but my body responds by dredging up a counter action from some deep recess of my brain where information is stored from long ago.  The leg of my coveralls is slightly torn in a perfect corner pattern.  Had I fallen the results could have been much more serious. There is a very steep grade on the downhill side of this stone wall covered with large boulders and icy slopes.  Sometimes life’s simplest pleasures include avoiding simple disasters; a thought that will get tucked away for the time being.

This is the fifth stonewall that I have traversed on this January morning: each one marking the boundary of an old pasture and some even marking the edge of a property boundary.  This stone wall does delineated ownership, at least as it is recorded in the Registry of Deeds.  The property I have just crossed belongs to my neighbor.  This parcel belongs to someone whose name I cannot recall.

Not remembering names these days is a daily occurrence.  Between my advancing years and a long bout with Lyme disease it is evident that I am not sharp as I once was, not that this is saying much.  No, the days of a picture in my head accompanied by an exact name, title, or other identifying moniker are slipping away.  It’s no wonder that I can’t ever remember a particular item, it’s just that I often can’t bring it to memory on demand.   I try to approach this deficiency with grace, but even that is not always at hand.

Just a few weeks ago I was at a training about fluvial geomorphology (it is a miracle that I remember the name of the workshop) and when making a statement in front of all the attendees about some important fact I totally lost my train of thought.  Here I was making a cogent point about something, I still can’t remember what it was, and nothing came out of my mouth.  I had a complete and total disconnect; suddenly there were no pictures, words, or thoughts in my head.  I paused.  After about 20 seconds I realized that the thought would not be returning, in fact I could not remember what I was talking about.  Slight panic set in.  Sweat formed on my forehead.  A slight quiver came to my lip, fortunately it could not be detected under my mustache.  After more that a few moments I excused myself stating that I had just witnessed my age running in front of me.  It got a good laugh from the other participants.

My wife and I joke about this quite a bit.  Here is a typical morning conversation as we drink coffee to get our minds working.

“I saw what’s-her-face yesterday”  I say with a aura of exaction.

“Who?” retorts my wife.

“You know, what’s her face, she lives down there on whata-ya-callit street!”  I respond with conviction.

“Oh, do you mean the woman that wear’s the black beret?”  responds my wife somehow guessing who I was talking about.

“Yes,  that’s her”, I respond enthusiastically, “only she wasn’t wearing the beret, but she did have a thing-a-ma-jig  tied over her hair!”

“A bandana?” asks my wife.

“Sort of, only it’s not a large handkerchief, you know, a thing-a-ma-jig!”  I state with authority.

“Do you mean a scarf?”

“Yes, that’s it, a scarf!  We had a talk about her two kids, you know the young one and older one, and her husband, Who-ja-ma-call-it.”  I respond.

“Oh”, says my wife as she stares off into space, “he works down by the river at the sawmill that is owned by that guy!”

“What  guy?” I ask.

“You know, the guy, the one that is married to the woman who owns the beauty shop!”,states my wife.

“Oh yeah,  they are the parents of what’s-her-face!” I say knowing I still can’t remember the name.

“ You mean the woman you ran into down on whata-ya-call-it street?” asks my wife.

“Yes!” I reply knowing that we will never know the exact name of anything we are talking about.

Now, I will be the first to admit that these coded messages are not unique to my wife and me.  I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of us approaching the golden years have at least some of these difficulties.  I’d give you the exact percentage of senior people that have memory problems that I read in AARP magazine but I can’t remember any of the particulars of the article.

Wandering about these deep woods does not require deep recall.  My legs simply carry me from place to place.  I wish I could tell you that as a professional ecologist I could remember the common name and scientific name of all the plants I see.  Although that was true ten years ago that is not the case anymore.  Digging under the snow I see a small three leaved evergreen vine.  Surprisingly I can’t remember the name.  I know the name of this plant as well as my own name (which I haven’t forgotten yet) but somehow it’s just not coming to mind.  Let’s see, it is found it moist soils, had three leaves, is an evergreen, and has a gold colored root.  Nope, no idea what it is called.  However, I do remember that it is good for canker sores when you make a pumice and put it directly over the blister in your mouth.

I reach into the outside pocket on my pack and dig out a Newcomb’s Guide to Flowering Plants.  I use the key (thank God I still remember how to read) and locate the plant.  Oh yeah, Goldthread, Coptis trifolia!  That’s right, the goldthread name comes from the golden root, and the trifolia is related to the three leaves.  I won’t forget that one again.

My mind wanders about and I finally remember that I was trying to remember whose woods these are.  It reminds my of the Robert Frost poem Stopping by the Woods on  Snowy Evening , you know the one that begins with “Whose woods these are, I think I know, his house is in the village though”.  Now why can I remember this and not the name of that plant, you know, the one with the gold root!  And why can’t I remember the name of the family who owns this land?  Robert Frost remembered the name of the guy who owned the land he wrote about and he was about 100 years old when he composed the poem! EGADS!

I take a minute to calm myself and collect my thoughts.  I sit down on the stone wall.  Too bad I sit directly on the barbed wire that just tore the leg of my coveralls.  Yikes, that smarts!  I stand quickly again, holding my rear end at the approximate location of the new wound.  Jumpin’ gee hosifer!  My short term memory isn’t much better.  I look and the barbed wire is just as rusty as it was five minutes ago when I snagged by coveralls.  I might need one of those Whata-ya-call-it shots, you know the one that prevents you from getting that disease when your jaw freezes up!  I’ll have to call Doctor Whats-her-name when I get home and see if I need a booster.

I look again at the stone wall and move the barbed wire aside.  This time I rest my fanny in a safe location free from sharp objects.  I decide that if I let my mind relax this fellow’s name might come to mind.  Then again it might not.  I’m in no hurry.  If I don’t remember in the next few minutes I’ll go onto the next thought that I can’t recall.

I take off a glove and place my hand on the cold stone that I sit on.  The name of the gent who owns this property is on the tip of my tongue.  It is trying to force its way from the locker that is my brain to my voice box.  It simply cannot seem to quite find its way to my lips.  And then, without warning, there it is!  Stone!  Just like the rock wall I am sitting on!

Now if I could only remember that name of that plant with three leaves and the golden thread-like root.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in January 2010.

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    This is a fun story. A little bit of humor, mixed with some reality. I’m not sure if a poor short term memory is always associated with age. I’m not that old, but not that young either, and my short term memory is terrible. I understand forgetting what you’re talking about in mid-stream. I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

    By the way, I have a link to you up on my blog, but I’d like to have it in the list with my others so yours can move to the top when you have a new post. The only problem is that your RSS feed seems to point to a different blog. I’m not sure if you knew it or not. I’m a big fan of your writing, and I want others to be able to notice you a little better too.

  • http://fourwindsphotojournal.wordpress.com/ Sandy

    I can relate to this one! I was going to suggest that you carry a guide with you, but read a bit further on that you do. Your new posts do not show up on my Google Reader for some reason. Guess I need to look into that.

  • Joe Cruthers

    Paragragh 4th third sentance. Look at it.

    Well someone had to keep you in line.

    Otherwise, as usual, spectacularr


  • bill

    Editorial comments are always welcome. Thanks, I changed the sentence.

    Thanks for reading.


  • Teresaevangeline

    Bill, I do believe you have a talent for the comic side of being in nature, along with the foibles of being human. I laughed out loud at this line, spoken at the breakfast table: “…knowing we will never know the exact name of any thing we are talking about.”  Good stuff. I am grateful for the needed laugh.

  • Patricia Lichen

    Y’know, I remember this post! This gives me some hope for my own brain-like-a-seive. 

  • Rocketman4867

    This is a clever dissertation on AARP logic.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    Bill, a really hilarious piece!  I forget so much these days.  I know how you feel.  I think it important that we take a humorous outlook as you have in this post despite it all.  And, wear out, not rust out.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Thanks Teresa.  I enjoy looking at the lighter side of life, especially about the things we can do little about.  However, since recovering from a six or seven year bout with Lyme disease I have discovered that my memory is improving.  On some days I even know my own name!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    I was wondering if someone would read this and comment a second time as if they had never seen it before.  I know that I could do this!  And “brain like a sieve” is a well known feeling or experience in my world.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Thanks.  I might be a member of the AARP.  I’ll have to check to see if I have a card in my wallet. Association for the Advancement of Rock Performers, right?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Thanks Jack.  I knew you’d enjoy this one. In truth getting older has few advantages.  It’s important to maintain a sense of humor about it all and appreciate each day for what it is!  What day is it?

  • http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/ Steve Schwartzman

    Thankfully I’m able to remember that I, too, made a recent reference to that Frost poem:


    I can relate to your getting your coveralls snagged on some barbed wire. When I was in Taos in 2002, in order to take some pictures I climbed over the metal fence surrounding Kit Carson’s grave. When I climbed back out over the fence and jumped off, one leg of my pants got caught on an upright of the fence, and down I came onto the ground. I had to have surgery to repair the fracture in my left wrist. What I do for pictures….

  • http://nature-drunk.com/ Nature Drunk

    This is so funny. Although I just turned 40, I am already experiencing some of these who ja ma call it and what ja ma call it moments. I am going to look on the bright side and try to consider these times as “ignorance is bliss” moments and let what I was trying to remember escape me : ) Now if I can just remember that I said I was going to do this and not get frustrated because I can’t recall…

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Yes, snags on pant legs can bring us to our knees, or lower.  A good reminder to watch for barbed wires where it might be found.  What ever it is that you do for your photographs is worthwhile.  They are so nice!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Memory is a funny thing.  It comes and goes.  Given it is something so easily lost, at least temporarily, perhaps we should call it something else.  I’m open to suggestions!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    Speaking of forgetting things, I was going to say something almost word for word what I said in the first part of my comment from when you posted this one before. I still forget things with the best of them.

  • Wild_Bill

    See!  We do have more than one thing in common.  That is very funny, and it takes someone special to see the humor in this!

  • http://primarilypets.blogspot.com/ Barbara

    Completely hilarious and something anyone – even those youngsters with the quick and ready minds – can relate to! Thanks for entertaining me so well on this very snowy, gray day Bill…loved this light-hearted piece and am glad to know that you’re recovering some of the lost memories. Lyme disease must be very scary, almost as much as sitting on barbed wire. Seriously, I loved the opportunity to laugh out loud this morning…somehow I seem to be doing that a lot lately as I too forget what I was in the middle of talking about.

    Enjoy your day!

  • http://www.WanderingThought.com/ Wandering Thought

    Oh boy, you should hear when I call for my kids. I ran all three of their names until they correct me of who they are..I enjoy this post, especially the conversation. I had those too.

    Happy New Year, Bill, to you and your wife!

  • Guy

    Hi Bill
    As I survey the puncture mark in my jacket, we were visiting our cabin and the barbed wire gate is a work in progress, I was struck by your problem with remembering which wall represented which neighbour. Land does often have, at least today, a designation based on ownership. Our 80 acres originally belonged, I believe to a family named Dall who homesteaded 160 acres under the Dominion Lands Act. In the future their name will disappear along with the few stones that are left of their foundation. How long our land will be associated with us I cannot say. But as long as the land itself is crossed with tracks in the winter and shadowed by the dance of leaves in summer I guess I can be content. Maybe the name does not matter. Thanks for your blog it gets me thinking.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Thanks Barbara.  Laughter is the best medicine, isn’t it?  Cold up there?  I was looking at some weather maps and  it seems you are finally getting into some good winter temps.  Next week for us!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com/ Wild_Bill

    Thank you.  The art of lost conversation will continue for the rest of our days.  As long as we can laugh who cares!  May you and your family have a healthy and happy new year!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I suspect, like you, I don’t really see land as being “owned” by humans.  We are simply caretakers.  I think if everyone took this attitude we’d see less land speculation for profit.  The more it gets divided, the less it is worth to wildlife.  And I agree with you “as long as the land itself is crossed with tracks in the winter and
    shadowed by the dance of leaves in summer I guess I can be content”, well said!

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    I’ve always had trouble with names, so I can’t imagine it could get much worse than that. And I’ve certainly experienced totally losing my train of thought in the middle of saying something!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m guessing you are over fifty!

  • http://primarilypets.blogspot.com/ Barbara

    Cold up here Bill? – not really today – though on the Christmas bird count yesterday I truly thought I’d lost my mind going out in the high winds, blowing snow and some unploughed roads… today it was only -2 Celsius which is about 28 F I’m thinking – and not a breath of wind. The little birds slipped in and greedily filled their tummies until a Cooper’s Hawk floated over… and the tracks in the bush? only mine and the dogs at the moment… the porcupines, raccoons, coyotes and rabbits are being smart for now… I loved that line from Guy “…
    land itself is crossed with tracks in the winter and shadowed by the dance of leaves in summer” – how very true…and how beautifully expressed. We are the keepers now, the stewards and hopefully starting to do a better job – with your humour alongside to make it a joy instead of a chore…

    I find myself always looking for comments from your regular readers now… such fun, so interesting, and so encouraging.

    And like the woman who calls her kids’ names out – I too call out names and my two, now getting grey hair themselves laugh and add the dogs’ names to the list until I get it right…  wonderful to have forgiving and understanding sons, and to enjoy our forgetfulness don’t you think? as for the cold? not yet, not for a while, and maybe not this winter the way things have been going… but I do love the snow… 

    happy new year my friend to you and yours!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I look forward to your comments.  They are so full of life and wisdom.  Yes, it is our turn to be stewards and to mentor those that will follow.  With so few with such power and greed it is important to set the pace for future land stewards. 

    Hoping you will have a glorious year Barbara.  And thank you for stopping by.

  • Teresaevangeline

    Bill, I just wanted to come back and tell you how much I enjoy sharing the blogosphere with you. You have such a good attitude towards life and your love of the wild places is always inspiring. Thank you for many fine posts. May 2012 be a wonderful year!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Teresa.  The feeling is mutual.  I am given hope every time I read your blog.  And I have to thank you for that!  A wonderful upcoming year to you also!

  • http://www.anniespickns.wordpress.com/ Annie

    As my younger sister and I (both of us well over 50) drove though the Sierra today, traveling from our sister’s place in Nevada back to California we had quite a few of those “what’s-her-face/whata-ya-call-it” conversations. Sometimes we would just bust up laughing at the facts we could not remember, other times we would just say, just give me a few minutes and I know the name will pop out out of the stuffed filling cabinet I call a brain. And then, we would forget that we were supposed to be remembering something and just enjoy the incredibly beautiful scenery.  Shared moments, whether we remember them or not. They are precious.

    Best to you and yours through out the coming year!

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Your story brought a real chuckle, Bill. Thanks! I also have very slight ability to recall names, at least in what one would consider a reasonable time-frame. Yet there are many things for which I have always had instant recall, wild places in particular. It’s interesting to contemplate just what that might mean. I sure do enjoy reading your posts though!

    I wish you and your family a wonderful new year!

  • Wild_Bill

    You know, we can either laugh about it or fret about it.  Guess which is the better choice.  It’s wonderful that you spent the end of the year with your sister.  Family is always so important.  And a wonderful upcoming year to you as well!

  • Wild_Bill

    Our brains are complicated organs.  It’s easy to understand how confusion could set in when everything is not quite running in the proper order.  I’m hoping my brain rewires itself so that it can take a few short cuts to lesson the memory losses.  Aging is always so much fun but we have to make the best of it.  We might as well have a good laugh! And thank you for a wonderful year of photographs.  I sure am glad that I found your website.

  • Cirrelda

    Not the 3-leaved plant that is poisonous, I hope.The exchange between you and your wife is very realistic. I love it.

  • Wild_Bill

    Nope, it is gold thread, a beautiful forest plant that loves deep shade!

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