We gripped each carefully selected stone in our sweaty little palms, eagerly watching as our mother swept the rich earth with an evergreen bough. Soon she had created a smooth, blank canvas, right there in the dirt of our campsite. Next, she used a stick to draw perfectly square, numbered boxes on that earthen canvas: one, two, three . . . all the way up to ten. The result was an old-fashioned game of hopscotch.
My siblings and I tossed our stones from one square to the next, taking turns hopping up and down the path. We quickly learned that dirt proves to be much less forgiving than the paint-and-concrete versions at the school playground: each hop leaves a distinct shoe print in the ground, undeniably revealing whether or not the participant has stepped out of bounds. Yet there was something magical about playing this simple game out in the woods, resourcefully using only the natural tools available to us.
As a child, I sensed there was something pure and wholesome about spending time under the forest canopy. I couldn’t have articulated such thoughts, but when, years later, I read Ralph Connor’s 1902 “Glengarry School Days,” I felt a kinship with the mood he, too, experienced in childhood: “Their hearts were running over with a deep and satisfying delight. It is hard to resist the ministry of the woods. The sympathetic silence of the trees, the aromatic airs that breathe through the shady spaces, the soft mingling of the broken lights—these all combine to lay upon the spirit a soothing balm, and bring to the heart peace.”