I grew up in a small town in this county, but I'm still something of an outsider, resettled in a different township. My nearest neighbors are a farming family. They’ve lived and worked here for four generations. They had their doubts about me when I first moved to the timber, but their matriarch had worked at a café across the street from my father’s print shop when I was little. She remembered him stopping by every morning for coffee and me coming in with my parents for lunch, piping up with a request for a “girl cheese” sandwich. She vouched for me, and her husband told other neighbors that I was okay; they had “knowed me since I was knee-high.”
My dad loved the timber. In his teens, he transplanted wild jack-in-the-pulpit, deertongue, dutchman's breeches and lady's slippers to his mother's garden. Jacks, wild violets and deertongue grew on the north side of our house when I was growing up. Each spring, he would take us hunting for wildflowers in the timber. I was allowed to pick only a small handful of dutchman's breeches to take home. We left the mayapples and jacks alone where they grew.
I must have been about five years old when he told me it was my job to pick all the violets in our yard as they bloomed. Every day after the first flower appeared, I would hop about in the deep grass, plucking blossoms and clutching them in my fist until I could carry no more. We put them in small vases, then in juice glasses, then in empty jelly jars until we had filled the kitchen counters and the dining room table with violets in various stages of bloom and decline.
I’ve never felt like a stranger in the timber here, even though I’m still learning the names of the trees and finding new wildflowers hiding under the coral berries every spring. The spirit of this land has known me since I was knee-high. The violets speak for me.