Natalia and I just returned from an incredible backpacking trip into the heart of the Hollow. It was a very hot two days, so we camped deep in the forest, right at the edge of the Rusalka Brook. The cool flowing water freshened the air round about, and kept it flowing, so our camp was a natural and most pleasant respite from the early summer heat. We were surrounded by a mature forest of maples and tall spruces, with a lesser mix of alders, birches, elms, poplars and many other friendly trees, and we were visited by adventurous raccoons and summer butterflies. Round about were scattered foxes, meandering black bears, noisy grouse and mysterious great horned owls who echoed secrets through the nightwood. A little waterfall tumbled in steps down to a crystal brook at the heart of hollow, cast in green shadow and illumined here and there by rays of golden sun.
Dinner came with a turquoise sunset, and featured locally sourced sausages, whole wheat bread and roasted marshmallows. Then we set to hiking, scouting foraging opportunities for the coming weeks. We made some incredible finds: regions of curly dock, a little field full of wild carrot, the new year’s yarrow and pearly everlasting, and the most incredible find–mayapple scattered throughout the glades and ancient woodlands. The mayapples, sometimes called mandrakes, were just going into blossom so it will be well over a month till we see fruit from them, but oh! So worth the wait! And wild strawberry, raspberry and blackberry carpeted every open glade, and the wild apple trees were frosted with blossoms. It will be an amazing year for feral fruit.
Yet for all that, I love dawns in the deep forest best: the fading songs of owls, the coalescing hues of indigo, ruby and cerulean that turn into a new day’s sky, the way the waking sun sends shaft of gold through the forest canopy, illuminating the dreams of trees with sprays of faerie color. And in such a wonderland we met that dawn with hot tea flavored with wild strawberry blossoms, and a hearty breakfast of red pudding and boiled eggs.
Yet, wondrous as all that was, there was a touching moment that morning when old met new. Every parent wants to know he has left something lasting and meaningful with his children. Something more than just a material inheritance. For those who follow the old ways, we want to know we have left them with lasting traditions that are more than just ritualistic acts of repetition. We want to know we have left them with a sense of where they came from, roots from which they can grow with wisdom into who they shall become. And such a moment happened when Natalia decided to go wander along the brook while I cooked our breakfast. She had taken a little cake of puffed wheat and marshmallow with raisins–a favorite treat–to nibble as she went. It is one of her favorite things. Normally, she will nibble at one very slowly, taking half an hour to finish it.
Fifteen minutes later, just as the sun was reaching over the forest and casting long golden rays through the treetop canopy, I called out that supper was ready. She returned to camp shortly, and I handed her a cup of tea as I dished up her food. I noticed her cake was gone and asked her if she had finished it.
“Oh, no,” she replied primly. “I looked into the hollow of a tree and there were bracket mushrooms in it. They grew together all weird and looked like the face of a hobgoblin. I thought the goblin might like the rest of my cake so I left it there for him.”
Natalia loves those cakes, and you have to understand, she doesn’t get such things often. The kids eat very healthy, fed a varied diet of farm fresh produce, meat and eggs we raise, and wild fruit and vegetables foraged from the forest. But they don’t get sticky sweet cakes very much. This was a special treat for the camping trip. But she saw the hobgoblin and remembered the tradition we’ve always practiced, respecting the spirits of the land and leaving out the faerie plates. And so she had left it a little gift.
Some say you shouldn’t teach kids traditions but let them find their own way. I say that’s nonsense. A life without tradition is a life without context, adrift in a sea of meaningless choice. Teach a person the value of meaningful tradition–paths of living in harmony and respect–and reinforce it with education, values of individualism and thinking for oneself, and bind it all with honest-to-goodness love–and there you have a timeless path that every generation needs.