Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking baby on walk down memory lane

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel August 24, 2009)

Thirty years ago, when I was a young mother living on Cape Cod, I used to slip my infant daughter into a blue corduroy Snugli and take her for long walks. Inevitably, Amber would fall asleep, I'd get some overdue exercise, and we'd both be outside feeling the breeze against our skin. Sometimes I walked along a nearby bike trail. Other times I'd head toward the beach or town, strolling alongside roads and stretches of woods until I arrived at my destination. Whichever route I took, I always returned home with two things — a sleeping child and a wildflower bouquet.

I was thinking about those pleasant hikes the other day when I took my grandson for a stroll through my daughter's neighborhood.

In preparation for our new role as grandparents, Ralph sorted through boxes in the attic looking for our old baby paraphernalia. One of his finds was our reliable Snugli. Even after supporting the rumps of four children and spending a good 16 years tucked away in an overheated attic, the Snugli remained in tiptop condition. After a fresh laundering, it was ready for a new generation of use.

Although Amber and Scott have a spiffy new stroller complete with several cup holders and storage bins, I brought the Snugli with me when I headed over to baby-sit. I'm glad I did because it came in handy. About an hour after Amber left, the baby began to fuss. When even a bottle of warmed milk didn't do the trick, I decided to try the Snugli. After tucking my grandson's 8 pound, 4 ounce body into the soft fabric enclosure, we headed outside for a stroll. Almost immediately, he calmed down.

My daughter and son-in-law live in a lovely subdivision in Winter Garden. It's an older neighborhood with well-maintained yards and wide sidewalks. As I went out the front door, I turned left and started walking in what I expected to be a quick loop around the block. It turns out that subdivisions — or at least that particular subdivision — are not designed for quick loops around the block. A left at the nearest cross street followed by another left at the next two intersections did not bring me back to Amber's house as expected. Instead, it took me in a circuitous route around the neighborhood until I finally — about an hour later — navigated my way back to Amber and Scott's address.

I'm not complaining. It was a good walk, a long walk and a soothing walk for baby Atom, who managed to pass most of the time in peaceful slumber. What it didn't do was yield a bouquet of wildflowers the way my walks on Cape Cod did.

As it turns out, subdivisions, even older ones in more well-established neighborhoods, do not lend themselves to wildflower foraging. In fact, foraging for any sort of plants would be unacceptable behavior in places where the only flowering plants visible are those planted by homeowners to accentuate their landscapes.

In the years when I lived on Cape Cod, subdivisions were a rarity. Most of the homes I passed on my outdoor forays were well over a hundred years old with landscapes that reflected decades of plantings. In the spring, blooms from ancient hedges of lilacs and forsythia overflowed onto roadways. Wild roses and beach plums flourished near the bay. Clusters of delicate violets and the edible red tops of clovers escaped domesticity and wandered out of yards and onto the wayside. Tall stalks of Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed Susan and fluffy milkweed flowers grew with abandon along stretches of woods. I'd walk along my chosen route picking a flower here and another there until, before I knew what was happening, I had gathered a beautiful bouquet.

I haven't been back to Cape Cod for years, but I imagine that most of the stretches of woods have given way to modern housing units where, as in Florida, homeowner-association rules restrict what can and cannot be planted. I understand the need for rules, and I'm glad my daughter and her family live in such a tidy neighborhood with individually designed yards, but I can't help missing the wildflowers. I miss knowing that no matter where I turn, I'll find flowers growing by the wayside waiting to be picked.

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