''What's it?'' Tyler asked. ''Just an old rubber jar-ring,'' I said. He looked perplexed, turning the drab red thing over, puzzling at the tab. I knew it required further explanation. ''From a canning jar. That's where you took hold.''
Still not much light on the subject. ''You pulled and let air in. Then the cover came unstuck. It's from back when people used to can things from the garden - like green beans and peaches. Today we freeze them,'' I groped.
''Oh. In the old days - like that, Gocky?''
I was about to take umbrage, but on second thought decided not to. Young as I might feel keeping up with this grandson, it must still be the ''old days'' to him. ''Yes, I suppose so. It's not worth keeping, though,'' I said.
He dropped it back in the brush beside the path. Fleetly I wondered how long it might be before anyone else, if ever, found and meditated on that used-up relic of the ''old days.'' Browning's conclusion seemed appropriate: '' 'Heigh-ho,' one day yawned King Francis/'Distance all value enhances.' ''
We left the caterpillar tents we encountered strictly alone. The trees they were denuding would surely come back. There were many birds in the area, feasting on those succulent morsels. Birds that appreciated them, in any event - catbirds exchanging fluid notes of appreciation, and cuckoos playing ventriloquist games to keep us guessing. Robins and thrashers were also abundant as we emerged from our small copse.
Bob and I had recently been on a wildflower trek with a group of naturalists. Such searchers are very gentle folk, we discovered. Nobody in that group, for instance, thought it odd to see a six-foot man go down on his knees on impulse to share a worm's eye perspective on a delicate stand of claytonia as the sun rayed into that exact spot. Others joined him, forming a charmed circle of ohs and ahs as people from various walks of life shared the moment of appreciation, which might almost be termed prayer.
Sharpened by the memory of that adventure, I now caught sight of a clump of purple grassflowers. Their yellow eyes were bright in star-faces, and I gasped in childish delight. Tyler caught my enthusiasm, studying my care in picking a few ''for old times' sake.'' He watched intently as I demonstrated: ''You take hold of the stem'' (grass-blade thin, but strong) ''and ease it up. Not pulling . . . not breaking. Just take hold and hang on, ea-s-ing it up . . . and out.'' I demonstrated one more time.
Ty (rough and tumble) had earlier completed a dozen downhill five-hundreds in his Batmobile. Now, suddenly, he developed the gentlest, most persistent fingers imaginable. With a breathless sense of achievement he eased the first flower, then another, out of its sheath. He held them, pristine, before me. ''Like this, Gocky?''
''Just one more. You never take the last one, though. We have to leave some to make seeds for next year,'' he remembered.
Two significant miracles made that last flower memorable. One was a minute red insect with polka dots. In the very instant we noticed it the creature opened transparent wings and flew off. ''A ladybug,'' Tyler whispered. ''Right on my grassflower.''
The second discovery was a small blue shard - a scrap of robin's egg at the base of our clump of blossoms. Ty picked it up carefully and studied it. He was relieved to be assured that a bird had probably escaped from it. ''Are eggs seeds . . . of a sort, too, Gocky?'' he asked.
''Yes,'' I told him. ''Everything is a seed of a sort.''
Later, clutching his damp fistful of wildlings, highlighted by the grassflowers, he prodded me to tell his mother what a quick study he'd been in the picking department. Impatiently he interrupted my account: ''You press gentle with your nail. You e-a-se 'em out. You never just jerk. Right, Gock?''
As they got in the car to go home he observed me pinching off the head of a faded tulip beside the drive. I explained I did that to prevent the flower from forming seeds, which it would do naturally if left alone. ''But we don't want that to happen here. We want to direct the strength back to the bulb. The bulb's underground. Its job is to nourish bigger and better flowers for next year. It all happens underground. Get it?''
Tyler nodded solemnly, partly understanding.