A spirited young man

Tyler is three, a compact bundle of energy, full of questions, eager to learn everything under the sun in one backyard expedition. On a day of high, cold wind we explored the area down around our vegetable plot and the adjoining "woods." It was all new and wonderfully exciting to Ty, who surprised me by remembering certain features of the previous summer. For example: seeing the sand Bob had strewn about the cookout place, he recalled last year's sandbox. It was a plastic tub which we used to fill with water. "Where's my pool?" he demanded.

We went down the garden path. Again he was careful to step between the bordering hostas, even though nothing was growing there yet. It was an instinctive, marvelous vision we shared -- early summer's blooms already in the mind's eye.

I was intent on gathering dandelion greens and carried a new, red-handled digger. It was notched -- a fact he respected. But he still wanted to hold that sharp tool. "Let me try. I need it," he insisted. (Ty never just wants a thing. He needsm it -- urgently, desperately.) "Later," I stalled. "But I need to try it now," he pleaded. I kept foraging on, denying him the pointed instrument.

He was temporarily sidetracked by a poignant scattering of brown-yellow feathers, probably from the wings of a woodpecker."Aware of the flight/of the golden flicker/with his wing to the light. . . ." I reflected, loving that noisy bird as much as had Edna St. Vincent Millay. There was no evidence of anything grim, only those clean feathers disarranged.

Ty gathered them up like so many petals of the wild moccasin flower. "You can make an Indian headdress," I suggested. "Or put them in your father's hatband." He assimilated both ideas. (Later he would offer both to his parents.) The feathers went into the pocket of my jacket for safekeeping. We stepped ahead carefully, mindful of briars and brush. He was uncomplaining, implicitly faithful, ducking and scrunching, pushing on.

Whenever I stopped to extract a root, he "needed" my tool, but was each time distracted. "Look," he announced. "What's it?" It was only the handle of a green plastic spoon, probably washed downstream in some deluge. But to Tyler it was yet another treasure to go into my pocket. He kept pointing out dandelions -- which weren't -- learning meanwhile about such jade clumps as dock and horse-lettuce. (Not good to eat -- no better or worse than skunk cabbage.)

While I bent over, eradicating one more root, he considered the texture of a sumac twig. Finally he managed to snap it off. "Here Gocky," he said. "This is for you." He presented it as though it were an exotic blossom. "Don't throw it away," he warned. "Put it in your pocket."

"I will, I will," I said. He watched suspiciously till it also disappeared in my capacious storehouse. "Thank you for this beautiful, furry sumac stick."

It was only when he discovered the tip of a fishing rod that he quit begging for the dandelion digger. "Look! What's it?" he shouted, waving it overhead. I identified it. "Now you can go off with Papa-Bob and Todd." (That, too, would be filed, and grandfather and brother subsequently teased. A small boy's mind is like a sponge. It soaks up, retains, and gives everything back on trigger-demand. It's unwise, I've learned, to make rash promises.)

Happily he cast his white pole, backing off as it became entangled in low brush, probing with it into intriguing mudholes, scratching it along the ground. We came to the brook into which he urgently "needed" to throw stones. What else were brooks for? After a few minutes I tried to discourage that activity, coaxing him homeward, for the wind had become more cutting. But nothing seemed to bother Tyler, not wind or brambles, my tugging, or the imminence of his mother's return from shopping. "I needm to throw stones in a brook, Gocky. Don't you understand? I needm to."

Perhaps I didn't understand enough. Elaborately I explained, "The police have said, 'No more stones in this little brook.' There's a sign at the side of the road. Stones clog the water. When it rains hard it goes right over into the cellars of people who live down there below. It's OK to throw stones in the bigm brook on the other side of the woods. But not here." He digested that mandate, later duly reported on.

Fifteen minutes after, from his kitchen chair dragged over to the sink, he informed his mother, "I'm not ready to go yet. I need to help Gocky wash these dand-lines. OK? Then I'll show you my treasures."

I put the kettle on. We all needed a cup of comfort.

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