As kids, we just called them “The Woods”, those patches of forested areas scattered around our Long Island neighborhoods. Some were small, others vast – all were impossible to resist.
When we were young, the woods were mysterious, unknown, even a little spooky, especially if you were in a patch big enough to where getting lost was a real possibility.
Back when the woods covered much more of Long Island, it was common to walk in with friends, get turned around, and come out in another neighborhood, or even town!
Those adventures could really spark the imagination. You could be Robin Hood with your very own Sherwood Forest, or imagine yourself one of the American Indians who used to travel those same paths. You might have even found a real Arrowhead along the way. Many of us did.
Speaking of sparking the imagination, the woods took on a whole new personality at night, when a strange sound or sudden movement could send you running faster than you ever thought possible. Any place that dark, that ancient, can have a kid thinking monsters in no time. And it’s not like there weren’t any urban legends on Long Island to fuel our fear.
During the day, however, the woods offered a great place to build a fort where you could hang out with your buddies. Some kids built long, winding paths to ride dirt bikes and go carts. And some just used the woods as a way to cut across neighborhoods. We all knew and used many shortcuts through the woods to school, the stores, our friends house, etc.
Of course, the woods also provided cover, meaning you could do things you weren’t supposed to be doing, like smoking a cigarette, drinking some Strawberry Hill, or meeting your new hormonal interest. The woods also served as stomping grounds for the delinquents that skipped school, or threw snowballs at cars in winter, or launched eggs on Halloween, fireworks on the 4th… You know who you are.
Whether you were an angel or a demon, you probably spent as much time in those woods during childhood as I did, at least if you were lucky enough to have them nearby.
And maybe later in life, you move away to a part of the country where patches of woods aren’t so common. That’s when you miss those carefree days, smelling the dried leaves and the sap and looking for arrowheads and all the other amazing memories former Long Island kids have of those beautiful woods.
Today, whenever I walk through any patch of trees, it brings those days in the woods back like it was yesterday. How about you? If you have some fond memories of growing up in the woods on Long Island, I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.