A good picnic spot needs two things: a good view and some shade. I have had picnics on the sides of mountains, near scenic lakes, and crowded in a car on a rainy day. Those spots were visited once and remembered as special because of unique circumstances. There is one spot that is not connected to one memory, but to so many memories that the memories get jumbled into a swirl of hazy mental pictures, joyful emotions, and connections to a loving family.
I grew up in rural Illinois. My family was fortunate enough to own farmland, as well as some wooded land. We called it the timber. The timber is where we hunted for morel mushrooms in the spring and went swimming in the creek on hot summer days. My sister learned how to ride a bike there when my parents let her roll down the hill to a knee-scraping crash at the bottom. My brother played ice hockey on the frozen creek in the winter, and we all went on hikes to find the ripe pawpaws.
There was a very special sycamore tree at the edge of the woods that was my mother’s favorite spot to put down a large blanket and open the wicker picnic basket. She pulled out fried chicken or sandwiches and cold drinks. We sat under the huge branches that provided some of the best shade on a sunny summer day. The leaves were so large that we marveled at how much bigger they were than our small hands. We admired the bark that appeared to be shedding and revealed shades of grey, tan, and white. In my memory the sycamore tree was so large and strong that it could protect me from anything. The view was not of oceans or mountains. The view was special because we could look across the gravel road to the corn my dad had planted in the field or watch the grasses blowing in the summer breeze or watch the bees harvesting pollen. We never got tired of the picnics under the sycamore tree.
In the fall we went to the timber to collect colorful leaves, small branches, and acorns to make decorations for our picnic tables outside and for our Thanksgiving table inside. The sycamore leaves were a beautiful combination of brown and gold that sparkled in the fall sunlight or impressed our guests by lending their elegance to our special feast.
Of all of the special places that I shared a meal with friends, family, and even a few squirrels, chipmunks and mice, that sycamore tree will always be my favorite. It is one of my earliest memories of a lifelong desire to be close to nature and share nature with those I love.