Today my daughter discovered acorns. She and I were walking behind some houses next to the woods near where we live. A year ago when she had just turned one, we wouldn't have been able to take such a walk, but today, she was at my side, if not matching my stride.
She has always (always being a little over a year) been a collector of pebbles. And there have been plenty of opportunities for pebble gathering, since we live in a new development with a lot of construction-related stones.
The woods are special to my little girl. They are filled with things for good story telling. She's heard the tales of the animals that live in the woods, and imagined herself on a bear hunt as we approached the trees. ''Stumble, trip. Stumble trip.'' I heard her murmuring. She was reciting passages from one of her books. And then she stopped and squatted and was very, very quiet. I, from three paces forward, waited. Recently, I've become fairly good at waiting.
''What's this?'' she asked, pointing, afraid to touch. She barely .. looked at me as I came to her side and squatted knee-to-shoulder. ''Oh, those are acorns,'' I said, picking one up and handing it to her. From that vantage point, I could see that we were in the middle of a small sea of acorns.
''Acorns!'' she cried excitedly. And again and again to test the word, ''Acorns. Acorns.'' She began to fill her hands with the small brown nuts. She could not put more than two or three into each hand, but she reached for all that she could see. She clasped her hands to her chest in an attempt to hold more. They fell as fast as she could pick them up. I offered to help. I tried to gather some of them for her in my hands. ''No, mommy, no!'' She wanted them all for herself.
After a little negotiating she managed to stand with three acorns in each hand, and four in my pocket. I carried her closer to the woods where there were other distractions. As we walked through the woods down the well-used trail I tried to remember when I was last as excited about anything as she had been about the acorns. Very little I could come up with matched the pure joy that was in her recent find.
These days it seems as if every day is replete with some new experience -- a new word, a new song, a different way the sun seems to be sitting in the sky at dusk. Although I cannot remember the unabashed glee of a new-found discovery, I do know that watching my daughter's sense of wonder in the world, reawakens in me an awareness in this earth that has been long dormant. I now know, for example, that an acorn means more than a sign of summer's end; it has a rather close relationship to a pebble. It's pebble size and pebble weight, but smoother and browner than most pebbles I know. It also wears a heat, and bears a resemblance to my father-in-law.
As this autumn progresses, the woods near our home will take on new meaning to my daughter with its new colors, sounds and smells. The animals will change too; the imaginary bear might hole up in an imaginary cave for the winter. I, too, am looking forward to the changes, to the questions I will be asked, to the answers that will reopen the child part of me.
Today, as we were approaching the woods I could only see the trees, but my little daughter found the acorns.
Cathleen A. Hanson writes from Bel Air.