In the woods

Mar 6, 2002

The Zuiker Chronicles Online is a memorial to my grandfather, Frank the Beachcomber. Grandpa loved to comb the sands of the Outer Banks and Florida for shark teeth and sand dollars and driftwood and dollar bills. Much of what he found he carted back to suburban Chicago and up into Studio One. In his workshop, he crafted necklaces, mirrors, lampshades and wallhangings, which he sold at craft fairs across the country.

Every day, Little Anna and I take a walk along the path behind our apartment. Usually, we stop on the bridge over the brook and listen to the water babbling over the stones. At first, Anna was mesmerized simply by the sounds of the water. A couple of weeks ago, she realized that that water was going somewhere, and so she follows the water to the other side of the bridge. Yesterday, as we sat on the bridge listening, a red-headed woodpecker whistled above us as it cleaned its burrowed nest.

Today, Anna and I crossed the bridge and followed the creek into the woods (there are apartment buildings that rise on the hills over the creek, but for the most part, this little valley is wooded and peaceful). Along the way, we saw a brilliant-red cardinal bathing in the water, and then a barred owl flapped up into the trees to perch and watch us. As we walked home, the owl would fly ahead and alight on a branch, always facing us.

My grandfather was a woodsman, too (in the 1930s and ‘40s, he wrote about hunting and fishing for magazines such as Field & Stream), and his love of wildlife came through in his crafts. I loved his mobiles, simple and unique, clay Canada geese hanging from a piece of driftwood. One day up in Studio One, before I was a teenager, he showed me how to take a piece of modeling clay, to roll it and shape it into a bird’s form. His fingers touched the birds lovingly. His eyes sparkled with memories of formations of geese banking overhead.

These birds I’m seeing today—the woodpecker, the cardinal, the owl—they signal the coming arrival of Spring to North Carolina. They also remind me that the spirit of Frank the Woodsman soars naturally above us.

Anton Zuiker

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