The boys of spring, still in the spring of their lives, coming to the end of third grade and their ninth year. The end of single digits. It gets increasingly more complex when you hit double digits. But they still have nine more grades before college, which Tyler regards as optional. He throws me a look and knows I don’t agree about the optional part, but I put the most positive spin I can on it. In college, you can decide on a “major,” I say, a subject you love and want to study in greater depth.
I ask what classes he might take in college. “Physics,” he says, surprising me. He thinks it could help him understand baseball better. He’s right.
They are five books into the Harry Potter series and there is plenty in those books about taking classes at Hogwarts. Much magic in that world and plenty in their world, too. All through March, my grandsons have been in leprechaun mode, wearing their green top hats and shirts. They’re part Irish and also part leprechaun. They’ve given up on catching one, so they joined the tribe.
Tyler says leprechauns live in the largest forest in the world — which is in Ireland (who knew?) and has “self-cleaning rivers.” It’s a place where “nothing bad ever happens.”
Sounds great. Let’s go.
During the cold portion of the year, our magic forest has been the Children’s section of the Wheaton Public Library. It became our sanctuary after school and dinner. I thought they would tire of it after a few weeks, but they haven’t. Plenty of other kids on hand with parents or grandparents, working on crafts or coloring seasonal shapes (shamrocks, for instance), which find their way onto large bulletin boards. Or they draw posters to illustrate the library’s seasonal themes. Also Legos and magnet tiles and other blocks for building.
But the week before St. Patrick’s Day, we have the entire place to ourselves, no other kids in sight. They were in seventh heaven — props and space and enough imagination to conjure the Leprechaun Forest.
“It’s St. Patrick’s Eve,” announces Bryce. “We’re going to have a big feast. I’m a really good cook. I could do it by magic, but it tastes better when you actually make it.”
Tyler twirls and high-steps on the dance floor, outlined with green and yellow plastic bricks.
“How do we get around?” Bryce asks. “Do we, like, ride on animals?”
Tyler, exasperated, says, “We’re leprechauns, Bryce. We walk.”
Except in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a 60-year-old film that has become a March tradition for us, in which King Brian and the little people ride wee horses.
But this is their story and they brook no contradictions. They’ve set up a brook, in fact, with stepping stones. They call it Leprechaun Creek. It uses the Emerald Cleaning System. It’s a very clean creek. The water is almost visible.
A few weeks later, during Spring Break, we find ourselves in Morton Arboretum, taking the trail to the Spruce Plot, a stand of towering evergreens, which Bryce is sure will yield a trove of pine cones for his new collection.
But the trail can’t hold them for long. Off they go into the brushless, leaf-layered, early spring woodland, traversing fallen tree trunks like balance beams and imagining, as they often do, that the blanched ground is “lava,” so they must stay aloft or perish, transferring from log to log as if these tree corpses had been laid out, end-to-end, for their exploratory pleasure. Being the official witness, I am, of course, exempt from the burning peril of the lava-laden ground. Eventually we meander back to the trail (no rush, we have all day) and find our way eventually to the Spruce Plot, a cathedral of ramrod-straight pine poles several stories high, needle-less until the upper reaches, as if a Christmas tree had been fitted on top, where the sun could lavish them with the necessities for photosynthesis.
Bryce scours the ground for pine cones, while Tyler elevates with elation. “Bryce,” he said, “look up! It’s so peaceful here!” What every parent and grandparent hopes to hear when introducing offspring, or grand-offspring, to the wonders of nature.
Tyler walks with a large, knobbed stick he liberated from some wooded backlot back home. He and Bryce use it to trace stars in the soft loam of the trail whenever they spot something they want to remember for the way back.
It was definitely a moment — one of those moments you wish you could trade the rest of your life for and dwell in forever.
I wish many such moments on every parent and grandparent.
I wish many more for Tyler and Bryce.
And to their offspring … and grand-offspring.
Because when you get right down to it, we’re all boys and girls of spring.