The celebration of Arbour Day has likely long vanished from overcrowded modern curricula, but for us, at the village two room school, it brought much excitement. Arbour Day happened early in May. It meant a school day like no other.
No lessons inside, for the outdoors was our realm. The first half of the day was spent in the school yard, which included our makeshift baseball diamond, garter snake pit and wild grape tangle, cleaning up and tidying. It meant extracting candy wrappers from the long grass, sweeping the front and back steps and getting the old dead leaves out of the cellarway.
Then, at noon, the real fun began. Everyone piled into the teacher’s car and perhaps a farm truck and off we drove, in highs spirits, to someone’s woods where we tumbled out to devour the picnic lunches in our lunch pails. Bologna sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, home made cookies (never the shame of store bought), hunks of cheese, a jam tart or even a piece of Johnny cake. Then we were turned loose.
Arbour Day, according to our friend, Wikipedia, was started during the Napoleonic Wars by a Spaniard who thought a day of festival would induce folks to plant trees for the good of their health and perhaps distract them from the invading armies. It must have been a roaring good festival for the idea caught on. Arbour Day got imported to nearly fifty countries around the world, including Canada, for the purpose of planting trees and appreciating nature and inducing young folks to take an interest in the tidiness of their school grounds.
Our little band totally missed the tree planting part, probably because the neighourhood was already overrun with trees. Instead, we ran free through the underbrush in search of bird’s nests and wildflowers. As country kids, we were already connoisseurs of the earliest bloomers. It was somewhat of a contest to see who could spot the first trillium, the first wild violets, as they meant spring and balmy weather was trying to arrive. Yellow adder tongues with their spotted leaves were prize finds. Bloodroot which bled delightfully gruesome red sap when plucked, white Mayflowers, Jack in the pulpits, all cried out new growth and coming summer fun.
We were ordered not to pick the wildflowers but, of course, we all came back with a fistful which usually drooped so badly so fast we guiltily abandoned them before loading up for home. We did, usually, refrain from picking trilliums after the grim warning that picking would kill them for the leaves came with the flower, leaving the plant to starve and die.
Flushed with sunshine and fresh air, our hair full of twigs, our shoes muddy, our hands trying to conceal rips in our clothes from the brush, we headed merrily home, wishing every day could be Arbour Day.
I still wish that. In good weather anyway. And think being dropped in the woods for a bracing spring afternoon would do a lot of folks a lot more good than they might possibly imagine from the house bound clutches of their couch.