By Morgan Mitchell
“Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” – A. A. Milne
In the silence of the countryside, all I could hear was the rustling of the tall grass brushing together in the wind and the scuffling footsteps as we marched along on the dry dirt road. Every so often, there were places where the ground had collapsed inward slightly, making the path treacherous enough that I made sure to take care with my footing. These imperfections in the road spoke to its old age. They also suggested a certain carefree upkeep that could have been the result of a child—and his friends—running up and down and all around the path each day, wearing it away even as they built up new memories.
Periodically, I paused in my hike to pluck yellow daisies from the ground. They were a beautiful contrast to the bright green grass and trees where they grew along the road, but I had a special idea in mind for my little bouquet. After arranging the new flower in my growing collection, I hurried to catch up with the rest of the group. We continued on our journey toward the Hundred Acre Wood, the very same wood where Winnie-the-Pooh adventured with his fellow fictional friends and where the real Christopher Robin played as a child.
On the road, we could see the forest to the right and the rolling hills of the countryside to the left, perched as we were on a mountain overlooking East Sussex, England. The winding path eventually led us into Ashdown Forest, where we were surrounded by trees on both sides. Here, the path was so narrow that when I looked toward the sky, all I saw were long, skinny tree trunks meeting the blue sky. With my head tilted up, I would have thought there was no path to walk on at all for how filled with trees my sightline was.
As we continued walking, we began to notice hidden details that made the forest even more authentic. Eeyore’s house, which was nothing more than a stack of sticks arranged into a hut, could be found in the midst of a cluster of ferns and a huddle of trees. Looking high into a tree off in the distance, I spotted Owl’s charming home. The door was complete with a tiny doorknob, shingles at the top to keep the rain out, and a sign in the middle that surely told inquirers to ring for an answer and to knock otherwise. Meanwhile, Piglet’s modest home was hidden behind a tiny hole, only big enough for “Very Small Animals,” at the base of a tree trunk.
When we came to a bridge overlooking a river, I looked to the other members of the group excitedly to discover that they were just as happy to see it in real life as I was. We had been steadily collecting small sticks in anticipation of arriving at the bridge because we knew that it brought us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a game of Poohsticks on the real Poohsticks bridge. The river was shallow enough that I could see the rocks at the bottom, but the water flowed slowly and surely. When we lined up along the same side of the bridge and each dropped a stick, we had plenty of time to race to the other side of the bridge to see which stick would be swept along the fastest. Pooh, the “bear of Very Little Brain,” would have been smitten with the individual who forgot to differentiate their stick from the others and thus failed to understand who came out the winner, but the majority of us had more than just grey fluff floating around in our heads. We named Emily the winner.
Soon after our competition on the bridge, we came to the place where I would lay my bundle of daisies. Because we were situated on a cliff, the view of the various shades of green twisting in and out of the hills was mesmerizing. As such, it was no shock to anyone that the memorial for A. A. Milne, the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh series, and E. H. Shepard, the illustrator, was placed there. Affixed flat on the top of a boulder-sized rock, the plaque honors the two legends for their ability to capture the magic of the woods and for their generosity in giving their vision to the world. I sat on the rock, looking out at the countryside, and imagined Christopher Robin doing the same with his arm around Winnie-the Pooh. Making sure the daisies were arranged into a bouquet, I laid them carefully on the rock beside me.
The last clearing housed far fewer trees than the clutter of the first and, I thought to myself, would have been more suited to accommodating a rambunctious young boy running around haphazardly with his group of followers. As I soon learned, my initial assessment of the spot checked out: Dr. Ann Thwaite, the author of five biographies on A. A. Milne, shared with the class that we were standing in Galleon’s Lap. Since it was a British Children’s Literature study-abroad course, we necessarily had to have some lectures cutting into our adventures. In this case, however, the background information only enhanced my experience. Galleon’s Lap was the location where the touching final scene of the book took place. We were standing exactly where Christopher Robin and Pooh would have been when an older Christopher Robin was forced to say goodbye to the friend that only ever existed in his imagination.
To make the experience even more moving, Dr. Thwaite read the ending of The House at Pooh Corner out loud as we stood in a circle, as if she wanted to remind us of the fragility of childhood. The memories of all the “Expotitions” that Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and the gang embarked on did seem to hang heavy in the air, but this legacy is what immortalized their story. While the real Christopher Robin had to grow up, A. A. Milne captured the wonder of adventuring, the joy of friendship, and the warmth of love in his books and shared them with the world. Just as the Hundred Acre Wood will always be waiting to welcome back Pooh and Christopher Robin, we should try to remember the simple pleasures and the easy innocence of childhood once in a while.
*All words and phrases in quotation marks come from A. A. Milne’s books.
Edited by Ashley Ricks