Boy in the Woods
I have an early childhood memory of examining a coffee mug my dad owned. It must’ve been one of his favourite mugs; he used it all the time. He still has it.
On the mug is a panoramic photograph of a pine forest in winter. And I remember thinking, “Why does he have a mug with a picture from Sesame Street on it?”
There was a short video which played repeatedly on Sesame Street when I was kid, which featured melancholy music and scenes from a pine forest. That’s all I remember, other than the fact I enjoyed it.
Television from our childhoods is so fleeting. The tiniest moments can have an enormous impact, but then they’re gone. Maybe we’ll see them in reruns later on, but after awhile those reruns stop, too. Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, and more than half of Sesame Street are gone now. If you want to watch Mr. Rogers bury his pet goldfish, or see The Nylons sing with Sharon, Lois and Bram, or watch an alcoholic photographer yell at an anthropomorphic mouse, then maybe you can find it on the Internet and maybe you can’t. I’ve convinced myself at this point that I must have imagined that one-off T.V. special where Fred Penner got stranded on an infinite staircase.
This kind of nostalgia was considerably more challenging before YouTube.
When I first discovered YouTube, one of the first things I did was search for old Sesame Street clips. This was when the site was only a year or two old, so it was possible to watch all the available, relevant clips in the course of an afternoon.
I rediscovered a whole bunch of stuff I had loved as a kid, some of which I’d completely forgotten about. One of the clips I particularly wanted to find was the one that took place in the pine forest. But I remembered so little of it. How many Sesame Street clips had something to do with nature or the seasons? I dismissed this search as a pipe dream, and contented myself with the fact that I could listen to Monster In the Mirror whenever I wanted.
A few years later I stumbled across Sesame Street’s official website. Most of the videos were recent, featuring Muppets and human characters I wasn’t even familiar with. I’m pretty sure they buried Bob alive under Big Bird’s nest when he hit retirement age.
Anyway, along with all the newer videos was a smaller collection of classic stuff. Most of it were clips that had already been uploaded to YouTube.
One of them was called “Autumn to Winter”. Curious, I clicked on it.
And then I was gone, pulled backwards into my early childhood.
Here’s the thing: I don’t even know if this was the mysterious pine forest video from my early childhood. It certainly could be, but there’s so much about it that I had completely forgotten. Everything except the shot of woods in the wintertime, in fact. But the video hit me like a ton of bricks, especially that melancholy, repetitive music. It all felt so familiar. Due to the nature of memory, I don’t remember most of what happened to me before the age of three. Most of my early memories are just memories of feelings; a sense of curiosity and wonder, as well as a powerful bittersweetness.
This video encapsulates all of that.
I didn’t want the video to lose its specialness, so after I discovered it I decided to never watch it again.
Some things need to remain in the past, I thought.
A few months later, I got pulled in and rewatched it. The video lost none of its impact.
Since then I’ve rewatched it maybe half a dozen times. Every time, it induces a state of instant regression, stripping away almost everything I am until I get back to who I initially was.
But as time goes on, my feelings about the video have become more nuanced. Yeah, I identify strongly with the boy in the woods, and his sense of discovery, but as I stumble toward my thirties I have other thoughts as well.
I see the boy’s father in the video following closely behind him, scooping him out of the snow at one point, and I realize one day that will be me.
I think about how cool it will be to show my kid an empty bird’s nest for the first time, to watch them run across fallen leaves, to walk with them through the snow.
These days are fast approaching; it won’t be long now. Within the next decade, I’ll be there. That’s an impossibly small amount of time, considering that I first saw this video more than two decades ago.
But it’s followed me across that distance with its promises and casual wisdom, telling me things I don’t know. Telling me things I’m eager to hear.
And I remember my dad’s coffee mug.