Three Rivers writer Tom Springer easily remembers the incident that led to the title of his book, “Looking for Hickories.”
He had moved to a country home, his appreciation of nature was growing, and he wanted to harvest some hickory nuts.
His search began in earnest and ended up not far from his front door. The nice, mature specimen was right there, easy to see, but he just never saw it.
The title, he says, represents “a quest to find something local that was there all the time but you never noticed it.”
“The more I looked for them,” he told an audience Thursday at Morenci’s Stair Public Library, “the more they were there.”
There was no shortage of hickory trees in his area; there had only been a shortage of finding them.
The subtitle of his book, “the Forgotten Wildness of the Rural Midwest,” was the publisher’s choice. Springer said he would have gone with this: Rediscovery in a flat and forgotten place.
People often consider this part of the nation as “fly-over country,” Springer said. You pass over it on the way to someplace beautiful and exciting, such as the Rocky Mountains, northern Michigan or the New River of West Virginia.
“There’s beauty here, too,” he said. “It needs more careful attention to discern it.”
Springer said people generally love only the things they care about, pointing to the necessity of introducing people to what’s here. Without an appreciation of the natural world, it’s easy to let it disappear.
Springer calls his speaking engagements the “Smell the Wood” tour, and he brings along a few pieces for audience members to examine and sniff, including the fragrant sassafras.
He also spoke about serviceberry, a shrub commonly used for landscaping around malls and businesses.
“What people don’t realize is that the fruit tastes really good,” Springer said. “It’s so ironic. They’re growing everywhere.”
He served a dollop of serviceberry jam on a cracker to audience members in hopes that they, too, would learn to appreciate a bit of the wildness that’s all around them.