The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Ashdown Forest ~ Tuesday, September 11

Writer Kathryn Aalto will lead an imaginary journey to Ashdown Forest (aka the Hundred Acre Wood) in Bedford on September 11 – Courtesy image (c) all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

By Julie McCay Turner

Poohsticks Bridge – Image (c) Kathryn Aalto, all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

Enthusiasm for Winnie-the-Pooh and Ashdown Forest, also known as the Hundred Acre Wood, is expected to spike in Bedford next week.

Kathryn Aalto, author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, will open the Bedford Garden Club’s program season at First Parish on Tuesday, September 11. Aalto’s talk begins at 7 pm in the building’s historic sanctuary, followed by a book signing and dessert in the Bacon Room, overlooking Bedford Common.

The book is, according to Aalto, “A natural history of the real landscape that inspired Milne to write the stories, as well as a reflection on the changing nature of childhood once I realized that Milne had the kind of childhood we have lost.

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“People who come to the talk will probably feel they have traveled to England in the hour we are together,” Aalto continued, “It is a visually-rich talk that takes people into the real landscape of this iconic literary landscape but people will travel their own inner landscapes of memories, history, and emotions. There is talk of plants, landscapes, and the nature of childhood and ways AA Milne and EH Shepherd were masterful collaborators.”

The book is also a story of a family adventure. One of Aalto’s children asked, “Mom, is there a Hundred Acre Wood? Can we walk there?” The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh is the answer: “The [children] were 3, 7 and 9 when we moved here, and they asked this maybe five years later. They find it entrancing and beautiful as they all have hearts of a poet but love science as well.”

Thanks to Britain’s network of footpaths, Aalto added, “Most children (and parents) cannot imagine wandering 1-5-20 miles in the landscape like Milne did, but many people who come to my talks can remember doing that as a child. It’s as if childhood has permanently changed, and my book captures the spirit of what 21st-century Christopher Robins might still aspire to do.”

“We cannot wander and ramble in the US like we can here in England because the ancient network of public footpaths does not exist there. It did not take me long — two days! — to find a walking book [in Britain]. We walk all the time as a family. Along dramatic Cornish coastlines, over hill farms the colour of paprika, through purple and gold tapestries of heather and gorse in Exmoor and Dartmoor, down sunken Dorset lanes lined in hedgerows of dogwood roses, cow parsley, and red campion.

“The more history I walked through – Neolithic stone circles, Bronze Age earthen mounds, giant Celtic chalk figures, Roman ruins, Victorian cemeteries – my homesickness lessened, and the greater my comfort in a new land.  As a family, we also walked across the country on the 192-mile Coast-to-Coast Path. We pocketed pebbles from the Irish Sea and once we were across the county two weeks later, tossed them into the North Sea.”

The community, in Bedford and beyond, is invited to spend an hour with Aalto in Ashdown Forest at First Parish on September 11; the program is free and open to the public.

Editor’s Note: With grateful appreciation to Dorothy Africa and the Garden Club’s Program Committee for connecting The Bedford Citizen and Kathryn Aalto, and to Kathryn Aalto for so generously sharing her thoughts about her book. Click this link to learn more about the Bedford Garden Club.  The Museum of Fine Arts exhibit, Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, will open on September 22, with timed entrance tickets. Aalto is scheduled to speak at the Museum on September 23.

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