Laura Ray lives a cabin in the woods of rural South Carolina. A retired first grade teacher, she works part time training teacher interns at a local university. Away from work, she gardens, writes, and creates small wooly friends called pogos. She shares these tiny friends at pogoshop.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” — Rachel Carson
As a child, I was free to roam the South Carolina woods and fields every day until sundown. My sisters and I caught water bugs in the creek, built forts in the woods, and made “toady frog” houses for needy frogs. Nightfall or a rain storm were pretty much the only things that ever ended a good day.
In 1978, my husband John and I built a log home in these same woods, using trees that he cut and salvaged, bricks, doors, and flooring. We were 24- and 25-year-old teachers and had never built anything in our lives. A chapter on cabins in The Foxfire Book was our guide. As the walls grew, we would sit on the top log in the evenings, looking down into the rooms that would be our home, trying to imagine our lives there. We were proud and excited, but had no way to know how much we would come to love this place.
For 28 years I taught first grade. I found that six-year-olds are the most wonderful, innately curious people, but are often starved for knowledge of nature. I decided to bring nature into the classroom. Our room had standing trees overhead with hanging gray moss, birds’ nests and snakes’ skins in them. We had a large terrarium for visiting lizards and frogs. There were ever-growing collections of rocks and shells, a large forest mural covered one wall, and we had a garden plot just outside our window. There was a nature trail in the woods near the schoolyard where we often went exploring. Before their first outing, many of these city and suburban children had never walked in any woods, anywhere. They thought bears would eat us.
In A Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson said about children: “If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions, and the impressions of the senses, are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.” Drawing from that, I wanted to lead children to experience and love the natural world. They might not live in the forest, but I wanted them to feel at home there. My hope was that someday, having loved the forest as children, they might not bulldoze it as adults.
When John died in 2004, I left teaching. With time on my hands I started an organic garden, renovated our barns and explored the woods. That’s when I discovered pogos, in the same favorite hideaways of my childhood. I opened pogoshop in 2008. Some of my visitors told me that their children followed my shop and enjoyed reading about the pogos, so I decided to write for children when I post. It seemed like another chance to show the forest to children who may never go there.
It pleases me that pogos are soft and well-suited to the companionship of small hands. I’m in love with the feel of real wool and proud that pogos come from repurposed castaways. I use thrift store wool sweaters, which I launder in hot water, then cut and stitch by hand into pogos and their pullovers.
It’s a fine thing when all the puzzle pieces you love seem to converge and you have a chance to offer up what is uniquely your own. That’s how I feel about pogoshop. Etsy is a connection that I share with my daughters (a.k.a. corduroy and groundwork) and my pogos are a connection with the child that I was and the children I have known. Most of them will never live in the woods. I always hope, though, that those seeds of caring for the earth will survive and that some nourishing spot of nature will remain a constant in their lives.