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  • An Unpleasantness in Sherwood Forest
  • John Hanson Mitchell (bio)

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The year we fought the battle to save our Sherwood Forest, I was living successfully disguised to myself as Robin Hood. I was not the child of my kindly American parents, who had settled in the town two decades earlier, in the 1930s. I was, in fact, English, born in Locksley Hall, in Nottinghamshire, the child of Lord and Lady Locksley. My family and estate had been undone by that villain, [End Page 178] Guy of Gisborne, and I had eventually taken to the surrounding forest to live a free life of adventure and crime.

From the western windows of the castle fastness in which I lived before I took to the forest, I was able to see across the low valleys of Nottinghamshire to the Newstead Hills on the western horizon. From the eastern side, I could survey the veteran oaks and hollies of my adoptive parents’ yard, and beyond, the rising grounds of the old brownstone estate wherein lived my nemesis, the evil Prioress of Kirklees, otherwise known as Mrs. Mackay, a woman who rarely saw the sun, dressed always in black Chinese silks, and periodically called upon the local sheriff’s men to arrest me for my trespasses.

Beyond that property, past the grounds of William Parlin, Esq., through the boxwood hedges of Doctor Johnson’s back garden, and across the meadows of Pitcairn Hill, lay the thickets and hollows of Sherwood Forest, a one-hundred-fifty-acre stand of ancient beeches, sweetgum, sourwood, oak, and maple where hawks nested and foxes dug their dens. This was no ordinary landscape, it was a haunted, overgrown tract with tangled underwood and massive trees. Decades before my parents moved to town, the nobles of a corrupted economic system—the robber barons—had built vast villas here on serried red cliffs above a wide gray river. The Depression had undone them, and they had lost their money and deserted the region for smaller dwellings in parts unknown. Wreckers, fire, storms, and other disasters had destroyed the buildings, leaving behind foundations, ruined gardens, pergolas, marble steps to nowhere, and broken-tiled swimming pools where frogs lurked in the remnant muddy waters.

All this combined to offer free range for generations of children who, in the less-restricted 1950s, were turned out in the morning to make their way, and were expected to return by dusk, in time for dinner and a warm bath. It is little wonder that in the wilds of this untrammeled environment we children banded together and formed gangs, and less surprising still that we should select as our role model the ultimate symbol of forest freedom, Robin Hood.

So it was in this guise, on a Saturday morning in September of that fateful year, that I set out from Locksley Hall with my loyal companion, Lord Barkley, a scruffy Irish terrier who was as fond of escapades as his master. The two of us made our way across the street and headed east, up through holes in privet hedges and across uncut backyards and woodlots to a small English-style cottage fronted by a huge magnolia tree. I went around to the back of the house and whistled under an open window, and a mop-haired girl appeared and said she’d be right out.

This was Maid Marian, my partner in crime in those years. She was not the demure lady of Angevin legend; she was small but fierce, had perennially uncombed blond hair, and could throw a stone farther and more accurately than any of the bad boys in Robin Hood’s band. I suspect she had aspirations to be a girl Robin Hood.

There was nothing out of the ordinary in the adventure we were about to [End Page 179] undertake; it was a day like any other in those years. The great dark boles and leafed branches of the veteran oaks of the old yards cast patterned shadows across the shorn lawns; the American robins were singing, the mourning doves were cooing, and the air was redolent with the odor of fallen leaves and cut grass, and...


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pp. 178-183
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