Today is national Winnie-the-Pooh day, otherwise known as the birthday of English author A.A. Milne. He's the man who brought our favorite honey-obsessed bear to life in that eponymous book published back in 1926 -- Winnie-the-Pooh.
It was Milne's son -- a boy named Christopher Robin -- who, with his very own teddy bear named Winnie, inspired the basis of a universe populated by Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and Roo. Together, the characters, many based on Christopher's actual toys, lived in a fictional land dubbed the Hundred Acre Wood, filled with woozles and heffalumps and the perfect spots for playing Poohsticks.
The Hundred Acre Wood was, like most of the component parts of Milne's story, also inspired by a real fragment of his nonfictional life. The setting of Winnie-the-Pooh is based on the Sussex wildlife haven known as Ashdown Forest, a 5,000-acre wood dotted with silver birches and pine trees about 30 miles south of London. In fact, many of the E.H. Shepard's drawings for the Winnie-the-Pooh mimic the picturesque heathlands of Ashdown.
Thanks to a timely new book, fans of Pooh, Owl, Rabbit and the rest can experience the magic of Ashdown. The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto takes readers on a visual tour of the English countryside, accompanied by copies of Shepard's familiar sketches. Aalto moves from the house where Milne wrote Pooh's first moments to the paths Christopher Robin trekked in his boyhood to the car park at Gills Lap, the Sussex counterpart to Pooh's Galleons Lap. Each destination is imbued with the lore we remember from the Hundred Acre Wood.
Roo's Sandy Pit, the enchanted place and the floody place, the spot for pickniking and that finicky bee tree -- all are portrayed in one way or another. The woods of Milne's lifetime have bended and broken over time, but treasures remain, whether a bridge or a just sandy place.
"Time stands still in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood," Aalto writes. "In our childhood imaginations, the forest and woods where Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends wander might be a static place visited only when we were young. In the real setting of Ashdown Forest, of course, the living, breathing landscape has changed."
Aalto's book is filled with biographical details from Milne's life, illustrated reminders of Shepard's whimsical genius, and even tidbits of trivia that reflect on the real flora and fauna of Ashdown. Aalto recounts everything from the forest's surrounding area, Hartfield Village, to Milne's home at Cotchford Farm, all the while reminiscing over the fantasy parts too: Pooh's trap for the heffalumps and Eeyore's gloomy place.
Devoted readers will relish these parts, particularly the official rules for playing Poohsticks:
1. Bring your own wooden Poohsticks.
2. All sticks should be the same weight or size. If similar looking, paint yours in jaunty colors.
3. Choose a starter to say, "Ready, steady, go!"
4. Competitors stand side-by-side, facing upstream.
5. Leaning over the bridge, stick out your arm so that the sticks are all at the same height from river surface to bridge.
6. At the sound of "Go!" all competitors let go of their sticks. (Sticks should not be thrown or hurled into the water.)
7. Rush to the other side of the bridge.
8. The first stick to emerge under the bridge has won.
9. Repeat over and over and over and ...
In honor of the 90th anniversary of Milne's original book, which will be celebrated this year, take a peek at photos of Ashdown here. Let us know how you are celebrating Winnie-the-Pooh day in the comments.
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest That Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood by Kathryn Aalto is available through Timber Press.
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