I headed to find the “Nature Trail” shortly after breakfast, smiling to myself as I passed the plastic case with trail maps, remembering these woods before they were tamed with a two-mile long cedar chip lined loop. For a moment I missed the wild and wooly feeling these woods once held. The shade and cool morning air in the woods were a welcome contrast to the building humidity that seemed already to be declaring that today was going to be a hot sticky Washington, D.C. summer day. As I picked up my pace, I noticed how small the woods seemed, perhaps because I am grown now and surely because the expanded golf course has swallowed part of the forest. But it smelled the same there- damp, a little musty, but clean, and as I got further along the trail and away from main roads that border the loop on two sides, the city’s morning sounds faded and I listened to the rustle in the underbrush as squirrels scampered here and there, and the chirping of birds who flew from limb to limb.
The groomed path in these shrunken woods of my childhood follows the back edges of yards in my old neighborhood, and I peered through the trees to look at the backs of homes where I’d played and had sleep overs, and babysat. I was alone this morning, not another runner or walker around. To the right, on the golf course, was a crew trimming, blowing, watering- readying the fairways and greens for a busy day.
I stayed left at each fork in the path, hoping the route would bring me to the area behind the house in which I grew up. Suddenly I was there, surrounded by familiar trees and drenched in memories. The place where my neighborhood friends and I had snuck, disobeying our parents, the place where we played tag and truth-or-dare, where we’d gotten in trouble and gotten poison ivy. We always thought we were far from home, on a grand adventure. As I stood at the edge of the creek, it occurred to me that we were so close to the backs of our houses that our mothers probably heard every word we ever uttered. Our secrets, our cross words, our giggles. When I was small these woods had seemed so big. But really, the picture window at the back of the kitchen of my old home was right there, just through the trees. Even I could throw a baseball far enough and hard enough to break its glass.
I looked around, noticing the tree whose limb still reached almost to the window at the back of my old bedroom, wondering if it was still home to families of raccoons, pondering whether whoever slept in that room now woke on summer nights to the sound of trash can lids rattling the ground as the raccoons scrambled away with their dinner. Probably not, I guessed, since cans were no longer metal and the giant plastic ones we use today were probably tough for raccoons to scale. I could almost see the spot where we’d buried the family cat, just next the the fence at the edge of the woods. I closed my eyes and pictured the fierce thunderstorms that sometimes brought branches crashing down all around the house. I remembered my parents’ relief, on more than one occasion, that none had pierced the roof.
I stood for a minute longer, looking around, letting all those memories come into my brain like steady waves rolling towards the shore. My walk on the nature trail had turned into a a stroll down memory lane.
Come join us for today’s Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers.