That Was Then
I was young.
But that was then.
I walk more slowly now. The crunching of the dry leaves under my feet is deafening.
I never stopped to listen to them before. I would run through the woods and never give a second thought to what was going on around me. I'd startle the squirrels and send them skittering. My motion would cause the dogs in the backyards to bark. I'd plow through the spiderwebs suspended between the tree trunks with hardly a thought. I had more important things to think about. I had nothing to think about.
I was young. I was free.
Walking through the old woods now is so eerie. They're familiar, but at the same time seem distorted by the years that have passed. The woods were endless when I used to play here as a child. Now, the homes whose property I'm walking through seem so close I could reach out and touch them. Now, I'm conscious of the yards, the fences, the piles of grass clippings, and the hundred other little things that mark the boundary between one property and another.
It all seemed like community property back then. When I ran through these woods I never stopped to think of whose land I was crossing. As long as I wasn't trampling the flowers or tearing up the grass in the yard, I didn't see how it was anyone's business. It was the woods. Any concept of property that I had was this: the houses and the yards belonged to the adults; the woods belonged to us kids.
It's not far from the edge of my parents' property to the old creek where we used to play. Even walking with the pace of nostalgia, I can see the ditch come into view within a few minutes.
So many hours I spent out here; with Jenny from two houses over, with my brother, or just by myself. I was never averse to playing on my own. That's something from childhood that hasn't changed, I think with a chuckle.
The creek looks tiny now. Nothing more than a trickle of water. The ditch still looks formidable though. The land drops sharply, the muddy banks cut away over years by the stream. The roots of nearby trees protrude from the sides of the ditch.
I walk up and down the creek bed a few times, taking in the sight. I look at the trunks of the felled pine trees that traverse the pit. We used to dance on those! The memory hits me so suddenly that I can't stop myself from laughing out loud. I remember when Jenny and I created a "úroutine" and planned to perform it for the neighborhood. What was it, some sort of strange amalgam of dance and acrobatics? Balancing on the tree trunks... but with rhythm?
Only a child's mind could come up with something like that.
Then there were other times. We'd run across the trees, the plastic guns in our hands. (Sometimes they were Star Trek phasers instead.) I can't really recall if there was a plot to that game. I don't remember if we were on different sides, or if it was supposed to be a war... I think mostly we just ran around, jumping out from behind trees shouting 'bang! bang!' and then yelling 'I got you!' and arguing that the person should lay down for the obligatory five seconds and 'be dead.' How long could that be fun for? I shake my head.
Still, I don't remember ever getting tired of it.
I walk up to the ditch. This is one moment where my perceptions from childhood are reversed. Normally, everything that seemed huge as a kid looks so small when I come back to it. Now though, the ditch looks huge. And deep. After a few second's hesitation, I hop from my perch on the top to the creek bank about five feet below. My knees groan in protest as they take my weight.
Now that's something that never happened when I was a kid.
Still pondering, I walk up and down the bank of the creek, watching the waterbugs skitter across the top of the water where it pools deeply as the stream narrows. I'm feeling very at peace. My mind isn‚'t empty, but it's as close as I've gotten for many years. I remember this feeling; this serenity.
The sound of the stream is familiar too; the tinkling of the water cascading across the pebbles that line the bottom. I take a deep breath and really let myself smell the air. Clean. Crisp. So much of our lives now are spent in the office, or on the freeway. Recirculated air; pollution. When was the last time I had been around so many trees, without a single car in sight? When was it that this had become unusual?
I kick a rock at my feet and send it skittering across the pool of water, sticking in the thick mud on the opposite side.
Who was I back then?
Who am I now?
I should get back. The light above is starting to get pink and soft. Mom probably has dinner ready. This was about the time of day when she would lean out the back door and yell my name and tell me to come wash up.
I climb out of the ditch, using one of those exposed tree roots to gain purchase on the steep edges. It's worn from use. It seems a new generation of kids is now enjoying the creek. Probably playing the same old silly games and making the same old silly memories.
I start to head back toward the house, leaving my nostalgia, leaving my memories. I stop though, and turn back.
I used to leap across this ditch. Running around the woods, playing one of a hundred silly games, I would spread my legs and jump, landing effortlessly on the facing edge. It's so far though! If you misjudged it by just a bit, you could really hurt yourself. I stare at the ditch warily. I couldn't have dreamed all those times I leapt across. No, I definitely did it.
Kids are fearless, I justify with a nod. I probably came close to killing myself hundreds of times. It's probably just dumb luck that I'm alive now, to walk through these woods again. I remember the bruised shins, the skinned knees. I still have a black spot of buried asphalt in my knee from when I tore it open deeply, falling off my scooter. That's why we grow up, isn't it? We gain the wisdom and perspective to see that when we were kids, we were idiots.
I laugh at my pseudo-philosophical interpretation and turn back toward my house.
After only a few steps though, I turn back, with a sudden change of heart and determination in my eyes. I don't let myself think. I just take the two huge strides to the edge of the ditch and push off, stretching my leg out in front of me.
I leap. I fly. Stupidly. Recklessly. My heart pounds. It feels amazing.
Sometimes, kids get it right.
I am young.
Edited by AbandonThought, 20 April 2010 - 03:40 PM.