Over the summer one of my best friends moved from Northeast Indiana to Virginia. He bought a house sight unseen, packed up his Toyota Matrix with his clothes, art supplies, and his two dogs, and in two trips was moved in. He sends me updates on the place; repairs, renovations, building a fence to keep his two dogs from wandering too far, and even when he found a snake under the kitchen sink. He also recently found a crude drawing of a penis in his basement that wasn’t there when he moved in. Possibly a perverted poltergeist?(hopefully this will be another post altogether.)
All in all, he sounds incredibly happy with his decision to pack up and start anew. He recently sent me a video of what it looks like behind his house. It was this vast, green landscape with mountains in the distance and forests for as long as you can see. My old friend made the comment that it’s kind of mind blowing to think that you could walk 20 miles in one direction and still hit nothing but forests and hills. You forget how vast this country still is when you live in the developed suburbs your whole life.
Seeing that video took me back to being much younger and losing an afternoon roaming in the woods and hills. The feeling of being nowhere but somewhere. I grew up with a pine forest behind my house. Before the woods was developed and filled with homes it was a pretty incredible place to play. We’d spend afternoons making forts, trails, playing war, hide and seek, and just being enveloped by a cover of nappy pines and spider web-like vines that connected many of them. We found an old wire fence that was there before the woods. I imagine it was a farmer’s field prior to being a pine forest. We also found a wrecked Corvette; it’s fiberglass body splintered and fading from time and the elements. Me and some friends would take off with walkie-talkies and pretend it was some apocalyptic future(thanks to The Day After, Night of the Comet, and Mad Max.) As we got older we made BMX tracks in the woods so we could painfully try and emulate the cool tricks we saw in BMX Bandits. It basically resulted in racking ourselves on our Mongooses, Huffys, and Schwinns, along with the occasional busted chin and tore up knee.
It didn’t matter where I was, if there was uncharted territory I was out to explore. I had a friend in elementary school named Eric. His mom was my 3rd grade teacher, but he didn’t go to my elementary school till 4th grade. We became fast friends and would stay over at each other’s house often. One time when I went to his place we headed to his grandma’s house in town. She lived right across from the Oakwood Cemetery, which was the big cemetery in town. We ended up running around over there all day with Star Trek phasers. The cemetery is vast and on a hill overlooking Pike Lake with plenty of foliage. In retrospect it seems a little disrespectful playing space adventures over the bodies of the long deceased. But we were respectful of the gravestones, and I don’t think they minded the company. I’d go there years later and take photos for my photography class, as well as bury a few family members and friends of my own.
In high school, my friend who is now a Virginian and I found a trail near the apartment where he lived with him mom and sister. It was pretty uncharted territory for the most part. Today it’s a major walking/bike trail in a pretty affluent area, but back then it was a pretty creepy place to get lost in. In one of our walks out there we came across a cinder block out building. The door was miraculously unlocked, so we stepped in. It looked like a storage garage, or maybe even an old boat storage building for the Boys and Girls Club. We found boxes of old photos. Not like historical photos, but old family photos. Many of the boxes were tore up from animals getting in, as well as a leaky roof which caused many of them to become mildewed. But some of the photos that were still intact were quite telling. Christmas get-togethers, fun on yachts, and even a couple rather risque polaroids from a 70s Toga party. As we were getting into the decade of decadence we heard something outside and scrammed like rats. Within a couple years that building was tore down.
Even 12 years ago when my oldest was taking piano lessons, her teacher lived on a 20 acre farm. Next to the house was steep ditch that led to a creek that eventually connected to one of the many lakes in our county. This ditch was probably 35-40 ft down, and it was lined with trees. While my oldest was in the house learning major scales and how to use her left hand and right hand at the same time, I’d take her two younger siblings and we’d walk the crest of this ditch. Lined with maple, cedar, and pine trees, myself and two munchkins would walk along it looking for anything. Raccoons, squirrels, and rabbits. It was early spring, so there were no leaves and we were bundled up as it was still cold out. But we had a blast searching along this embankment of gnarly trees and bubbling water that ran at the bottom of that ditch. More than my daughter learning an instrument, I looked forward to those 35 minute adventures(when the weather would allow.)
I’ve never lost that longing to get lost in a patch of forest. I think as an adult I long for it even more. The days of truly disappearing are all but gone. Cell phones, satellites, GPS, security cameras everywhere, the idea of losing track of the world seems all but impossible. When I was 17 and I left the house my parents had no idea what was going on or had any way of checking up on me, unless they called the home phone of wherever I was going. For the time I walked out that front door to the time I walked back I was like a ghost. I wonder if my parents ever worried? I know now with my own 16-year old driving that I’d be a paranoid wreck if I couldn’t check in on her, or even my son that can’t drive for that matter. The worst would go thru my head. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. We’ve been primed and trained in this world of instant connectivity that if you don’t see your text has been read in less than 10 seconds after you sent it the other person is probably dead. Kidnapped, car wreck, shot in crossfire, Starbucks was robbed where they were getting their drink; the imagination has endless tragedies just waiting for you to indulge in.
One of these days I need to find a woods and just wander for a few hours. Forget the outside world; the job, the bills, the responsibilities, and the daily grind. Pack a lunch, wear some good shoes, and just go explore.
And leave the cell phone in the car…or at least turn the ringer off.