I don’t usually run on Fridays, but the weather was so fine I just had to do something, so I took The Dog for a walk on campus. We wandered up the green trail into the woods behind campus and as surely as I was walking through the Georgia pines, I was also transported back to the summer my family moved from New York to Pennsylvania.
In New York, we lived in a city. Our yard was small and encircled by a chain link fence. Our neighbors’ homes stood close to our own. The neighborhood was always busy and we were always driving somewhere. My sister and I took a taxi cab to school.
When we arrived in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, there was no fence around our yard. It seemed like vast swaths of land separated us from our neighbors. The street was quiet except in the mornings, when we walked to school, and all the moms and dads pointed their cars toward the city for the day.
Our house in Pittsburgh sat on a mountain, cleaved in two my great ravine where a stream ran steadily to the Ohio River. The summer we moved there, I was entering second grade and I felt small and excited by the size of the world around us. A teenaged girl lived next door, and she made it her mission to show my siblings and me around our new neighborhood. I wish I could remember her name.
She was so patient with us. She took us for walks along the ridge behind our house. We scampered behind her as she bounced from rock to rock down the deep cliff. She picked up rocks and told us stories. At the bottom of the hill, we walked toward the river and stopped at a division in the giant rocks. A crudely drawn profile of what was clearly intended to be a Native American man had been painted red in the rock face. As I think of it now, the image is stunning for its obvious racial overtones.
But then, I thought it was magical. I thought she was taking us to a portal to the past. I thought we were scavenging for the remnants of days gone by. She picked up what she described as an arrowhead, but was likely just an arrow shaped rock or even a souvenir from a theme park she had pulled from her pocket. She told us “Indians” used to hunt these woods. I was enthralled.
Over the years my siblings and I explored the rocks behind our home. I never did find my own arrowhead in those deep woods. But I did learn to look at my surroundings and to question what came before.
As I walked with The Dog in the Georgia woods today, I saw a sign that the Cross Country team had made in 2008 for a trail called Big Daddy that was now mostly grown over. I could just pick out its trail wending north and skyward. I chose to stick to a worn path and scampered my way to the stone building I had seen the other day, to marvel at the size of the stumps of upended trees.
I walked and I remembered. Isn’t that what we do? We stack onto our lives like a tower of legos, the people and places and experiences growing ever bigger, circling outward, taking us forward even as we stand on the memories of who we used to be?