There was once a trail behind our house that ran along what was called the Gunpowder River. I don’t know much of its history because I didn’t pay that much attention to it; I prefered running around and exploring between the bushes, the rocks, the fallen branches for anything that looked appealing, such as a rusty chain, an broken stop sign, a tennis ball, or anything of the junkyard variety.
” I once stumbled across a deer skull,” they say reminiscing a part of their life I so clearly remember and cringe when I think about it. ” I thought about picking it up, but after the time I brought a squirrel carcass home perhaps that wasn’t appropriate.”
” And you would be correct. I suggest keeping your morbid curiosity to yourself, unless you can find another bizarre creature in which to share your hobbies with. But, and of course this is your own choice whether it stays true or not, I believe you will turn away from those curiosities and instead watch a boatload of crime shows like the average person.”
” Do you have any recommendations?”
” We are getting off track.”
” But what is so fascinating about traveling to your own backyard?” By God, did I always whine this much? This is something that must be corrected immediately.
” Because,” I say, trying to maintain the virtuous patience of some wise old man but instead swearing inwardly like a filthy pirate. ” You don’t always have to go very far to learn something new. Also, it can be expensive to go to exotic places and to gain something new, something more valuable than money, there may be a price to pay. You have to determine whether or not the price is worth it, whether it is small scratches and cuts that can be patched up or a wound too big that no amount of suturing can make right again. For the most part, my journeys have been small scratches, with one notable exception. But that is for a later time.”
Now the trail ran straight, however, various side paths broke off from it and it was on those side paths I explored as I hid from the world. For I needed an escape from eyes that judged loudly; mother nature judged silently, her eyes never leaving mine but never saying a word that would cause me to fold and crumble. Through mother nature’s eyes, I can be who I want to be without anyone saying a thing. That is my corner, my silver of peace from a world I struggle to understand.
” But you don’t need to go far to find your corner, your silver of peace that no one else can have. Just find a spot outside and close your eyes. Go on, close your eyes.”
They drop the postcard and pen and soften their shoulders. Their eyes, now a dark brown as the drifting clouds block the sun and cast a shadow over their face, close, although tightly, too tightly as if still on guard against an anticipated dread.
” Soften up a bit, if you can.” It was easier said than done. ” Now what do you smell?”
” Salty air. A cool, tickling breeze.”
“Now what are you thinking?”
” Nothing,” they say. ” I’m trying to hang onto that smell, afraid if I let it go the terrible thoughts will come back and I’ll be all alone.”
” It’s okay to be alone,” I say softly, closing my eyes and picturing myself back on that trail, which was no different than any other trail in northern Maryland yet possessed a magic that made it extraordinary nonetheless. ” Because you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. No one else has to live with you except you, so you might as well get creative.”
Often times I took my bike and, with a perilous slide down a muddy slope, rode along the trail with a backpack full of books and journals and a camera. I never traveled alone; I always ensure I carry words with me because there is no greater pleasure than sitting with the world and creating my own with what I see, what I smell. So I rode along for miles, passing beneath a green bridge that marked the spot where I knew I was nearing the best part to enter the river. If the weather was warm, I would drop my bike and plunge in, the cold, fresh water soothing my bones. If it wasn’t, I would sit on the bench and pull out my book or my journal and delve into a swirling storm of words and surrealism.
There once was a girl
Who sat on a bank
By the river watching
As one by one
An old man in a sweater
Rode his bike along the trail,
A young couple, lost
In the beginnings of love,
Walked slowly hand in hand,
And a man whose two young boys
Ran and ran, too fast for him
To keep up
While she wrote and drew
And took pictures through a camera
That saw all except
Her own pain
The girl turned away and watched
The river instead
The water smooth and calm
Unlike the voices that rage
On and on
The girl wrote and drew and
Took pictures through a camera
That saw everything except
The bird that flew and landed
With a drop
The bird, its feathers black
And yellow and in disarray
Struggled to stand
To flap its beautiful wings
And fly again, once more
Into the golden light
Before the girl could move
The man, unable to keep up
With his two fast boys
Stopped on the riverbank
And picked up a rock
No bigger than his hand
And up and down
Up and down
His hand went
Until the bird, its feathers
black and yellow and in
Stood no more
Sang no more
And no longer tried to flap its wings
Once more into the golden light
Fading slowly from the sky
The girl cries and screams
" Why did you do that?
Did it not deserve a chance?"
And the man smiles sadly
"My dear, there was no chance"
And he left , calling after his
Two fast boys
There once was a girl
Who sat on a bank
By a river
Long after the sun said
And the trail grew quiet
Except for the crickets
Who chirped from far away
Too scared to sit near a girl
Flooded with tears
The girl turned the camera
Towards her heart
Wondering if it could see
Whether or not it had
A chance to live too.
Some days I didn’t want to go far so I left my bike behind and traveled on foot. How fortuitous it is to not have to go far and still be able to explore so much. There was a cliff that overlooked the trail and I would go perch on top of the boulders and watch the various people walking or riding or running, each bringing with them a story hidden beneath the affable smiles and laughs, stern concentration and exhausted determination. Part of me wants to figure their story out- did the old man come here regularly because it was what he and his wife used to do before he decided to have an affair with a model half his age or, in a less dramatic telling, are the two middle aged women trying to decide how to set their children up, not realizing one of them is gay?
” That is not less dramatic,” they point out, literally, by pointing the pen at me.
I scowl. ” Like I said, you need to get creative sometimes. That’s part of the fun, no matter how ridiculous it may seem.”
Like I was saying, part of me wants to know their story and part of me wants to keep to my own, shielding outsiders away as a knight shields himself from a fiery dragon. In that case, I turn away from the trail and towards the old rusty bridge all the way on my left. Cars used to rush over it all the time but now it is desolate, bowing down to its successor and waiting for nature to consume it, erasing it completely from mankind’s minor achievements. But despite its flaws it is still beautiful; perhaps it is more beautiful than before because its flaws serve as a pleasant reminder of all the times spent crossing it.
It was easy to walk back. However, it was not so easy to avoid a deer with massive antlers that make for quality impalement blocking the path back home. I froze, unsure what to do and we had a stare off that seemed to stretch on longer than it actually was. The light was fading quickly, and I scolded myself for staying out so late. My boots caught on the wintry mix of ice and snow and I held my breath until it finally moved. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the time I rolled through the snow and, my curiosity stroking the flames of adventure, plowed through the deep bushes surrounding the edge of our backyard. I kept plowing and plowing, finding myself lost among a bed of frosty cattails and with the sun once again quickly fading. I waded through both ankle and waist deep bushed for an hour before making it back to the cozy townhouse whose warmth invited me vigorously.
” Leave it to you to get lost in your own backyard,” they chuckle.
” Have you learned how to drive yet?’
” Just you wait,” It’s tempting to warn myself not to take I-95 South or else a fifteen minute drive home will turn into a three hour circus tour of the city and unplanned visit to Morgan State University. But no, I deserve to be punished for such snarkiness.
” Like I said,” I continue unperturbed, ” You can learn a lot from your backyard. Navigation primarily being one of them.”
They let out a yawn and stretch, dropping the postcard into the sand where the wind plays along its edges, never quite managing to rip it from its sandy grasp. We’ve been sitting here an awfully long time and I haven’t bothered to ask myself too many questions. But I am afraid to, in case I change too much. Isn’t that the point? I’m giving myself stories so maybe, just maybe, they will take a different path. Still, I don’t want to appear too self absorbed.
” Have you grown to like music yet?” The question is soft and easy. It took a long time for me to fall in love with music- heck, it takes me a long time to fall in love with anything- but once I did it became a crutch that held me up when everything was breaking apart.
” Yes. Although I don’t know who I really like yet.”
I reach inside my backpack and pull out an Ipod, which technically are extinct but no one, most of all I, don’t need to know that. ” Let me play you something I like. You might have already heard of it, you may not have; you may think it’s garbage, you may find it relieving. Who knows?”
I press play and the song rings out across the silent beach.