I went on a hike today in an old stomping ground. It had been at least ten years since I’d been there. It was my 4-year-old son’s first trip there. Here was this place that brought back a plethora of memories, and I had ignored it for years.
As we left the parking lot, I pointed things out to my wife that had changed over the years. There used to be a playground in the woods over there. The new playground was less than ten years old. The beach there was closed years ago, but I could remember coming up on weekends when the beach was packed on that little mountain lake. The boat house, which hasn’t seen a new coat of paint in probably 20 years, served food and ice cream, and you could rent a paddle boat to go around on the little lake. A floating walkway crosses over the first third, separating the beach area from the rest of the lake. It’s covered in goose shit now. They still maintain the trails and there’s new restrooms to go with the BBQ pavilion (where my brother was married…26 years ago…God that sounds like a long time). We continue around the lake to the runoff. It is, after all, just a dammed up spring. They’ve cut down a section of trees and appear to have reinforced the wall holding the lake in place. For a moment, I’m afraid that the path down to the waterfall that I’ve promised my wife has gone. Then I see it.
It snakes its way down the mountain. I’m nervous about taking my son, but he’s having fun making Daddy even more nervous by jumping off the rocks in the path. You see, we’re not talking about a nice clear walking trail. No, this is a real hike. A path marked with spray paint on random trees. A path I could have picked out without the help of the markers. I point out a spot where I fell in as a child. I might have been my son’s age. All I remember is it was so hot that I was fairly dry by the time we got back to the car.
We continue down to the waterfall my wife has never seen. The trail seems familiar, but when we reach a certain point, I’m not seeing what I remember in my mind. Trees have fallen. The water doesn’t seem to be running as fast. Even the rocks don’t seem right in places. My son hasn’t developed the fear of a parent yet and scampers across boulders precariously before being told to stand still and wait for Mommy or Daddy. I move down rocks with cautious feet and fleetingly remember a time when, as teenagers, my best friend and I would purposely go off the beaten path just to scale the most difficult rocks. What happened to that energy and fearlessness? I think about the energy part on the next leg…which is straight back up the mountain.
When we reach the top, the overlook is as it has always been…at least as far as the rocks and trees go. The crooked sitting tree is still there, but it no longer affords the view it once did. The trees below have grown so much as to obscure 50% of what I remember…or maybe my 50% appears a lot larger in my memories. You can still see the school with the yellow buses lined up, waiting for the first bell of September. The steeple from the church in the town below is still visible. Then I see the McMansions and that sort of ruins it. The trees are allowed to spoil my view. It’s their prerogative.
We continue around on the trail and, at this point, I’m fairly sure it’s going to be an ibuprofen night. The mind is willing, but the body has grown weak. We emerge from the trees into the path above the parking lot. My son still has the energy to sprint to the playground we have delayed him playing on. I sit on a newish bench and look around.
“What?” My wife says.
“The last time I was here, those trees were barely big enough to provide shade!”
These four trees now provide shade to the lower corner of one of the fields.
This final stop brings back memories of a lopsided “love”-triangle from my past (oh, c’mon, who hasn’t had one of those!). Going there, I can’t help but think of her. I tell my wife this much and I think she understands. And, I think that maybe this is why we haven’t been back here in so many years, but I don’t say so.
Today has been a good day, and this old familiar haunt has a new memory added to it. Maybe the next visit will be in less than 10 years. Maybe I won’t be so tired afterwards. Maybe my son will be laughing at his old man as he watches him try to navigate the rocky path. And, maybe I’ll never see it again. But, as with all old friends…we never forget the good times, even if the years and the memories make them look a little different.
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