Like many, I suffer from childhood amnesia. I don't remember much about the first four years of my life or the first house I grew up in, but I do recall the second. It was a brand new traditional home, two stories, with off-white vinyl siding and faded blue shutters to match the front door. The house was at the end of a cul de sac in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, and our family was one of the first to move to the neighborhood.
The House on Trumble Lane
We spent 10 years in the house at the end of Trumble Lane and it's a source some of my earliest and happiest memories. I remember going wild during family dance parties to the "Little Mermaid" soundtrack after dinner. I remember the wall where we marked our heights in the garage, with precise measurements of humans and pets alike, including those of our first dog Ragu and then later, Prego. There was the dining room table and the chair where my younger brother sat for his speech therapy sessions. It was the same chair that I sat in when my mom helped me with my homework, and the same dining room we huddled together in during Hurricane Hugo. In that house, my dad perfected "the hook," his patented nap enforcement technique. He'd lay between my brother and I, curling each of his index fingers around our belt loops and then fall asleep so we couldn't escape without him knowing. I also loved lying at the bottom of the balcony and staring up at twirling socks and jeans as my dad dumped clothes from the hampers, making it rain dirty laundry and burying me underneath. Kids do weird stuff right?
The yard was a great source of memories as well. I loved the afternoon naps on the backyard hammock and choreographed firefly displays in the evening. I remember when the creaky wooden swing set collapsed while my neighbor was in mid-swing, catapulting him forward but somehow allowing him to land safely unscathed. I recall the countless basketball games of HORSE in the driveway and how we monopolized the cul de sac with impromptu street hockey games. I remember digging up the femur bone of a cow, convinced it belonged to a dinosaur. I also remember immediately calling my mom for comforting one day after being distraught at witnessing the brutality of nature when a neighborhood cat discovered a nest of newly hatched robins in the bushes outside.
It was this during this era of my life that I also credit my first real encounters with The Woods. On more than one occasion, I remember my father literally locking my brother and me out of the house for several hours at a time. "Go entertain yourselves," he'd say, justifying that he had to clean the house with no kids in it, but offering no further instruction, other than to be back for dinner. These moments forced unscripted leisure and offered invaluable opportunities for my brother and I to explore. Opportunities to explore not the comfort of the house or the certainty of the yard, but the world beyond the yard. The world beyond the familiar. The world of The Woods.
While the backyard fence enclosed a fertile swath of fescue thick enough to choke a lawnmower, opening the gate to escape the protective facade of the split rail fence revealed a world untamed. There were honey suckle flowers to feast on, hairy vines of poison ivy to dodge, and towering oak trees that presented spiraling layers of unwavering arms to climb. But best of all was the muddy creek that ran just outside of our fence. An unnamed tributary of Mallard Creek, it mostly ran dry, but sometimes flooded and, in all capacities, was the source of many incredible and spontaneous adventures. When it was full, my brother and I loved scavenging along the banks for worms, toads, and crawfish. And when dry, the creek evolved into a marvelous maze of dirt canals with vertical walls so high they rose over our heads. An abundant number of hours were spent running through, leaping over, and scrambling up features of that creek and being entertained by nothing more than the landscape around us.
My brother and me, sitting outside the very door that my dad would lock
While many of my experiences in the past three decades have long been forgotten, there are a special few that remain preserved and called upon during times of nostalgia. Those memories, often emotionally charged with some combination of joy, fear, and curiosity like those of The Woods, seem to be the most impenetrable to the forgetfulness of time.
It is with this in mind that I find myself drawn to return to the simplicity of The Woods. Now, in the planning stages of a self supported trek on the Colorado Trail and with little to no backpacking know-how, I'm aware that the experience is going to move me beyond the metaphorical comforts of my home and familiarity of my yard. I'm quite certain that the adventure will involve a number of discomforts like fatigue, sleeplessness, cold, sunburn, and hunger. Though certainly uncomfortable, these are all things that I've experienced. What I'm most intrigued with is those things which I can't possibly yet know. Like, how it will feel to know I've travelled 485 miles on foot and will I want to do more? Will sunrises or sunsets produce the most euphoria? What perspectives will change after living outside for over a week. And, can I really subsist off of eating little more than a jar of peanut butter a day? As The Woods have taught me, the pleasure of the experience often comes from not knowing. After all, the best memories are those that come from leaving the house, walking across the yard, opening the gate, and leaning in to embrace the uncertainty.