Friday, April 24, 2020

Alone, not lonely

I've been taking more walks lately, an escape from the hemmed-in ennui of these strange times. Privileged in this way, I'm grateful that I can get outside, stroll along the modest river in town toward and into the large park, where I can follow an "alternative trail"—years ago someone, well, many people actually, took the liberty of carving a quieter path in the woods that runs windingly parallel to the official, paved trail—, gaze at the creek, or simply sit on a bench and enjoy the sun and birds, the occasional jogger or fellow enthusiast giving wide berth. What I wasn't expecting was the way these park visits have brought me back to earlier woods. Growing up in suburban Washington D.C., I was very fortunate to live a short walk away from the sprawling Wheaton Regional Park, where I'd lose myself for hours, with friends and my siblings and also, even more pleasurably, on my own, walking the dark paths beneath enormous trees, playing, or later in my ironic teens, goofing on the playground slides and swings and Old MacDonald Farm. I caught fourteen sunfish at Pine Lake with my buddy Bill Pino; we tossed them back, but that number has become mythic in my inner boasting down the decades. Mostly I remember the quiet trails, the birds above and the various woodland animals scurrying about, living their own parallel lives with intense, other-language purpose and a grand and humbling refusal to acknowledge my existence. I liked being a kid in these hours, away from chores at home or stomach-churning playground politics, before puzzling crushes on girls took dominance without my authorization, when I could vibe on being alone but not lonely.

Via the miracle of Google Street View, above, I'm brought right back to the corner of Nairn Road and Hermitage Avenue in Wheaton, Maryland, the dark, inviting entrance to my woods.

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