Category: Memories

The Woods

The woods behind my house were an escape from school, chores, or the burning of the summer. It was always called “woods” despite the size, much less than an acre of overgrowth. The junk trees grew fast among only slightly slower growing pines, sap sticky, but easy to cut. I removed the pines from the earth with my bow saw and built a fort, a thing to hide deeper among the green, and less for protection against real and imagined enemies.

It didn’t take long for more overgrowth to cover my fortress, hidden from all but ticks and snakes. One snake sat in the path to my door, ready to strike it seemed, but most likely bored from a life on its belly. Was it true that God cursed the snake? Was that in the Bible, or had I heard it from a preacher, two very different truths. I took the snake and placed it in the only container I could find: the mailbox. The mailman shook and cried when he confronted me.

I used my father’s best wood to build a tree house high in a hundred year oak. The tree wider than a car. Taller than any of our town’s buildings. I decorated the inside with leftover wallpaper. I had the only tree house with yellow flowered walls. I drove by that old house a few years ago. My thirty year old tree house was still in the hundred year oak, hardwood gripping the grayed boards like it wanted to protect the memory of the little boy who climbed its limbs years before.

Fishing Zen

Fishing with KidsA few years ago I took my oldest son trout fishing. I took out my fly rod, but soon found that I was spending most of the time untangling his Buzz Lightyear fishing pole. After a time he grew bored with waiting for the fish that were not coming, and wandered to a sandy area. He was five, and drawn to the simplicity of sand and rocks, to the rhythmic movement of the water.

While I cast into the water not far from him he watched the ripples like a protective parent. He threw sand into the water that created art that lasted less than a second. Occasionally he threw larger rocks into the water, ensuring that my casting that day was only practice.

When I fish I don’t go just to catch fish. I go to be in that place. Fishing is the perfect Zen experience, but without the effort of learning from a Zen master. It comes naturally in natural places. Walk one hundred feet, to a bend, and you disappear into a world that seems little changed from a thousand years before.

I’m not a great fisherman, but I’m great at getting lost on the water. This is a thing I won’t have to teach my son, but I will have to teach him how not to forget. We’ve created perfect worlds that destroy our ability to connect to the outdoors in the same way we destroy the outdoors itself. Children would never do what we have done.

Flying

Flying
From My Window Seat

I still love to travel, but I don’t enjoy going through airports these days. It’s a curmudgeon problem I suppose, or maybe I hate being squeezed into ever shrinking seats, and dealing with the constant delays that seem too common with airlines these days. A few minutes ago I went through the TSA security line. The TSA guy got a bit too handsy, but it is Valentine’s Day, and maybe he figured I looked lonely.

I consider driving more and more, but my eyes are not what they used to be. They’re not bad. They still work, but I don’t have the sharpness of vision, and the ability to measure distance like I used to, which makes me hit the brakes too often when I think a car is closer than it really is. My wife doesn’t care for this, and she always informs me that the car is actually a hundred yards ahead. I understand autonomous cars are on the way … just in time for my old age. Things seem to work out.

Of all airports I’ve traveled through, the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport is the airport I’ve been to the most. I don’t really care for the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport, but everything seems to route through this inflated maze of weariness. They say you have to transfer planes at the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport on your way to Hell. I plan on going up when I die, so maybe I’ll never see this airport again after I take my last breath.

I do still enjoy small airports, like the ones we flew out of when I was young, and my dad loved to fly, and many of my friend’s parents were pilots. I’ve flown out of dirt airfields in Alaska, and from short runways in the islands. I’ve flown patterns that circled small mountains. Small airports are fun. Animals might run out on the runway while you’re taking off. The runway might flood. Like I said, fun stuff.

Walking Man

I like to wander through cities. You can only know a place if you wander past small restaurants, little shops, people on the street doing the day. The tourist destinations are fun. I like tacky gift shops too, but you’ll never know a place unless you put on a good pair of shoes and walk.

In San Francisco I walked miles to and through Haight until I found the ocean. I looked for the bridge from a different angle. In my memory I saw it from that beach, but I’m not sure now that was possible. I couldn’t find a good way to navigate to the bridge by sand, so I went back to the road and wandered to the entrance, passing an upscale restaurant along the way. Would I be allowed in, sweaty, smelling of their city?

I fell in love with the Presidio as I wandered back toward the youth hostel. I jumped on a cable car and rode the last miles to my seven dollar bed. I didn’t pay for the ride. I thought it was free until my circle of the city was almost complete. The man yelled at me, so I jumped from the moving car, somehow kept from falling. I wasn’t worth the fare to chase.

I went to the Arctic Circle after that. What a lonely trip with so few on the top of the planet.

Grasshoppers

I guess nothing is gross when you’re a little boy. When I was five, giant black grasshoppers with red wings inhabited our yard. My mother was sure my uncle had brought them over from Carrollton years before – when he was a little boy and nothing was gross.

I would put the grasshoppers in jars, always meaning to release them later. Even at that age I understood the value of life. But then the grasshoppers would die in the jars. Yellow and brown gelatin flowed around their bodies. The smell sharp, acidic. I understood the value of life, but wasn’t responsible enough to remember to care for it.

We moved away when I was in second grade. The new town had plenty of insects. Every Southern town does. But I never saw the giant black grasshoppers with red wings again. I tried to sneak a jar of them from my old home to my new home, but my mother caught me. She left the jar on the front porch of the old house where they surely died and became acidic gelatin.