Whatever Happened

Whatever happened to the crazy romps in the woods in the daytime? Now they are only at night, and those are only a few a year and they are just about truth-or-daring at 3 a.m. Before, back before middle school began, the neighborhood kids and I would run to the tree that had trail names and distances carved out in fluorescent orange. Occasionally dressed as monsters or princesses, usually in our t-shirts and Sketchers, we ran along the low clear river, throwing sticks and stones in, and saw the sunlit trees. Whatever happened to the time when they were giants to us, when climbing one was a triumph to be remembered for a whole week or even month?

Every season there was newness to be found. Whatever happened to the leaf-fights on that trail during the crisp heights of autumn? We would get to the big hill, covered in a mosaic of red, orange, yellow, gold, and purple, all shining amid the dull green of the young pines lining the path. Here we were free of houses and the worldly noises of vehicles on the road, and we could escape and just be us. We would roll down in the leaves and throw them and make piles, and then jump in the piles to the dismay of some. Whatever happened to the pride and wonder of having constructed a grand leaf pile?

Then of course were the snowball fights in the blue depths of winter. How did they ever lose their magic? It used to be that the rush of exhilaration and the cold would make our faces pink and happy, peeking through our bulky warm layers. What happened to the joy of wearing mittens? We would hide in the white-laden trees and feel like ninjas as we furtively formed snowballs, and then hit our targets in a whirling flash. If we had the forethought we would drag our sleds to the hill and crash against each other until we ended in a tired smiling jumble. What ever happened to being snuggled in a heap?

In the bright easy months of spring and summer, when the woods were green-filled and warm, we could spend hours playing the endless make-believe games in the dappled sunlight. What ever happened to having just games and sunlight, and that being enough for a day? When it became hot enough that our small bodies would tire out, we would splash each other with the sparkling, brown-tinted river water until our spirits revived. Once we saw a great heron and splashed it until its huge feathery pinkness flew away and we screamed with joy, tinged with a fright that the bird might return and devour us as retribution. Whatever happened to irrational fears of birds and monsters and the dark? I still have a salmon-pink heron feather from that golden afternoon by the river.

All this has passed. Now we who were the neighborhood kids are grown, and we do not have time for golden afternoons. We walk into the woods only to drink or smoke or kiss, away from our parents’ sight. We are teenagers now, and so that is what we must do. Sometimes, in a rare moment we’ll climb a tree or jump in a lake or have another sparkling snowball fight. Yet those outbursts of imagination are few and far between now. We have embraced the thing called reality. And though this reality has its wonders and its fun, I will always be asking, “Whatever happened to those crazy romps in the woods in the daytime? Whatever happened to make me grow up?”





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