It’s Been A While
I went to my old favorite spot today, the hill I always climb when I’m happy or sad or feeling something big. At the top, the woods recede and the air feels cleaner and I can look out on the expanse below and just breathe. I first came to this place when my children were babies, preschoolers at the tiny yellow building nestled at the base of the hill, and over the years it became a kind of touchstone for me. I’ve climbed the hill plenty of times with friends, but even more often alone. Particularly on the first day of school, when my kids were back in class after being home all summer, it was a spot to go and think about how fast time was moving.
All of that changed about two years ago. I haven’t climbed it, not really, since then.
During the pandemic, ‘my’ spot became more popular, crowded with people and their dogs. I go to the woods for peace and for clarity, so I found other paths. Besides, my oldest is in college now, my youngest close behind. Their first days of school have come, and passed, and are heading toward a close.
But driving by today, I felt the urge to visit.
From my perch at the top of the hill I can see the landscape below has changed. When my daughter started school here, years ago, our car bumped down a rutted road, with wildflowers on one side and a horse barn on the other. The teachers led field trips to the barn, toting bags of carrots. The road is paved now, the horse barn replaced with a row of large, tidy houses. A slice of the woods has been carved out for more.
As I stare out over the distance, I can still see the landscape as I remember it: the soft curve of the road, the stand of maples that were particularly bright red in the fall. It’s all there, buried beneath the new topography, the way I can sometimes catch a glimpse of my children behind the eyes of the young adults they’ve become.
And yet changes — even expected ones — are disorienting. I lose my way on a trail I once hiked so often I could have found my way in the dark. New boardwalks lift me over muddy paths. A favorite view is fenced off, the path rerouted to protect vulnerable plants. I don’t have access to it anymore. And the whole walk, I long for the deer I used to see, but instead find only squirrels, scolding me as they leap from tree to tree.
And then, just before the trail curves, I spot her. A large doe, right on the path, white tail flicking. She looks at me a long moment, neither of us moving, before she turns and crashes through the undergrowth. She makes her own way where, to my eyes, there is none.
When I’m finished the hike, I climb the hill one last time. I search for the familiar view, but it’s getting dark and the changes make it difficult. I close my eyes, take a deep breath. The landscape’s not mine anymore, but then it never was. It’s time to find a new place, although this one will always be dear to me.
There are other hills to climb, other paths to follow.