Boyhood Rambles

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Our last five years in Annapolis were in the house at the top of Genesse Street. The house had a spacious side yard, and so of course lots of time was burned through there. But the chief glory of that house’s location was the fact that it was catty corner from “the woods.”

The woods were dense, and a ten-year-old’s idea of paradise, which is right around how old I was when we moved in. I can’t really calculate the number of hours I spent in there. There were, of course, “activities,” about which more later, but there were often what might best be called rambles. I would go in there, and just wander for hours.

The woods ran down the other side of the hill to the railroad tracks. If you went along the tracks, you came to a steep embankment that ran down to College Creek, which in turn connected to the Severn River. The tracks ran across the creek on a high trestle, after which the woods came to their far end. 

On one ramble, I went away from the woods for a time and across the tracks to where some abandoned buildings were. It is possible that I had been told not to go there, but at the very least I have a vague recollection that I knew I was not supposed to be there. So of course as I climbed though a vacant window, I managed to slice my thumb open on a metal frame. Should’ve stuck to the woods. I began my way home, probably wondering how I was going to explain the fact that my forearm was covered in blood. In a surreal memory, I remember finding a comic book on the ground on the way home and stopping to read it. When I got home, I managed to make my way to a bathroom without being seen and washed all the blood off. I then wrapped a band-aid tightly around it to hold things together, and managed to keep my secret a secret. The gash probably needed attention because a few days later I recall showing the wound to a girl at school—for her edification—and it popped right open. This was a little boy’s idea of what it takes to elicit feminine admiration.

Like I said, I should have stuck to the woods. But it has to be said that the woods were not without their dangers. There was one time I was climbing a tree there, and fell out of it backwards. I landed on a stump of a smaller tree that was something of a pointy stump, and managed to spear myself good, right in the lumbar regions. And another time, as these were Maryland woods, with vines hanging down, we found a place where we could swing on the vines, Tarzan like, along the path. This was great fun until one day the vine came loose near the top, right when I was at the top of the upswing. The results of that aerodynamic experience were that I landed flat on my back. This is why, as an author, I can down to this day describe what it is like to have the wind knocked clean out of you. I suspect that the wind that got knocked out of me in this way made it above the tops of the trees.

I mentioned that the woods went down to the creek, and there were railroad tracks nearby. This resulted in there being railroad ties that had been swapped out and left abandoned, which inspired in me the grand idea of building a raft out of them, the better to enable me to go cruising out on College Creek. The problem, as my younger self did not realize, was that the creosote in the railroad ties meant that they would float, just so long as there was no one standing on the raft. As soon as I launched, they immediately went under, thus anticipating my future in the submarine service. 

I have one more scar from the woods that I should probably tell you about. One day, on one of my rambles, I made my way out to the middle of the train trestle. It was a fairly long trestle, and so, when I heard the train whistle, it aroused no little consternation in me. I began to hot foot it off the trestle, but unlike walking on ordinary ties, this was a trestle, which meant that there was nothing but air between the ties. Of course, in my haste my leg went through, and I have a scar on my right shin to this day. 

The other scar on my leg has nothing to do with the woods, and is more about my time working on a Christmas tree farm when I was in high school. But that story is for another day. I won’t tell that now because it involves my carelessness, and I have already revealed too much for one day. 

The trees in these woods were deciduous, and so the forest floor was covered with leaves, leaves and acorns. I mentioned the embankment down to the creek before, and that is my snapshot that answers to C.S. Lewis’s idea about autumn as an idea. There was a path that ran along the top of that slope, and I have to say that Lewis was exactly right.

The tracks ran alongside the woods, which was a path you could take on the way home if you wanted. There was so much there to delight a boy’s heart. Another time, down on those tracks, I came across a possum that had been too clever by half. He had been on the tracks, heard the train coming, and played dead . . . Right across one of the rails. He was sliced clean in two.

Another episode can be mentioned because it occurred right alongside the woods. Maryland winters are not severe, but occasionally there could be a good snow. There was one around this time, and the snow was deep enough that when you tromped it down, put a sled in it, and laid down on the sled, you couldn’t see out, or tell where you were.

So we tromped out a path that went down the dirt road next to the woods, and then we tromped out a second path alongside it. But the devious thing we did was to make the paths criss-cross, and we would hold races to the intersection. You couldn’t see out, and could not adjust anything, except perhaps your levels of faith in Lady Luck.

The woods are a suburban subdivision now, and far from begrudging this, I love the fact that numerous children have since that time stored up countless good memories in the backyards that this subdivision created. Do I lament the fact that these woods are gone, gone forever? No, because I don’t think they are, actually. 

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis speculates that in the resurrection, our perfected bodies will be . . . Well, perfect. One aspect of that perfection will be that our memories will be perfected along with the rest of us. And while this illustration is mine, not his, I did get the idea from him. These perfected memories will be shareable. You know, like with Dropbox.