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GETTING LOST IN THE WOODS
September 2, 2003
 
Defeated in the complex battle to send out yesterday's eMo myself, and awash in frustration over the whole thing, I decide to go running. It was a perfect day for it: misty, cool.

I have not run in over three years. My doctor and I have decided that I won't run any more, because of my arthritic knees and edgy heart. I will walk instead. But my knees have felt a little better lately. And I know enough to stop if anything in my chest feels odd. And a test of my ability seems in order, anyway -- what would happen if I did run?

Up Rector Street, along my old path. Running in the street because Metuchen's old sidewalks are so uneven and delightful. I am very slow -- many people probably walk faster than I am running. "Loping" is a better word for what I'm doing. Left on Highland and right on Grove. I will run to my daughter's house and back.

But I am sidetracked: just before the railroad bridge, the town has put up a sign: "Centennial Park." There is a set of wooden steps up the bank on the side of the road, and a bench at the top. and a trail disappearing invitingly into the woods. I have driven by this place many times, and have always wanted to see what this park is like. I run up the stairs, pleased as I run that I seem to do so easily. So much for my funny heart.

Running through the wet woods is one of the best things in the world. The leaves hold diamonds of water at their tips. The wet wood of the trees is shiny black. Fallen logs cross the little path here and there -- maintenance of the park is blessedly minimal. Jumping over a fallen log is another of the best things in the world.

In some places there is mud. There is a little runway of moss in another place. There is a cool black-and-white stone in the middle of the path at one point, one I would like to take home and put in our garden. But it is not mine to take. Birds hop along the path ahead of me: vergers in this green cathedral.

I get lost, another of the best things -- I haven't gotten lost in the woods since I was a little girl. This was not dangerous: what passes for woods in Metuchen would be, at most, a copse anywhere else. I can hear the cars on Grove Avenue, see an occasional electric light somewhere in the near distance. I am not far from civilization. But the path twists and turns, presenting me with choices, offering me chances to use my eyes and ears, to remember the black-and-white stone when I pass it again, to remember the runway of moss. Eventually the gathering gloom reminds me that time is passing. Reluctantly, I get unlost and began the trot home. I have forgotten all about the computer and its discontents.

The woods behind our house when I was little were a wonderful place to play. My friend Adele and I were there all the time -- looking back, I am struck by how much unsupervised time we spent in the woods. They were a whole pasture away, too far for us to hear our mothers if they called us. But I don't remember anyone in my family ever being anxious about these expeditions, or fearful for our safety. This would not be so today. The script of childhood is different now.

Sometimes we were there all afternoon, sailing leaves in the stream, pretending to be Robin Hood, pretending to be Indian girls. Building little houses and whole little worlds out of sticks and leaves and pebbles. Eventually we would cross the pasture and come home again. What did you do? my grandmother would ask, checking my head for ticks. Played, I would answer. That was all she needed to know.

The pasture is gone now, from behind that house. Rows of houses come right up to the back fence. The woods are gone, too, I imagine: you can't see the place where they were from the back yard any more, for all the houses.

At home, I check my blood pressure and my heart rate and they're both okay. My knee registers a mild protest, and I take a Celebrex. We shall see what damage is done. Maybe I won't run again. Probably I won't. I'll walk, like a lady. And it never occurred to me, running alone among the trees, that nobody knew where I was. That if I did have trouble, I might not be able to get help. That the bloodhounds and the police would be confused by my husband's "Smith College Dad" sweatshirt. I went to Rutgers.

I should be more careful. I will, in future. But sometimes a person just needs a treat. It was worth whatever I have to pay for it, getting lost in the woods.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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