There’s a park in my hometown that I frequented a lot as a child. It’s old but well-maintained. Most of the play sets are constructed out of heavy wood and steel, and the metal bridge spanning the ditch from the parking lot to the play area has a little heart scratched inside the green paint. Inside the heart it reads “J.K. & H.A. 1967.”
This place seemed gigantic when I was little. Journeying from the play sets to the baseball field by the road felt like an honest hike. Splashes from the pool carried like noise from some distant highway. The ditch beside the parking lot required careful climbing if one wanted to collect the tadpoles that always swam in the green puddles after a rain.
I could cross the entire thing in less than two minutes now, without the slightest effort. I’m taller than the jungle gym that used to feel so dangerous to climb. I used to sit at the top and daydream that I was King Kong.
There’s a “nature trail” that leads through some trees in back. In this small town, “nature trail” means that you can just barely see the houses through the bushes on either side. Here I remember the thrill of autumn games of flashlight tag, and noticing with excitement as the sky turned dark and the moon began to shine. On those nights, when you had an hour of night before the park would close, the dark figures behind the flashlights could be anyone you wanted them to be.
I walk along that trail now, and there’s nothing here beyond my ability to control. Rustles in the leaves are simply scared chipmunks. The trail is now paved, and comfortable to follow. Children no longer issue cryptic warnings about things seen in the brush. They see me for what I am: a grownup, separate from whatever threats lurk in their imaginations.
This expansive land shrinks beneath my footsteps as I walk it. I can’t pretend I don’t hear the sounds of sprinklers and power tools behind the foliage. Once limitless days are shortened and frittered away. Sweet crushes have become lost loves, or, worse, just forgotten.
I walk to my car. It used to be a hero’s journey to enter and leave this sandy, leaf-strewn land. I climb into the driver’s seat. I am in the street and headed home within ten seconds. Later, it will take me longer to do the dishes than it did to stroll the length of my childhood continent.