A walk in the woods

A neighbor mentioned it in passing, the path where she takes her dog to walk in the woods and romp in the creek. A creek? I had been vaguely aware of an overgrown ditch beside the road. But a creek in the woods? Woods in my urban neighborhood? This was news. What was the name of the street? She couldn’t remember. But it was somewhere down there, not far from my house. Take the dirt road, then follow some cul-de-sac or other. Look for the creek. You’ll find it. So I set off with my dog Ruby, searching for this mysterious path that would lead me to a place where unleashed dogs can romp in creeks.

I found the wooden staircase leading into the woods on the right side of my street, just a few blocks down, a spot I have driven past thousands of times. How had I never seen it? I followed it across a street and into the woods. A rocky creek bordered one side and the backyards of houses hemmed in the other. It was slightly overgrown, so we dodged thorny vines and sprigs of poison ivy. We hurried past the barking dogs serenading us from their yards and soon found ourselves alone in the woods. Cardinals twittered, butterflies floated on the breeze. We crossed wooden bridges and scampered over downed trees and, after a short walk, came to the tiniest of waterfalls cascading over a rock. An electric blue dragonfly whizzed by. We kept following for a few minutes more and emerged into a sunny day lily garden bordered by a low rock wall. An inviting gazebo sat at its center. I felt like Alice in Wonderland; I had climbed into the rabbit hole and discovered another world beneath my nose.

I had not discovered anything secret. The path is a public greenway, marked with signposts. The day lily garden is part of Jaycee Park, a city park that is, literally, around the corner from my house. All of it had been there, unhidden, since long before I moved into this house eight years ago. And yet, I felt like Columbus discovering the New World.

Now that I no longer work in an office, I spend a lot of time in a very small radius. I sleep, eat and work in my house. I walk my daughter to the elementary school two blocks away. I walk my dog to the park two blocks in the other direction. I do most of my errands at shopping centers about less than mile from my home. In so many ways, this lifestyle is a privilege. But I’ll admit, there are days when I feel trapped in this small circle. When I feel that I have walked these same paths until I’ve worn ruts in them — that there is nothing new for me here. But one little walk in the woods reminded me that, if I can just remember to open my eyes, there is always something to discover.

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