Growing up on the D&H Rail Trail

An open field dotted with Holsteins to my left and an impenetrable wall of conifers to my right let me know I was traveling away from home when I was younger. When I turned back, the cows would be on the right—I reminded myself every quarter mile.

I did not like bridges because bridges are the same on both sides.

The surrounding village seemed so large, the trail so long and I so small.

The uprooted base of a fallen maple and the screeching of an imagined train pursuing headlong—those were the reasons I ran. The Canada geese that pulsed and vibrated from neck to spine to rear, lost control and splayed their tail feathers as they unhinged their bellies from their feet—those were the reasons I walked.

There were many reasons for doing many things, like the time I turned from the safety of the known path onto a broken—possibly imagined—deer trail guarded by half-fallen elms like a series of gatekeepers. The reason being I had to know if I could.

The trail was so straight. Gaining ground was a mirage, especially when the cows were on the right. The trees watched the gravel-way, sternly protective, moms and dads on either side. Keep to the center, they’d urge, the snakes and the opossums watch the edges.

I’d seen it before—probably my fault—the moms and the dads fight. They lean across the trail in the wind, they bend their arms and wrestle in the snow.

I’ll stay in the center!

Cows on the right.

Today I walk the same trail, though I am not the same.

A sticky pond to my left is alive with belching bullfrogs. I veer off course and through the trees. I walk the perimeter of the pond—one, two, three—I count out loud the number of sunbathers I interrupt.

My entertainment wanes and I wander back onto the trail.

How dull, I think, the unchanging of it. I can see a mile ahead and the scene remains.

The geese are everywhere, accompanied by ducks, and I am bothered by their pretentiousness.

I see no harmony to disturb. No angry barbarians nor gallant saviors watch my steps. I have no lengths to reach, no lands to conquer, only miles of trail on which to stroll.

For no particular reason, I turn for home. It is all the same.

The briefest thought disturbs my mind. I turn and look.

Cows on the right.

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