The other day an old friend wrote to me out of the blue to discuss days far gone that still seem to glitter so brightly in their opinion. I guess I felt that way for a long time, but in the last ten years the shiny glow has faded and the reality of it all came slowly into focus, like a glacial scratch and win that holds such promise until you see you clearly haven’t won. Not that I regret those days, I just don’t pine for them. My vision of them is more lucent, less hazed over by nostalgic notions. Middle age can really help clear those fuzzy feelings you used to have, and I kind of like the bluntness this kind of reality offers. After so many anxious years, I can finally see that I like where I am, and how I got here.
I was thinking all this on a long bike ride on the rail trail that I used to ride on in those halcyon days so long ago. We would tumble out of our rental in the woods after band practice and roll down the rail trail to the luminous turquoise water of the old dolomite quarry. We’d swim among the rusty old trucks still in the water, left decades ago as if the mine had filled with water and everyone rushed out in a hurry. I would never swim there now, and I don’t want to return to that time, even though I do conjure up these memories and admire them like a favorite stone found in a riverbed. I rode past the cold blasts from the old mines, and then back out by the farm fields lush with crickets and bees, toasted by the sun, the smell of the wild roses mixing with autumn olive blossoms like a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit gum.
We’ve been getting so much rain that when given the opportunity of a clarion day—blue-skied and cumulus-clouded—I was all too happy to take this ride through the green-bowered tunnel that is a rail trail. We are lucky to have so many of these old train tracks turned walking and biking paths snaking through New York. I’m fascinated with European holloways and their mysterious beauty, and I guess our rail trails are somewhat like them. Wherever I hike and find any kind of old roads, the outline of wheel ruts sunk in the ferns, the way trees are cleared out and you can see straight through for a long way, it reminds me of the past, though whose past it is, I don’t know. Sometimes you will find a bit of old track on the rail trails, jutting out from the dirt, another historic morsel to chew on. Why are these touches of human hands so enticing? It’s a thread of time, and who isn’t taken in by the romance of the past, whether our own or someone else’s?
Later that day, I sat in the garden as twilight came on, the wood thrush trilling in the distant trees, and looked down at my bounty. A quart basket of strawberries, a pint of snow peas (the first actual harvest of the season!), and a bowl of tender greens. I suddenly had a deep feeling of true success. All these years do amount to something, but maybe that something isn’t always what you planned on back when you were younger and getting caught up in other people’s versions of success. Who would have thought that when I was digging up a garden in that rental house in the woods when I was twenty that I was laying the groundwork for this future success, sitting in my garden at forty-seven? That was a tough patch to clear, and the deer ended up eating all our tomatoes, and though a bit of it still glitters, I have no interest in going back. There are other future rows to hoe. Maybe even for that older me.