The glory of age is memory. Just now, sitting and thinking about my Sunday service, an image tore through me. I cannot say why it came although some Freudian or Jungian would enjoy the puzzle.
I am barely thirteen on an early spring day in Pennsylvania. We live in Baltimore, but my dad and brother and I are on an organized hike with the Sierra Club.
Aside: Dad joined that year and in the summer to come we will go on an extended trip to Montana with them. But he is eager to enjoy their benefits, so he signed us up for this hike up in Pennsylvania.
I do not remember getting there, but I am in my Boy Scout uniform as I am working on my hiking merit badge. I have old fashioned hiking boots, like those on the Norman Rockwell Scout who is striding across the cover of my handbook which I keep with me for identifying trees and stuff. We are coming to the top of a ridge.
Aside: The mountains in the eastern Appalachians are long ridges, like the rumpled blanket of a bed unmade by a giant. A standard map of Pennsylvania will reveal this fact by how many of the roads follow an irresistible southwest to northeast direction, compelled by the land as it were.
We are at the top of a ridge; the day is still young as the sun is not yet directly above. The trees give way to a rocky precipice at which we can all stand and look out; I think it is to the north northwest. It is the smell I am remembering most – the dank decay of winter being cooked by the sunlight into that earthen odor which means fertility and life. Pine smells are there, with their antiseptic reputation from a hundred latrines, and the sound of air moving through branches about to leaf.
This is the climax of the hike, after an hour or more which my memory refuses to call forth. We pause to eat, perching on rocks. A young woman, meaning someone in her twenties, blond and rugged, is part of our party. My forming teenage libido is attracted to her but clearly she is out of reach. Distant desire, distant in every sense, with its foggy borders and indistinct objects, adds a luster to the day and doubtless makes it part of my memory.
In a sense, this is my first day as a man, as a boy who sees manhood coming. It is spring, the light is fresh, the valley lies before me. The smells of life fill my nostrils as the inchoate desire for love and sex churns alongside.
We pack up and begin the descent, down the other and more rocky side. I remember how my feet hurt and how tired I am when we arrive. I am a boy at the end, still shorter than my dad and hobbling from the long hike. I shuffle to the bus rented to take us back. I smell chocolate as we are outside Hershey. The streetlights are giant kisses as we walk to the bus. Glad to be on the bus, I welcome the rest.
Somewhere on the way back the sun falls behind a ridge and the shadows come quickly. Rain hits the windows, smearing the night, and I fall sleep against the glass.