A hundred years ago it was the center of town, a gateway to the world-renowned stones that were mined from within. Sandstone desirable all over the world and used to build sophisticated European structures came from below. This narrow path was the entrance to the woods that I explored as a boy. It lay at the edge of my street, in the neighborhood where I was born, where I had spent my first sixteen years. The city streets and buildings that once stood here had long been leveled to make way for the quarries to expand. Eventually the quarries became abandoned and turned into the forests I knew as a kid. This little clearing in the wall of trees always beckoned me to journey through it. Even as we drove by on our way to an errand or to school, I would gaze through the leaves and wish for the moment I could be lost in its adventure.
Today, I just had to park in front of my old house, which is painted green now. It was yellow all sixteen years that I lived there. The branch of the tree where I had carved my initials had been cut to make room for pedestrians to walk beneath. Everything was different but felt so much the same.
We got out of the car and my two kids hopped into their sleds so I could pull them to the end of the street and into the forest’s mouth. As soon as we entered, I eyed the steep hill down into the old quarry and turned to walk along the rim toward the more gradual decline just a hundred feet away. The air was cold, and avalanches of snow cascaded from treetops around us, christening its newest arrivals, but our snow clothes and excitement kept us plenty warm.
And then we were there. Standing at the same spot I had stood with my two older brothers over two decades ago. I can still picture the red and blue sleds we used and remember being frightened to go down first.
I sat down in the sled and secured it in the snow, then had my daughter sit in my lap. She wrapped her arms around her brother in front of her and we were off! The bump, the turn, how we had to lean to keep from veering off to the path on the right which led to the river, it all came back to me in an instant. I felt like a kid again.
We finished our first sled together, blazing the initial trail that all other sledders would inevitably follow and then hiked our way back to the top.
I switched gears to help them settle into their sleds, and one at a time gave them an encouraging push to watch them as they braved the hill on their own, cheering together at each new distance record set.
What better way could a father want to start the new year?
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