The Woods

At the end of my street was a place we called the woods. At the entrance there was a sand dune to the right and a trail that went through the area. It served as a drainage ditch for the healthy houses on High and Low road, million-dollar estates that belonged to some of the healthiest families in Kalamazoo. When it rained the lowest parts of the woods flooded with streets and ponds that had a short lifespan. On a good day you could find deer roaming around and on a bad day college student met with their drug dealers and they would question what to do when you were spotted walking through.
The woods served as a place of solitude within the city, the closest thing to getting away while only a hundred yards away from the nearest street. There were abandoned bridges that had collapsed long ago, pieces of concrete dumped to prevent erosion. The plants and trees changed every year as the rain dropped of seeds from plants found all around the area.
The woods were often the place for people to dump their trash. On one hike I came across a large bag filled with tripods and camera equipment. Everything was new and had not been out for long. I took it back home and called the police. There was a name on the bag and the police were able to trace it back to the owner who already had an insurance payout for the tripods. The police believed that it was a simple case of insurance fraud and that the owner had tossed them for the money he needed.
While cleaning out his closet my step-dad found a large mason jar filled with marijuana seeds from the 1980s. After 15 years it was time to get rid of them. My parents debated what to do with them but my step-dad was insistent he wanted me to dump them in the woods. I was given this jar of seeds that I didn’t know what they were at the time. This must have been seventh or eighth grade and I stuffed the jar in my backpack acting like I was going for a walk. Out in the woods, surrounded by streets that overlooked the area and neighbors who didn’t like kids hanging out in there, I took out the seeds and dumped them around the area. I brought the jar back home and threw it in the trash.
A few weeks later squad cars were parked at the entrance to the woods and the police carried out garbage bags filled with god knows what. We thought it was bodies or maybe one of those satanic sacrifices we were always hearing about on the news. That night the news did a story on the marijuana farm that had been found in the city. The police had pulled all the plants and were seeking information on the people responsible. “We think this is the work of local college kids that were bold enough to attempt a stunt like this. It’s clear this was an organized production.” The police never did find the farmers.
The woods attracted all kinds of people from the area. Young couples trying to get their grove on. The occasional homeless man that set up a tent at the right spot not to be seen for a while. While walking through the dunes, the one place you did not want to be on a hot summer day I came across a tree that had been turned into a Wing Chun wooden dummy. The arms and punching pad tied around the trunk were obvious to me. Someone was learning kung fu. I never learned who it was or if they ever used it. As I became older the woods were deemed off limits and the fun of exploring was over. When I was able to go through it was while walking the dog or riding my bike but there wasn’t much in there and no reason to pass through. The charm of the woods had vanished along with my childhood.
At the end of the trail was the entrance to the sewer. Spray painted and the iron door had been broken open long ago. It was tall enough for someone to walk down but thirty yards in it narrowed down to a crawl space and until you came to the manhole cover over the street. You could hear the metal clanking of cars driving over as you stood in that small space. That was the farthest I had every ventured in and thanks to Stephen King’s It I’m surprised I ever made it that far.
At the end of the trail was the Gilmore house. One of the richest families in the city, the Gilmores had donated this house to western to be used for some fraternity. The brick building with large picture windows overlooking the woods and an overhang for guest to exit their cars, the house looked like something out of a German landscape painting. On the edge of the yard was a large brick oven with its own chimney. I pictured people making pizzas and flipping steaks on the ranks but it was never used. I could never understand rich people. That had all of these things and they never used or enjoyed them.
The woods are still there. A former co-worker of mine lives next to the entrance and told me about the deer that come into his yard at night and feed on the apples he leaves for them. His kids play in the woods and venture out into my old stomping grounds. I hope they are able to enjoy them more than I could. For a kid who read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn the woods were a magical place and thanks to that place I still find myself going to larger versions of the same thing, hiking through trails and finding all sorts of trinkets to take home to the wife. There is a comfort in knowing that when the houses are gone and nature reclaims what once belonged to it the woods will still be there, the place that was permanent in how hit changed while never changing at all.

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