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It's Nelly's World

High Dive

alec vanderboom

Say I have an errand in another town (say, going to look at a house for sale, and, say, having big hopes crushed to powder yet again). First I ascertain how to get there--which is why god invented Google Maps--and then I break out the paper maps. In a combination of nostalgia and necessity, I revert to the hopelessly old-fashioned for this most meaningful of tasks: finding a good place to take Nelly for an off-leash hike.

When you are a motorcyclist, you read maps as others do tea leaves (or 401K statements, and we now know which of these holds more promise for the future). You know that if you look deeply enough into what was folded and is creased, new worlds will be found along the yellow brick road. Only one hopefully less slick. You will find the Here to There that will take you somewhere. You get good at reading maps for all their nuance, their lines like those of sonnets you will repeat as their scansion pulls you down into a corner lean.

Then, when you get a dog, you go even deeper into the map, searching out those green swathes of unroaded space that signal the ever-shrinking gift of running room, that which bears no threat of accidental death for prey-besotted canids. Because you love to see your dog run, it's that simple; even if you plod on two feet, your heart flies on four.

This kind of map reading is itself a map, back to the vast territories of the inner imagination.

On the state forest trail by the careening Kanape Brook, heading gently upwards under still-unleafed giants in the early spring, I reentered a place I had forgotten. It was a country where I used to spend so many hours, of such historic importance to me that now rediscovered, I can hardly believe I had ever left (this is the kind of age-propelled amazement that now drives Facebook for the middle-aged crowd). This is the place where, when you are a child, what is inside the imagination is colored far more brightly, with sharper edges and deeper deeps, than anywhere your sneakers actually meet the ground.

This struck me full in the face at a turn in the trail. Up ahead, a spring freshet was chasing itself down the slope that rose on the left, hurriedly pulled by the magnet of the powerfully rushing stream in the ravine to the right, via a culvert underfoot. The bed of this melodic little waterway was a tumble of rocks entirely painted in emerald moss that glittered in the slanting sun of late day. (And begorra if it this wasn't St. Patrick's Day, too.) Suddenly I was there, at seven, with wondering eyes that beheld fairyland. I just knew it was peopled by the handsome, spritely beings in a gigantic book, called, yes, Fairyland, that I had found at my grandparents' house, itself a sugary magic land for an introspective child. The book, with its watercolor drawings, had belonged to my mother, or maybe my aunt, at the same age as I when I discovered it. Its pages were over-danced with creatures who slept on such moss beds, and I too lived with them, and sailed on their leaf boats, huddled under their toadstool umbrellas in the sweetly dripping woods; the works.

This was the time when I not only looked at such pictures in books--I dove into them from a height, splashed down into their depths and stayed there, bubbles silvering from my lips. And remembering this now, at the sight of a fairy stream, made me wonder where it all has gone. The immersion in something other than details and logistics and responsibilities and groceries and agendas: the life vest that keeps me bobbing on the surface, unable to sink down into the wanderings of the mind. The way you get to be who you become.

For a moment I recaptured that way of being, the one who stared outward to see inward. Then we turned back on the trail, because I had an appointment to keep.