Biomythology, Note 36
That Asshole Tree, Part One
Imagine a map with lots of small cities and towns close together. Traverse the paths as if you're visiting friends. That was my life, often complete with the studying of the maps. From the ages of eight to twelve, I bicycled around College Park, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Riverdale, Adelphi, and Lanham. Those places and the University of Maryland campus made a single huge city for me. Everything there was accessible if I was willing to pedal. As a bonus, Paint Branch Creek ran through several of the towns. I could wander into the woods surrounding the creek whenever I wanted, which was often, and come out someplace different, which was only sometimes a problem. Except for a few years in Germany and a few months in Annapolis, the College Park area formed all of my geographic memory. It had everything I wanted in it, even nuclear power plants and mutant frogs. It didn't quite have spaceships but those were nearby. It was nearly perfect.
Then, when I was 12, my parents moved us from the city of College Park to a place in the woods. They had been looking at houses for years, sometimes dragging me with them. Fortunately, they hadn't liked anything.
Then, one day they announced, "We bought a house."
They put my brothers and me into their Ford Ranch Wagon. My father drove. We passed a few town signs and then a few more. I finished reading and re-reading my comic books until I couldn't stand to look at them. We passed a sign welcoming us to a different county. I complained about it. We kept driving. I finished the Isaac Asimov book I'd brought. My brothers slept. I complained some more. My shoulders ached. My eyes were tired. My legs hurt from too much doing nothing.
We passed the farthest-away housing development we had ever visited. I said something about that. My father kept driving.
“How much longer?” I asked, eyes half closed.
“We’re close now.”
I sat up and looked. We were driving on a narrow country road between farms. There were white and brown Guernsey cattle at the top of a hill to my right. To my left, I saw a few Holsteins.
"There's nothing here," I grumbled in protest.
"That's what your father likes." My mother turned in her seat to to look at me for the first time in forty minutes. "Well, he thinks so."
"No more Baileys," growled my father. "No more the Johnsons or the Harts."
"He doesn't want so many neighbors." She gave us both a gentle smile. "I don't mind."
I slumped back, trying to contemplate the concept but failing. Mostly I felt a boredom so complete that my spine twitched. My head felt like I'd stuffed it with cotton.
A few hills later, my father slowed the car.
"It's somewhere around here," he murmured.
"What is?" I wondered. There was nothing but country road and farms.
"Is this it?" He pressed the brakes harder. My gaze darted around. I noticed fences, fields, and trees. I tried to figure out what he was seeing. My mother pointed at a road sign on our right.
"I think it is," my mother replied. She sounded unsure. "It's got to be one of these."
"Yes!" they both agreed. My father slowed and turned sharply into what had seemed to be a grove of trees. The heavy boughs concealed a gap. We rolled into it. Immediately, our tires sent pebbles and dirt flying up around us. Ding, ding, ding. The sounds were alarm bells for me. I'd only heard them at my grandmother's house and at the worst of our summer camp sites. We'd gotten stuck in a road at one of the campgrounds, too, and needed other campers to push us out of a muddy rut.
Brambles on either side of us flopped toward the middle. Tree branches scraped against our doors. The vegetation barely left enough room for our car. We couldn't possibly squeeze around another vehicle coming the other way. Both sides would need to drive into the underbrush to make room.
"This is rocks," I said. I pressed my pale lips together in disappointment. "It's rocks and dirt. Is this our driveway? We have to fix it."
"Oh, no," my father answered with a chuckle. "This is the road."