Harrisburg, my birthplace, always was a small town in the shadows of the bookend cities of Pittsburgh to the west and Philadelphia to the east. It was just urban enough to have city trappings and just rural enough that city folk would talk about deer hunting every autumn.
My family's row-home (the less fancy moniker of a townhouse) was located on the eastern hills a couple of miles from the Susquehanna river. The terrain was rolling hills, thick with oaks, maples, and pines. Most of the buildings were circa 1940s and the roads older still. Never more than a couple of blocks from these intersecting streets would be large tree covered hills dropping into thick under-woods and creek bottoms. These hills were too steep to develop over and too small to tunnel under. As a boy I would go to these places and for hours ride my bike, climb the branches, and stomp through the mud. There's a unique aroma in the mud under a melting snow. Warm and thick with decaying leaves mixed with clay. The shine of the white walls of a new pair of Converse or Keds gym shoes didn't stand a week's chance of clean on my feet.
A suitable running and riding trail was always a few minutes away. Who owned these lands? I didn't know, and didn't care. All I was doing was playing. Just as importantly, the owner, if there was one, didn't care about it either. Those were the 60s and the 70s.
Now, that decades have passed since leaving Harrisburg and being well settled near Dallas, as of late there's been one question I ask my triathlete and running friends, "Where are the good running trails?" Each one's answer had a common theme, "the good ones are at least 20 miles from your house."
Not that I wouldn't drive over 20 miles for a good place to run off-road but it seems oddly strange the lack of trails in the great northern plains of Texas. So much effort and money is used to either plow under the prairies or pour concrete over the lands for roads, buildings, and parking lots. Not that I'm against development because I've benefited personally and professionally in the urbanization of these lands. However, now that I look up from my ledger, poking my head above the network of roads and enclaves, I wonder, where are the "woods?"
I know, just like they said, "at least 20 miles away from your house." But, still, it's unsettling to think every farmer's trail was either behind private property's barbed wire or covered with the groomed bluegrass of a fairway.
And that brings to me yesterday morning's run. The plan was to run 14 miles over the suburban streets outside my front door. Past million dollar homes, a private golf course, trendy apartment complexes and tony cafes. Near the start of the course is a large park designed and built by the local Department of Recreation. It's more than a park with green spaces, pavilions, and swing sets though. It's a nature preserve with many acres of untouched underbrush and wild flowers. This is a park my family knows well and I have run many a mile on the paved pathways that wind between the bluffs.
Yesterday, while passing the park, I took a closer look at a sign I've seen countless times before. But, unlike countless times before, yesterday, I stopped to read it. It read, "Mountain Bike Trail is OPEN." It's a 2.2 mile single-track, planned route of circuity with dozens of switchbacks, modest climbs, exposed tree roots, and small rocks.
The sign said, "OPEN," and I stopped, and thought, and stood. To continue on the sidewalk would lead me towards a two mile stretch of blacktop and all of it's urban suburbaness. But, a turn to the right would put me on the trail.
I turned right. Not knowing what was waiting for me, I took to the trail.
Just two steps off of the concrete the trail took a drop under the tree branches. Only a minute later the winding trail came to a creek and the soil was wet and cool along side my legs. It had an aroma. It was thick with familiarity. It was Pennsylvania!
At that moment, the run was no longer a training session. It was play. My feet loved every step of the trail. My eyes were smitten with the curves and undulations of the path. It was unexpected and rewarding.
Serendipity. Not only did I find the unexpected treasure, but it wasn't, "over 20 miles from your house." It was less than a mile from my front door!
However, the essence of serendipity is its magic. Otherwise, it's just a mere unexpected find. The magic is where the discovery takes you.
A fortunate meeting,
An unexpected feeling.
Catch me in your dreams
Hold me until my heart redeems.
It's just a day in my life
A day of love, abundantly rife.
Serendipity, it is, all along
To bring me back to where I truly belong.