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The sound of my feet hitting pavement is the only thing I can
hear, for the world is ensconced in that peculiar silence that comes just
after the sun sets. I can turn my head and look out across the valley,
over Eugene to the silhouetted hills opposite me. It's about nine o'clock
in the evening, and I'm going on a run. The air is perfect, still and warm
without being oppressively hot or humid, the kind of air that makes a joy
out of the mere act of standing outside.
As I run downhill, my eyes adjust from gazing over a small,
languid, perfect city to seeing trees and houses and cars and people close
up, and my mind shifts, turning inward. Nostalgia touches my thoughts,
nostalgia for earlier days that I remember to be carefree, though I know
in the rational part of my mind they were anything but. A part of me
protests that there is something wrong with being nostalgic at eighteen,
but it is inevitable.
I lope eastward, down 24th, wondering how many times in the past
eighteen years I've walked down this street, biked down this street, run
down this street, driven down this street. Tens of thousands of times,
until the street seems ready to collapse under the invisible weight of the
memories piled upon it. Passing University Park, I can remember playing in
the wading pool there, splashing in water that came up to my waist; I must
have been in preschool.
The light is red at Hilyard, but there are no cars coming on this
drowsy midsummer's night, and I cross without pausing in my stride. The
middle school is right next to me, passing on the left, holding memories
like a red-brick Pandora's Box. More memories there that I would care to
forget than I would care to retain. Further down, off to the north, the
blocky profile of the high school lurks, and it's strange to think I will
never again be a student there. Four years seem to have passed in a
hellacious whirlwind blur of joy and work and pain.
The Amazon trail is dark, soft beneath my feet, lit only partially
by buzzing orange sodium-vapor lights. Drafts of cool air whisper out of
the forest, pooling in lower spots. Even the trail holds memories, of the
past year in cross-country and track, the time spent in a comradeship I
discovered far too late. I can barely see the outline of Spencer's Butte
to the south as I pass the half-mile marker and turn north again. Running
up the dark back quarter of the trail, I paradoxically feel a sense of
security. Living in the end of the valley, in the bowl of the hills, my
home has always seemed a protected place. It's as if the terrain cups and
hides me in its hands; I live in a hidden city, a haven. I have been safe
from the world, yet now I'm to be sent out into it. I am not frightened
(much the opposite), yet something down in my underbrain is apprehensive,
preferring to stay safely curled in a dark burrow.
Returning, jogging -- much slower now -- back up the hill to my
house, I look out again, across the same view. Night has fallen fully,
half an hour later. I cannot see the encircling hills, any more than I can
see the endless memories, yet they both are a physical presence, things I
could reach out and touch if I wanted. The lights of the city spread out
below me, bright pinpoints of light, shining like hidden jewels, a mirror
of the stars, glittering high above me.
Copyright (C) 2000 Garth Melnick