The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

An Afternoon in the Woods


On Wednesday I was babysitting my youngest grandson, Parker. The weather of the day was a perfect time to introduce him to the wilds of the woods, albeit the version of city parks. I planned to make it a morning walk, but a phone call with a friend stretched into hours. By early afternoon, we were ready to go. We had diapers, wipes, another set of clothes, toys, a bottle, a burp cloth, and some baby food for our picnic. Parker was wearing a TMNT onesie with a diminutive pair of Gap jeans, both hand-me-downs from my older grandson, Caleb. It was our first outing with the stroller, a contribution also from Caleb who had graduated to the umbrella stroller. I strapped Parker into my car seat that adjusts for each boy. When I bought this several months ago, I struggled for an hour trying to put this seat into my car as I read the confusing directions. I gave up, and Cary took my car with the seat to a police station to have an ‘expert’ install it. As she watched him struggle with the installation, she texted me ‘I know as much as this guy’. This was Parker’s first car ride with me in the driver’s seat. I drove a few blocks to Regent Square, then turned left onto the tree-lined brick streets.  I drove slowly and cautiously beneath the canopy of trees as I dodged the sinkholes of these brick streets. The streets added to the appeal of this area, but they offered obstacles to smooth maneuverability.

I drove down the winding entrance of Frick Park to the parking lot in the valley.  Cary and I had taken Caleb to the playgrounds of Frick Park, but Parker was going to experience something else. I unstrapped him from the car seat and re-strapped him into the stroller. I walked away from my car up Tranquil Trail. I stopped for a photo of dainty toadstools dotting the mossy deteriorating surface of a downed log. Beside the log were a few bright yellow heads of dandelion-type flowers. I stooped down close to the ground for a close-up. We walked farther along the path passing other walkers out for a woodsy stroll in a valley where the sounds of the city were dulled. We walked past dogs and their owners. Some dogs were on leashes while others walked without constraint. Are there rules for dogs in the park? Some large dogs passed us with the  makeshift muzzles fabricated with their leads while other large dogs ran free. Some unleashed dogs walked obediently beside their owners while others ran ahead or lagged behind. One errant dog romped on the hillside while its owner called it to her side. The green field along the creek provides a large area for running free. We walked to the creek on the edge of this area and watched the water flow over rocks. To our right were trails and wooden steps leading to the sports fields, courts and playground along Braddock Avenue. We passed bikers and joggers or rather they passed us.

I guided us into a shelter with a picnic table bearing a heavily etched ‘FRICK PARK’ on its surface.  I dug out the jars of baby food as I groped for a spoon knowing as I groped that I had forgotten the spoon. We would just have to settle for a drink. We relaxed with our drinks and watched the passersby on the trail. Two walkers passed us with their packs of dogs. They looked over at us; I said, “Those aren’t all yours, are they?” One of them called back, “Not a one.” Maybe I could become a dog walker. I considered the logistics of picking these dogs up from their homes and then walking them without an entanglement of leads. I cannot even walk one dog obediently. We packed up again and walked farther past the fenced Hot Dog Dam and then beneath the reverberating sounds of vehicles on the bridge above us leading to the intersection of Forbes Avenue with Braddock Avenue. There was graffiti on both ends of this bridge span.  Eventually my grandson fell asleep as I walked on. I stopped for a selfie with the drooping heads of snowdrops along the trail. I began to climb slowly up the trail out of this valley. I reached the top with tombstones to my left. I was beside Homewood Cemetery, a place I had visited on another walk. I looked around for a moment trying to decide whether to just turn around and go back down the hill or go on. I went on walking along a fence towards the Reynolds Street gatehouse entrance for this part of Frick Park. As I pushed the stroller past that gatehouse, I converged with an older (older than me) thin woman with thick shoulder length grey hair. I stopped the stroller to look around realizing that the Frick Art & Historical Center was across the street. This woman stopped also and looked at Parker. I said, “He’s sleeping”, but she said, “His eyes are open.” They were open; he was probably jarred awake by that bumpy path along the fence. This woman seemed hesitant as if she was searching for things to say to me. She walked ahead, and I walked behind her  to a stone circular wall with an empty fountain and a floor of paving stones filled with small plants in the interstices. I noticed the small, almost unnoticeable white pin-head flowers that we had walked on. This woman turned to me and asked me what day it was. I thought for a moment and responded, “Wednesday”.  I told her that I sometimes forget now that I am not working. Her eyes moved to Parker, and I laughed. “Yes, I am babysitting my grandson.” I realized in some almost imperceptible way that she had assumed this was my child. I wondered if she thought I looked young enough to have an infant.  “I forget sometimes,” she offered. Then she began reading the words on my t-shirt. It was imprinted ‘Faces of Others’. I told her it was a thrift store buy that reminded me of a German movie, THE LIVES OF OTHERS. I told her that movie had won the Academy Award a few years ago. She told me her husband liked German things, and she would write this down for him. She made gestures of writing and said she would go home now and write it down. She asked me my name and told me hers, both names beginning with a B. I hoped she would remember the name of that movie when she got home. She left me then. I thought about a mug I bought recently that said ‘Get Lost Get Found’. I love to get lost and hope I always have the tools to get myself found. Memory loss is devastating and a thing people my age fear. We worry that forgetting people’s names or words or where we put are car keys are the first sign of worse to come. STILL ALICE chronicled the desperate slide of a woman down that abyss; the movie scared, terrified me. Who would I be if I did not remember who I was? Would I still me or would I be someone else? What kind of person would I be? Would I be docile and sweet or a raving bitch? Would those be the memories that would remain of me?

I decided to descend back into the valley of Frick Park towards my car. I detoured into the stone seating area just below where I stood. I then started down the relatively smooth dirt path. I passed a mountain biker who was just pulling into a bench for a rest stop and saw others on the trails below. I looked across the cobweb of tree branches in this higher canopy. I think I was walking along Homewood Trail now which eventually rejoined Tranquil Trail and the way back to my car. I reached my car, strapped Parker back into the car seat, folded the stroller and put it in the backseat. I drove home exhausted from this short walk and realized how much I had been neglecting my exercise.

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