I’m from a rural area that has more farmland than people. The only seasons are green and brown. Summer, fall, winter, and most of spring blend together. In a town where the only place to go on a Friday night is Wal-Mart, teenagers had to find entertainment in any place they could. In high school my friends rediscovered our love of parks. It was free, close, and the only oasis of green in a world full of brown. Getzandaner Memorial Park in the neighboring town was where we began to find refuge.
The first time I went there it was large and overwhelmingly. The park is 33 acres, but the part with play equipment is between two and three acres. Once you pass the wooden sign declaring, “Getzendaner Park,” you drive on one-way, asphalt, oval, which encircles the actual play equipment. There are trees, slides, bathrooms, numerous swing sets, and picnic tables. The trees seem to canopy the entire area, so the children are always playing in the shade, and if you swing high enough, stick your legs straight up, and point your toes, you can almost touch the leaves hanging from their branches. This is not what interests me though. Behind the play equipment, and over the wooden bridge, there are narrow dirt paths that dissect, and wind. No matter, which one you take, you end up peering over the edge of the creek, or facing a barbwire fence, equipped with a “No Trespassing” sign, that protects a wheat field from hooligans. In this wooded area there are fallen trees, and large trees whose trunks are protected by thorns, and all kinds of undergrowth, that you should not dawdle in. The fallen trees are perfect for climbing upon, and announcing to your friends your dominion over them.
There is a six-mile concrete trail that begins in Getzandaner Park, hugs the Waxahachie creek, follows the tracks of an abandoned railroad for a while, goes to Lion’s Park, and then backtracks back to Getzendaner. The trail passes Waxahachie Rodeo Arena and Fairgrounds, Rogers Street Bridge south of downtown Waxahachie, and the Old City Cemetery. One day in June, my friend Lauren and I decided to run the entire length of the trail. When we first decided on this feat we really did mean to run the length of the trail. We started on the east side of the park and began jogging west. Along the path there are periodic benches dedicated to certain members of the community, posted signs that encourage you to do muscle training, and granite markers that keep you updated on your progress. There is a granite marker every quarter mile, and there is a business that donated to the trail engraved on the stone.
As we jogged along, I began to familiarize the place. I had always wandered around on the North side of the creek, but now I stood on its opposite banks, and saw things from a different perspective. When I had thought of the park before, my mental map just showed a blob of green on the outskirts of town. Once we started exploring the trail, my mental map began to take shape and form. It wound one way then another. The creek passed under this, across this, over there. I began to draw the winding creek, and the trail’s dedication to it, as we ran along. The park was not a green blob. The creek was a green river that emptied out into the park like a lake.
We jogged past the creek and wooded area, over a wooden bridge, across the abandoned railroad, and across Roger’s Street Bridge. When we reached the other side we noticed an overlook area that was bordered with an iron gate. We noticed that if you jumped over the gate, and too the right, you would land on a large stone. From there you could climb down on top of an eroding drainpipe, and then drop onto the banks of the creek. We promptly did just that. We began to pick our way across the bank. It was early summer so the creek was low, and whenever we needed to cross over to the next bank we would pick up rocks and throw them into the water. We explored the creek for some time. The banks on either side were at least 10 feet tall, and if we used the roots of trees, we could climb up. I became familiar with its currents, and the downward slopes, where the water would begin to tumble over the rocks. The water began to talk here and we would sit and listen to the words it was saying to the world. We went back to the drainage pipe, and climber back up to the top.
Once we had made it back to the original overlook, and climbed back onto the cement sidewalk, we were ready to continue our jog. The rest of the trail was completely in shade. The trees overhung the sidewalk and intertwined their branches with the trees on the other side of the path. The path doubled back upon itself at Lion’s Park. Like everywhere else in Texas in early June the entire park was brown. It was more of a field with one play set sitting alone in the midst of this. Disappointed, we headed back. We went past the same scenery over again, and by the last mile of the trip, darkness had settled over the trail. The summer lightening bugs came out to greet us, and we followed their blinking lights back to my car.
Lauren and I would make this trip several times over the next two years of high school; sometimes alone and sometimes together. This expansive space, had taken on the shape of a place. It was no longer a space I wondered at, but a place I knew. I knew which bridge was my favorite to linger on, because of the view. I knew which benches were the best for people watching, and which were the best for nature watching. I knew the curves of the path and knew my distance from any given point without the mile markers. It is a place that has not changed, and which I still visit, when I go home.