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woodsmoke time travel

I got in a head-clearing hike before the rain hit this afternoon. Down the beach and up through the heavily wooded trails in Lincoln Park. Urban parks are great, but I have never really loved one like I do LP, probably because it makes me feel far away from the city and I can have the salt water and massive trees and long empty paths all within 15 minutes of my house.

Every time I come, it looks a bit different as the seasons lead the evolution of colors from bare to green to fiery and back to almost-bare again. I love that this makes the trails both familiar and new to me at the same time. My favorite spots are always there but bearing a surprise gift with each visit. Last time I was here, I came around a corner to see a huge Japanese Maple flaming out from a grove of dark evergreens, drawing two other park-goers closer with its tractor beam of light. I, too, stood in awe for a few hushed moments before walking on.

Today, for a second or two I smelled the fire burning in someone’s stove, the smoke carrying over from a house near by, and felt a forceful wave of memory shoot through my body. Afghanistan. Badakhshan province, the Ishkashim field station and the long jeep trip into the Wakhan with Blanka. So much emotion and memory in that lungful of air that it stopped me mid-step while these pieces of the past sprung up from nowhere: Trying to learn, trying to prove myself, fighting stupid hierarchies, fighting bitter cold under the blankets that sparked with electricity as we moved around at night in the dry air. Feeling farther away from home than I’d ever felt in my life, feeling both empowered and lost and unsure of who to trust. Feeling a quiet, gutting sadness in accepting that an irreparable chasm had widened between me and the person I wanted most to listen to and attempt to understand what I was going through.

And then just as quickly, I tried to breathe it in again, to remember more, but it was gone—replaced by the cinnamon-laden breath of leaves and cedar needles breaking down into dank soil, and the peace of saltwater endlessly moving on its circular journey between the beach at my feet and the Strait.

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