5/21/20: Dinosaurs in the Summer
There were dinosaurs in the summer. I was small the first time I saw them. I remember the way they swiveled around and arched up; how they moved slowly, with infinite strength. I remember how they ate up dirt and spit it back out out. My parents warned me before not to get too close, so I was careful to watch them from a distance. Smoke bellowed from their lungs and they growled as they rumbled over the earth.
I always rode my bike to go see them. Just out the garage and down two streets until I reached the road that ran along the river. The trailhead followed closely after, just past the streetlight on the left. To the right was a steep hill that rolled down to meet the river. From there I could look out across the river and into the valley of ash, a reminder of the fire that took away the life of the land years before. Once I left the asphalt the world transformed under my tires. The former was a smooth, easy world of order - making it easy to get from one place to the next without much thought. But the world of trails was rough - every rock and bump sending a vibration through my bicycle frame and into my hands. There was no filter for life out here. All the browns and greens greeted called me back and seemed to bend over in polite reception as I flew past.
I could usually hear them once I reached the fork that split at the base of a tall old pine tree. But on this day a gentle breeze joined forces with the air rushing by as I was riding, stealing the attention of my ears.
Weaving through the single track, it was just a bit further until I reached the infamous hill. Known for its loose dirt and steep angle, the hill was the only form of challenge on this particular trail. It took me a few years to make it all the way up without losing control of my tires. It required gaining as much speed as possible a good distance prior to starting the ascent and then letting momentum do the first bit of work. Once halfway up the hill, my mind and heart were tempted to give up. But over the years I’d calloused myself to the whispers of doubt, hardly noticing them anymore. My legs burned and I welcomed the feeling - knowing it was making me stronger.
Out of breath after conquering the hill, I stood on my pedals while the bike coasted along the ridge, looking for them. For the last two summers they had gathered in the same area - a large clearing at the base of an even greater hill, which I deemed impossible to ascend (there was a rumor that a kid from the neighborhood over managed to conquer it once). I think they started appearing there once the trees disappeared. They seemed to like areas with enough dirt for them to graze on.
I found it strange that I still couldn’t hear them. Maybe they were sleeping like they do on the weekends. Anxiously, I picked up speed through the trails until the trees no longer blocked my sightline. Now with the clearing in full view I could see it was totally empty.
“Where are you?” The magic in the air that I felt entering the land faded and the forest suddenly became empty and normal. I rode up and into the clearing, closer than I ever would if they had been present. Their tracks littered the ground and I wished I could decipher their story. Did something chase them off? Was the ground no longer good enough? Would they come back? Everything about them was a mystery to me, capturing my imagination. And their absence creating in me a certain sadness, as if I knew by instinct that they were gone and wouldn’t return. A sadness that they were gone and I didn’t know why.
I stood there scraping the dirt around with my shoes, wondering if I would ever see dinosaurs in the summer again.
Then I started having thoughts I’ve never had before. I began to worry about getting older, maybe when I was older I wouldn’t care about such things. Maybe my older self would just pass by without even recognizing them. Maybe they would no longer capture my imagination. Maybe I would cave in to the burning in my legs and give up halfway up the big hill. Maybe I would be satisfied in the smooth world, where the humming of the earth was silenced. My eyes began to well up and my heart ached for the life I had known only minutes ago. Maybe I would lose myself if I never saw them again.
A breeze picked up and the wind formed a hand, as if cupping around my ear to tell me a secret. My tears dried on my cheeks as I listened. It told me a story about another trail hidden deep in the woods – one with even bigger rocks and hills steeper than the one today. I was told the trees would receive me as prince and bow before me, and the ground would vibrate in a new frequency. There, I was told, all the dinosaurs in the summer gathered and would never leave me.