December 25, 2013

Paths and shortcuts and childhood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ann @ 3:05 pm
Kid streets

Kid streets

The Bay Area is on something like its 18th spare-the-air day this season, when we’re asked to limit driving and forgo fireplace blazes. So, having a kale emergency and needing to go to the store, I invited Neal to walk to Safeway with me, leaving the Saturn in the driveway. A little way into the walk he said, “I know a shortcut.” He and I have lived here almost 20 years and I’ve never heard of such a shortcut but I was game. As we ditched off the sidewalk near the hospital and headed behind Sassarini school towards an actual dirt path banked by dormant blackberry bushes, I turned to him and remarked, “This is bold.” For while there are lots of “shortcuts” in Sonoma that involve cutting through a building’s breezeways or taking concrete paths like the one adjacent to the Sonoma Valley Inn, this is the first time in a long time I’d seen an actual kid-shortcut: it was genuine dirt, it ran behind buildings, and it truly shaved about half the time off our trip. I was impressed.

So as we walked we got to talking about shortcuts. I told him, “You know, when I was growing up in Pinole there were tons of these. As kids, we rarely walked on the sidewalk. We walked across cow pastures, next to the creek, on long paths behind neighbors’ fences, and we even made dirt paths in the bushes up above the street proper, so we could walk among grasses and weeds and poison oak.” He said that in Pleasant Hill, it was much the same way. When I was 13 they sent us to a crummy junior high school in El Sobrante and whenever I chose to walk instead of take the scary smelly bus with the scarier school-bus driver (who was actually drunk one day and sideswiped every car on Allview Avenue), I would head for the cow pasture at Appian Way and never touch concrete again until arriving at the school’s main gate. We knew all the shortcuts.

These well-traveled paths of my youth in Pinole are mostly if not entirely gone, what with in-fill and the jumble of big-box stores that replaced all of the open fields.

And I really have no point to make here except that, while the good old days weren’t always that good, dirt shortcuts were in fact very good. Discovering there’s one right here in Sonoma was the best part of today.


  1. Beatiful!
    Next summer, can we go pick some blackberries? I’ll make you a pie.
    Sometimes the shortcuts were actually long-cuts.
    My mind still has the alternate paths imprinted.
    I walk them in my dreams, and they blend into one another, sometimes taking me to a pond in the shade of a leaning oak tree
    My sense of smell is often the strongest reminder.
    • The smell of fennel along the dry wash at the end of the cul-de-sac where Heather lived.
    • The waft of golden fiddle-head flower, both in the open field across from my house, and along Todd Road in southern Santa Rosa
    • sweetness of bay leaf at Blue Lake, and at Blackpoint
    • ponderosa pine at Redwood Glen, and at some obscure Girl Scout campground
    • mud and decaying vegetation and tadpole poo. Above-mentioned pond. And Lafayette Reservoir
    • ocean and fear: Montauk Beach, where I was terrified by a horsehoe crab, and Shell Beach, where I narrowly escaped a sleeper wave
    • there is a sweet, turned-earth, rotting sawdust smell I used to smell in spring but it never happens in Alameda. My mom said it was earth. I sometimes smell something like it when Evelyn comes in from walking home on a cool, breezy day. It’s one of the best smells ever.

    Comment by Alana — December 26, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

  2. What a lovely reply, Alana! Thank you for setting down your own memories of alternate paths you’ve known. You mention your dreams, and I have a recurring dream in which I’m trying to get somewhere and do so by sneaking through strangers’ houses, trying to use their hallways and other rooms as shortcuts. After posting this yesterday I got to wondering if that dream is my psyche’s way of remembering the paths of childhood, which often involved neighbors’ property (but not, of course, their actual homes). Thank you again! And thanks for reading my post.

    Comment by Ann — December 27, 2013 @ 8:07 am

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