Sunday, July 24, 2011

Walking with Ghosts

The road that we turn onto dwindles down to a one lane dirt track and we glance around to make sure that we are on the right road. A sign up ahead, barely visible in the green expanse of the encroaching swamp, reads Umphraville with an arrow pointing off into the wilderness. We don't say anything as the van jumps and sinks over each bump and into each pothole in the road. "I guess they don't get out to do road work very often," I say.

James rolls his eyes at me and turns to peer through the green darkness that has enveloped us. Through the canopy, we can just make out the piercing blue sky but down where we are, only a light shower of sunlight breaks through the leaves of the canopy above.

It is enchanting and I stop the car to take in the sounds and feel of a forest alive. I close my eyes for a second, unafraid that some random car will collide with us and breathe in the damp air that is drifting through the open window.

The sound comes to me layers. The rustling of the light breeze in the leaves. The symphony of songbirds perched in the branches. The hum of the insects flying around the van. The crash as something large moves through the forest. It is both exhilarating and peaceful and everyone in the van is silent as they take in the forest.

I open my eyes and scan the forest, looking for whatever made the crashing sound but all I see is the dark green of a healthy forest and the winding brown of the forest road that is slowly being consumed by it. I start forward again and I finally give the first hint of where we are going to the kids, "Keep your eyes open," I say, "We are close to the ghost town."

Looking in the rear view mirror, I watch as their eyes widen and they begin searching the forest around them. "It just got 10 degrees colder in here," Gabriel says, "That means were close because it always gets colder when you are close to a ghost."

I smile and remain silent, listening instead to the kids talking about the ghosts. Their voices are full of excitement as they begin to imagine the ghosts around them. I remember those days and I remember spending my childhood running through forests much darker than this. I remember the feel of the forest; the way that it had always felt like it was watching, its breath baited as though it was simply waiting for me to discover its secrets.

I wonder if the kids feel the same way as they sit there waiting for the ghost town of Umphraville to appear.

We turn at a fork in the road, heading left and up a steep hill. At the top, the road ends at the start of a hiking trail and I pull off to park. Besides us, an opening in the forest shows a clearing and a large, weather stained cross stands in the center of it.

"This must be it," I say and we all pile out of the van.

It may be my imagination but it is as though the forest has fallen silent as we walk closer to the cemetery; one of only a few things left of the town of Umphraville. A feeling of sadness washes over me as we walk through the gates of the cemetery and realize that these people are almost forgotten and only a few people come to keep it tidy.

The forest has nearly engulfed the road of the once thriving town and the only people to visit it are hunters and the random tourist looking for a scare. I wonder how many people have laughed and joked as they walked around the small cemetery and while I try to do it once, I just can't bring myself to do it.

Instead, we all walk around in silence, occasionally saying something about a marker or how sad it is to see a baby of only 3 months old buried at the site. The kids are respectful but you can see their imaginations racing as they glance around the cemetery.

After a half hour of wandering through the cemetery, we start out on the hike. James tells Michael he can be as loud as he wants so his voice will scare off any large wildlife. I laugh and start talking to Michael to keep up his chatter (if you didn't know, Michael can be very loud).

We end up in a field and it is a stark contrast from the cool forest that we had just left. Up ahead is one of the few buildings left of Umphraville itself and we explore it for a little bit. The feelings of the cemetery slowly lift and we start to simply enjoy the exploring until the deer flies come out and start to pester the kids and James so we decide to head back. Or rather, James and the kids run to the van as I slowly walk back since the deer flies leave me alone for some reason.

It was a nice trip and we took our time driving back down the road, stopping every little while to listen to the forest again.

Like most of the other posts, here are a few pictures that we took of Umphraville.

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