There are few places in the world where you can truly experience freedom. Away from technology, other people, all the social restraints and mental hangups we all have about most everything. No financial issues, no cars screaming to get gas, your eyes constantly on the arrow pointing dangerously close to "E," hoping that it'll get you home and back to a gas station by the time you get paid again. There are very few places in this world where all that goes away, leaving us with our own two feet and our minds. One thing I know, there's nothing like the grocery store parking lot.
Back a couple decades ago, when Walmarts didn't dot the Conyers countryside, when there was a Richway, and a Big Star, and the building behind Arby's was actually a movie theater, there was a 16 year old boy just beginning work as a Bagger at Bruno's Finer Foods. I was the fastest bagger there, and second fastest cashier. But late at night, when the other baggers would rather be in the back pretending to put the fruits and herbs back in the refrigerator, I'd go get buggies out of the parking lot. And there was total freedom away from most everything. It was in the early nineties, so the only music available was that in my head. And I sang those songs while gathering carts. Only 5 at a time, for safety reasons (I think I was the only one to follow that, it was so "manly" to get 12 carts and push them all in at once). My favorite song to sing out there was "Skywriter" by Art Garfunkel and Jimmy Webb. Simply wonderful. That was freedom.
I'm reminded of this as I walk through the trails in Rockdale County. There are no people around, no financial pressures, just the ticking of time keeping pace with my walking staff. So a week ago, I parked on the north side of the Rockdale River Trail (you can find it on Google Maps by looking up Daniels Bridge Rd, off Union Church Rd.) and walked to the clearing where the power lines stretched north to the power station. I started south, trudging up the hill, higher and higher, until just before the top I looked over and saw Stone Mountain over the horizon to the north. Don't think I've ever seen Stone Mountain from Rockdale.
Over the top of the hill, underneath the giant towers of flowing electricity, and continuing, there's a valley of green flora, weeds and insects. Grasshoppers flying away from the trail, the cicadas rubbing their legs together in the hot Georgia summer. To the right, a couple of houses are far off into the adjacent forest, and one has a rooster, so it crows, not knowing the time
of day. This path would take me into a valley and up another hill to East Fairview Road, but I had already been that way. This time, I turned east and climbed another steep hill to a grassy area. On the left, a large granite outcrop grew out of the forest like some ancient ruins. I climbed to the top of the rocks and looked around at the beauty of the trees, the grass, the sounds of life all around me. Around the grass, dirt had been mounded together to make ramps for motorcycles, mopeds, and the like. I wondered, as I listened to everything, why people on motorcycles would so freely roam this area, filling up the valleys with noise and not caring about everything that surrounds them. I wondered how many people on foot had climbed those hills, reached the top on their own, and saw everything that Rockdale County had to offer.
There are other trails I have followed where each dirt path had imprinted on it the hooves of horses (and honestly, I had to watch where I stepped). Again, the trails were filled with sights that you just don't see going about your daily chores, a loan tree towering above the rest, plants I had never seen with soft, furry leaves, the cooler breezes going through the forest as the sun began to set. And while I respect the people who traverse this area on their horses, I still think that these areas would be better enjoyed on foot. There are similar trails at the Georgia International Horse Park, but according to the map, the trails are divided between bike paths and horse trails. Would that we be able to walk any square inch of this Earth with our own two feet. Just to walk, we should be able to go anywhere, but the fences and the signs and the obstacles that our laws put in place keep us in tight quarters. Walking costs nothing except time, harms nothing, wears nothing out save the soles of our shoes. It takes no maintenance, no oil changes, no cleaning of waste products. It is marvelous and wonderful and if we could rid ourselves of the wheels and machines that walk for us, we would be in control of where we went.
A car can only go on streets, the width restricts us, the gas limits us. But if we could walk to everywhere we needed, we would be totally free to explore and expand indefinitely. There is nothing to keep our legs from traveling anywhere we wanted. That is freedom. You will not find true freedom cruising along the highways of America, although it certainly is tempting. In my opinion, you will find the open freedom that I seek only on your own two feet, walking up hills and through valleys to places unknown. May I never run out of trails to travel, nor miles to walk.