I’ll be honest. I tried to avoid you. You’re the awkward cousin. I was carrying on a love affair with your big and beautiful cousin, the Wissahickon. It was not until I introduced you to my kids that I began to fall in love.
Dear Boxers’ Trail:
I’ll be honest. I tried to avoid you. You’re the awkward cousin. I was carrying on a love affair with your big and beautiful cousin, the Wissahickon. I explored her for hours on end from the Finger Span Bridge to the Devil’s Pool. I introduced her to everyone.
Do you know the Wissahickon? She’s beautiful. We made a great team. Together we taught hundreds of North Philly kids to skip rocks; catch frogs, crayfish and minnows; and to pick berries. She and I took them to find the Indian statue and climb the rocks surrounding Lover’s Leap.
Tatiana Garcia-Granados, a mutual friend and one of your biggest advocates, kept asking if knew you. She’d say, “Spend time with her! Introduce your kids to her!”
I answered, “Who would choose the Boxers’ Trail over the Wissahickon?”
As often happens when I find myself in a committed relationship, I began to wonder what else might be out there. What might I be missing? So one spring day I hopped on my bike, rode west on Girard, turned right on 33rd Street, hung a left on Diamond, and a block later I was at your doorstep at the corner of Reservoir and Randolph. I know, I know: You technically begin at Dauphin, but we both know that’s not the real you.
I looked at you with skepticism, certain I’d have no interest but curious all the same. I figured, this way I could tell Tatiana that I tried and gave you a chance — that, “We just aren’t right for each other. She’s not really what I’m looking for right now. I need more. It’s not her, it’s me.”
Down your path I found your small creek to my right, your spring house, your hills (a bit steep for my bike), a few well-placed, perfectly fallen trees, and your unmatched view of boats gliding down the Schuylkill. You opened up to me and showed me your beautiful meadow and beautiful old mansions. You were not perfect. Not nearly as big as your cousin and a bit rough around the edges. I decided to give you a chance. It was not love at first site, but you were worthy of a second date.
It was not until I introduced you to my kids that I began to fall in love.
My kids met you with the same skepticism. “You’re telling me there are woods back there?” I was asked by 16 mostly-disappointed 12-year-olds while walking down Diamond Street. “I thought we were going hiking in the woods? This is stupid!”
Was I being stupid? Was I moving too fast? I didn’t know you well enough to introduce you to my kids!
But when they met you, they fell in love as hundreds of my kids have since we first met. Together we have built forts; climbed trees; caught butterflies, salamanders and crayfish; and hiked through your stream. We have touched worms!
We have picked and eaten wine berries, wood sorrel, crab apples and garlic mustard. We have learned how wonderful the leaves of sassafras and spice bush smell. (And that skunk cabbage smells really bad.)
We have learned to avoid the poison ivy and beehives and have found sparkling mica in your rocks. We have spotted woodpeckers and red tailed hawks, chased chipmunks into your woods and come back with toads! We even caught garter snakes! We have explored the “Green Lady’s House” and discovered that, like most of our fears, she only lives in our minds.
The kids and I have seen you grow. We have seen you change with the seasons. You are our love. The kids love you so much that they decided to spruce you up a bit. They show their love by picking up litter when we visit. (I can’t take any credit for that one. It’s really all them.) You truly look more beautiful each time we see you.
To be completely honest with you, I am still head-over-heels in love with the Wissahickon. Nearly all of my kids still love her, too. But you, my Boxers’ Trail, you most certainly are not an awkward cousin. You are beautiful — and just a short bus ride, walk or bike ride away.
I wish more people would give you a chance. I’m sure that, if they ever do, they will fall in love as well. Particularly now that so many kids from the neighborhood are committed to maintaining your beauty.
Very truly yours,Eric Dolaway
A Philadelphia transplant by way of Baltimore and Brooklyn, Eric Dolaway is the executive director of the Urban Blazers Foundation, a non-profit organization that took a thousand kids hiking in 2012.
This essay was previously published in the blog Philly Love Notes.