There’s a little patch of woods near my house that must be haunted.
Scraggly, twisting branches veil it in gloom even on a sunny afternoon. More bat houses than I've ever seen in one place hang in a wide circle, and at the center someone — something? — dragged a tangle of tree limbs into a low, rickety lean-to.
When I passed by the other day, two silent dogs watched me from a hammock slung between thin trunks deep in a thicket, and my youngest son swears a little girl peeked out between them.
Tell you what, if some unquiet spirit hasn’t already claimed the spot, I call dibs for when they finally put me in the ground. It’s just too perfect for haunting, even for a guy who doesn’t believe in ghosts.
I’ve driven within earshot of the place countless times over the years with no idea anything there interrupted the suburban monotony. Even though it’s just a 10-minute drive from my house, I’d have never noticed it if I hadn’t taken the long way in.
A good deal of things worth noticing suddenly pop out of the background when you take the scenic route. And routes around here don’t get more scenic than our trails.
My son and I were on this particular path because I’d read that the American Discovery Trail runs along some of our local trails on its way from Delaware to California, and the boy thought we should check it out.
We had only covered 14 of the ADT’s 5,000 miles before my wife mercifully picked us up outside a burrito joint, but that short trek through our familiar town turned out to be a full-blown safari.
A great blue heron glided under a bridge beside us at one point, and when we saw its dusty blue wingtips up close we finally figured out how this otherwise gray bird got its name. A pair of eyes staring down from right over our heads at another spot made us jump before we realized it was just a stuffed animal jammed into the high crook of a backyard tree.
Down the trail a bit, we pulled bread, cheese and chocolate from a backpack at a park table. A little kids’ soccer league had a few games running, and we watched one while we fueled up and rested for the next leg of the hike.
I drained my water bottle and wouldn’t have traded it for a full can of beer watching Sporting KC in their stadium.
The latest pass at a bill to officially recognize the ADT says the trail is supposed to connect representative examples of American communities. That means our stretch of it can’t be all about magnificent wildlife and innocent kids.
Thankfully, some of our neighbors are more than happy to spotlight the more familiar elements of suburbia for any strangers who might be hiking through.
There’s the wonder of traffic, for one, helpfully exemplified by the bicyclist who evidently worried that the traditional “On your left!” warning on a fast downslope would have cheated my son out of the thrill of being nearly run over.
And drivers zooming along eight lanes of interstate had no idea how the wide underpass we crossed a few minutes later filled with the rumble of their tires, turning the dark space into a mysterious cavern that a tired 9-year-old rallied to explore.
Even though nobody’s managed to get enough traction to push Washington to recognize the ADT, Congress once paid better attention to these things, and this year marks the golden anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968 that set the frame for a phenomenal network of trails.
If you need a prompt to spend a day looking in at your city from the woods and streamways and underpasses, I’d say that anniversary is about as good as any.
The trails around here are mostly paved, good for wheelchairs and sneakers and strollers, and welcoming to just about any fitness level.
And there are plenty of rocks and benches and big, shady trees where you can stop to uncap your water bottle and offer up a toast to ourselves for making sure we always have these gates open to the great outdoors.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.