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David M Ray

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The Sanctuary
By David M Ray
Saturday, September 20, 2003

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A place of childhood solace

There are many places from my past that keep a firm and permanent hold on my memory. One of those places is a small and densely foliated area on the fringes of the town where I spent my high school years. It was a place unknown to all but the most seriously involved BMX racers and freestylers.
Early one spring afternoon, we rode our bikes across town to a patch of woods at the edge of town. A few of the older guys drove to the site. The entire area was undeveloped, with no houses or buildings nearby. We arrived at the end of the road, where a grassy field precariously sloped downward and collided abruptly with a seemingly impenetrable wall of trees. Armed with hoes, shovels, saws, and wheelbarrows, we made our way down the slope and through the trees until we arrived at the hill where the work began.
For at least a month, we sawed, dug, and shaped the land. The work was hard, but the payoff did come in the end. What we had created was the most diverse and complete BMX dirt-park we had ever seen. There was a racetrack that wound its way through multiple dirt ramps, high banking turns, and a flat straightaway. In addition to the track, there were also several “daredevil” jumps that were attempted by only the bravest (or perhaps the most mentally deranged) riders. These ramps would loft a biker up to twenty feet in the air, perhaps over a gaping twenty-five foot wide ravine or some similarly perilous obstacle.
During almost any daylight hour, someone would be there digging, riding, or just sitting on the hill at the center of it all. Sometimes during the summer, I arrived very early in the morning before anyone else, when daylight was only a vague glow in the eastern sky. At that time of day, the atmosphere was very different from the energetic hours that followed.
Spider webs spanned the trees, symmetrically perfect and dotted with dew that reflected the light of the morning sun, highlighting the fragile nature of the moment. The morning shadows covered what the mid-day sun exposed, while the sun slowly started its long journey to the western horizon. Like a silent audience of many watching one, the trees solemnly encircled me, isolating my soul from the multitudes of the Earth. The air sat motionless, as if waiting for something to happen in the stillness of morning. A few birds sang a sparse and quiet soundtrack to the whole scene, a reminder that I was not alone in the world.
After an hour or so, others would show up to start another day just like the last one. For two years, this was my sanctuary. It was an area of physical exertion, mental contemplation, and spiritual awakening. Sometime after we stopped going to the track, I heard that the whole place began to deteriorate. New arrivals would come, but they did not work to preserve the track. Eventually, the woods consumed our park.
I haven’t been back since we stopped going to the track so many years ago, but I can imagine it overgrown and blocked with branches that embrace each other in a tangles mass of confusion. I can picture the rabbit holes dimpling the sides of the ramps. In my imagination, the whole area returns to the state it was in on that first day, when our wheelbarrows could barely make it through the shrubbery.
At first, this made me a little sad, but after some thought, it seems that this is how it should be. This was our place, and after we had gone, it returned to its natural state, allowing it to remain only our place. No one else would ever again get to sit on that hill and contemplate. No longer would riders be found racing through those trails or jumping those ramps. Those things remain in the living memory of a select few that carved a sanctuary out of the wilderness.

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