Four years later, the house looks much the same. There are numerous improvements, small patches and big repairs, redecorations and removed annoyances, but most of it remains. Fewer trees in some directions and more in others. The second red maple is almost as tall as the first, though not as full. The white trees are almost gone, though a new one rises at the edge of the dog yard. A huge stand of cottonwoods at the end of the lawn pitched over in the winter, the base eaten away by the creek. The dog is older, a golden retriever going silver at the end of his life. He sleeps most days on the grass outside the front door, content to be left alone in the sun. The cat, a wild kitten in two thousand four, is a mature hunter, constantly depositing baby squirrels, mice, and birds on the back porch as trophies. The neighborhood, blocked by August’s rich foliage, is much the same too, farm houses that have stood for a hundred years easily enduring my lifetime.
As always, the fast changing part is the people. Marriages, births, deaths, and movings on. Most of the people I knew haven’t lived here in a decade, the same as myself. Yet at every corner I remember their lives. A childhood playmate, a middle school battery mate, a teacher I had in high school. Their houses, if not the people themselves, remind me of the place I lived, and the person I was. Like Shanghai had begun to be, Lansing and Ithaca are filled with memories.
I take a longer route down to the inlet park, purely for the view, and remember leaning out of windows waving as others drove me similarly. The choice is slightly dramatic, hundreds of other trips passed this way with little to recall them to me. In that memory are people long gone, both from me and from this planet, and the air, hot at the end of August but with the slightest inkling of fall, is similar. We were young, or younger, and still only half sure how brief our time would be. A decade later I smile and admire the view our parents moved here after seeing. Their choice is still a good one.
My friends are long gone, yet they return. Like the rock that was a planet once, our orbits are eccentric, our distance from each other and this valley varies. So on this August afternoon I find myself playing frisbee with one of my oldest friends, looking out at the inlet between points. Across the way is a set of trees I used to climb in on Saturdays, at an age older than the children that inhabit them currently. Walking out along the horizontal branches, balanced above the water, I would watch this shore, its flat green grass and jogging trails.
A week later I return, not to these fields or inlet but to the city, to the hills surrounding it. Another friend, as if from the afternoon’s damp air, appears. Four years are suddenly bridged, I am in for a single night, he only three, and both of us then away again. Air travel grants the most mysterious meetings, Philadelphia Houston Massachusetts Hawaii and at the crossing point of those two paths our home town, for a beer at a bar far older than either of us.
Many things have changed, it’s true, and heading back is often deceiving. The mall looks outwardly the same but contains so few stores half is roped off in the evening. My parents house, the only one I ever knew, is fixed mostly for a move. The people, though, who swing far out into seas and over them, who marry dance and die, they are not at such remove as that, and can occasionally be brought back.