Kingwood, TX 77339
April 2004–A chorus of tree frogs echoes in my ears as a pair of squirrels scurry into their tree top homes high in the towering pines. A massive ball of fire ants pulsate out from their mound when disrupted by a stick poked into their home. Being from a small town in Connecticut this image could be something from one of my childhood hikes in the woods by my house. Surprisingly, this is Houston.Houston is usually associated with heat and with being the fourth largest city in the nation. Could it be that tree frogs cling to the skyscrapers and call out in the evening? Is it possible that what the squirrels see as trees are really street lights?
Of course the answer to those questions is “No”. You may be asking, “Where does nature fit in the sprawling metropolis of Houston .” There is a treasure that twists and winds between the subdivisions of a place called Kingwood. Kingwood was originally developed in cooperation with the Exxon Corporation for employees. In this part of Houston the subdivisions are without number and houses are built faster than the fire ant hills. Somehow nature is found in between all of the rows of houses, hidden from the roads and driveways that dissect the area.
In developing Kingwood the builders wanted to ensure that its residents and all those who wanted to come and enjoy the fresh air, flora, and fauna of the area, had a place to go. The City of Houston also wanted to provide areas for both passive and active recreation. Mile after mile of winding bike paths meet and divide taking the wanderer further and further from his starting point and further and further from the cares and stresses that come with living in a big city. Neighbors cross paths and pleasant salutations are exchanged as each passes the other, both knowing that the other feels that same release. The greenbelts of Kingwood are where the owners of the seventy thousand’s blend in and become one with the owners of the million’s in what’s called by some “The Livable Forest”. These paths know nothing about the size of your portfolio or how much comes from your welfare check.
I remember the day that I set foot on one of these trails for the first time. My feet carried me onto the crumbling asphalt path that led me into the vast network of twist and turns. These corridors are a system of veins and arteries that allow the residents of Kingwood to escape. Like a small blood cell in the man made circulatory system I was transported from the heart of my Kingwood home, into a familiar place. I had never set foot on these paths in my life but something within me told me this was all too familiar. As I left the pounding noonday sun of the subdivision streets and entered into the cloak-like refuge these trails offer, I felt lifted. I also felt the air around me go from sweltering to soothing as the breeze passed through my sweat soaked shirt.
Every step that I took on that path, I felt as if I was turning back the pages of a book written years ago. I stopped under a palm tree sagging with the weight of the crunchy dead fronds that seemed to anchor it down. I was trying to figure out how this twisty Texas trail reminded me of home. Suddenly images of me walking with people flashed into the movie screen in my mind. It was my mom and grandmother leading me down a familiar wooded path by my childhood house. I then realized that what I was recognizing was not the path I was on in Texas but that same sense of ease and relaxation that I had felt as a young boy walking with my family.
The day that I set foot on these trails was only a month after moving to the state of Texas . Never did I think that I would find a refuge that would take me back to the peaceful and stress free childhood days in Connecticut . Many days of my youth were spent walking the corridors of the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail where cell phones and laptops are left behind (Kopytoff G12). How pleasant was my surprise when I found the gem of the greenbelts hidden amongst the cookie cutter houses of Kingwood.
My wife and I enjoy walking these paths on cool evenings as the sunlight filters through the evergreens and casts its twilight glow on the forest floor around us. The smell of damp leaves and pine cones fills our noses as small lizards scurry in crunchy leaves for cover as if we were ready to grab them for dinner. After a day of driving and inhaling the toxic fumes of cars in traffic, the fresh woodland air gives our lungs a sweet treat.
A squeaky sound interrupts the silence as a young girl tools around the corner on a rusty Barbie bike that looked like it could be sold on EBay as an antique. We walk into a patch of light that glows red orange as if the sun were a smoldering coal in a dying fire. Walking on these paths gives us a great chance to catch up on the day’s events and mayhem. It also offers a time of personal reflection and meditation. How easy is it for each person to come home from work or school and be distracted by the TV or by errands that need to be run? How much can our stress be depleted by spending a few minutes of time walking these silent corridors? The greenbelts of Kingwood tie family bonds tighter. They also are of a place of refuge for those whose family bonds are falling apart. Anyone who steps onto the trails enters the soothing therapist made of cement and the hands of men called the greenbelt.
Stepping onto a path carved by humankind can be deceiving. Confident in my navigation abilities I once decided to explore as many of the paths as I could in a day. One artery led to another and before I knew it I had not an idea where I was. I was sure that any second I would be spit back out into my subdivision and I could head home for some ice cold Gatorade. I stopped in my tracks and began to think about how similar to life this was. We each walk the twisty paths of life that often lead us to fork after fork after fork in the trail. Decision after decision after decision often leads us in a direction that we don’t want to be heading. Much like my false sense of orientation that day, we can feel like we know where we are heading. Time alone and time to ponder on these trails allows every man to be sure he knows where he is heading and why. Sometimes I’m not too sure I know and that is why I frequent these paths.
Kids in the area like to refer to it as “the jungle”. The woods that surround the trails are filled with swamps and deep crevasses that are slashes and scars in the earths surface. A great place for a young Robin Hood or a daring Batman to make adventures seem real; these features add diversity to the exploring young mind. One day when walking by a park I ran into a young boy, age 4. He stood, hands full of bark chips and an imagination overflowing with ideas.
“Why do you like these trails” I asked.
He replied, “The jungle helps you find things.” What a profound statement that was.
I then asked him “What did the jungle help you find.”
He replied with a proud grin, “My G.I. Joe was missing and then I found it in the jungle.” I now wish that I hadn’t asked him what exactly the “jungle” had helped him find. His profound statement was just a four year olds perception of things. Had it been in his dog’s house he probably would have said “My dog helps you find things.” I know that there was some great truth in that boy’s statement, however. I have found both peace and serenity in the “jungle” and wonder what I have left to find. My wife has found exactly what she wanted when purchasing a home; somewhere for us to escape.
What will these forest trails and paths help you find? Will they help you find sanity in a world that is ever dominated by terror and paranoia? Will they help you find answers to problems with friends and family? Will they help you find a job? I know not of any magical powers held by these paths but don’t doubt that everyone who treads the worn paths of the Kingwood Greenbelt will find something.
As I stepped out of the crumbly path after that first time I walked those corridors of the greenbelt I knew I had found something from home right here in Texas. Not only will these trails conjure up memories of walkways in Connecticut but they will bring back paths taken around the country and around the globe. Each step will carry you back to some distant memory of walking with a hand clasped to a mother’s or brother’s hand as you crossed the road on your walk to school or to the grocery store. As I turned back and looked into the refuge I was leaving I could almost see my mother and grandmother continuing on their walk without me.
In the forth largest city in America the skyline reaches high with man’s great towers of glass and steel. There is so much to see and do. Every city has a zoo, and so does Houston. Every city has restaurants, and so does Houston. Every city has paths that begin and end, and so does Houston . Kingwood’s greenbelt trails will bring you wherever you want to go and they will let you escape to where you need to be. Somewhere close to man’s creations lies an area where the trees reach up like skyscrapers. The only work done in those skyscrapers is done by the ants and the birds. Near the gas station and tucked away behind the neighborhood pharmacy are these often lonely corridors. They wait for your company and want to tell your story to the next that walk their surface. So when there is a day when you feel like communing instead of commuting head to the Greenbelts of Kingwood.