The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

City mouse, country mouse

Too many traffic lights for a country mouse; not enough, maybe, for the city.“I get lost in the country,” she said.

We hadn’t chatted in years, since I left the town where she still lives, and our conversation the other afternoon had swerved into the country-vs-city path down memory lane.

I had mentioned remembering some of the street names where we lived separated by several of them. I had been back once, and tried to make my way around some of the old landmarks.

“It’s hard to get lost in the country,” I replied. The country is where I moved when I left.

When I lived there, the big joke was how directions were told by counting 7-Eleven stores. In terms of physical size, the town was not really huger, but there were a ton of those stores. They made great landmarks.

“At the third 7-11, turn right,” you might be told, “then go two 7-11s and turn left and it’s halfway to the next street.”

When I left there, I moved to a place about an hour drive from any place that even resembled a big town, much less an honest-to-G city. Giving someone directions to my house, I once said, “Get off Exit 12, turn left, then at the Shell station bear right across the bridge into town.”

It was 65 miles from Exit 12 to the Shell gas station, but there were no other Shell stations on that road.

I now live in the suburbs of a county seat. We have a Walmart, a college and, last time I counted, 14 traffic lights.

Among my life experiences I can list being a taxi driver and an ambulance crew member and driver trainer in Hampton, Virginia. Both occupations required knowing the quickest way to addresses even the people who lived there didn’t know. Most of us, I’ve found, have to really think about how to get to a place we regularly travel.

Unless we are driving. We say, “The car knows the way,” but in truth we recognize trees and houses we do not even realize we have seen – until someone moves them.

A friend tells of his days as a supervisor for a trash collection company when a customer called the office to complain his trash had not been picked up. My friend and the regular route driver – I’ll call him Sam – motored out to the customer’s house. Sure enough, the trash bins were at the curb, unemptied.

“Where is your pickup truck,” Sam asked the customer.

“Oh, I sold it,” said the resident.

“Well, that’s the problem,” the route driver responded. “I always know to pick up the garbage where that truck is parked.”

Here in the Gettysburg suburbs, getting from place to place normally is a case of turning left, then right, maybe cut down an alley. And getting back home is a mere case of reversing course.

It’s not like the “You can’t get there from here” experience on my edge of town. To get to one of my favorite walking spots, I must leave the house, turn right down a one-way road, after awhile turn right at the stop sign … you get the idea. It’s maybe a mile, house to destination. But to get back home – did I mention the one-way road? – requires crossing two streams, one of them twice, and completing of a seven-mile circle. I know the distance from the odometer on my bicycle.

I suppose it’s all in what you get used to, but some days the seven-mile circle seems a lot shorter and easier to follow than the two and-a-half miles through all the traffic lights to the Walmart.

Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share.


  1. As someone born in The Bronx, I just loved this, kind of like a visit to a foreign culture.
    I’ve also noticed “out there,” people tell you to turn east, or north.
    In The City, it’s left or right.

    • Strange that just as I saw your comment, I’m watching a segment of “Cosmos” in which Neil DeGrasse Tyson is talking about an analagous world which is completely flat and everything there moves only left or right, never up or down.

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