Every summer for the past seven years, I’ve lived in a tiny town near the Catskills of New York State. Two years ago, we changed locations so that our picture window faced a towering hill behind a university. At the top of this hill, high above all the other athletic fields, is a wide swath of mowed lawn surrounded by wilderness. At one end of this lawn stands a set of football goal posts, rising up out of the grasses like Druidic ruins.
I became obsessed with this field, wondering how to access it and why it was built. I never saw anyone playing football up there, but the space was just a hair too groomed to be abandoned. Between breaks from ghostwriting my first book, I’d stare at the winding dirt road that led up from campus and vanished into the tree line. I suspected that dirt road, climbing into the woods at a precarious angle, was the key to getting to the mystery field.
Over the next couple of weeks, I started seeing people up there. Little dots, always one at a time, at the same elevation as me but across a wide canyon of town. Sometimes a tall, pale dot would be accompanied by a darker, puffier one, closer to the ground.
One brisk morning I awoke at 5:00 a.m. and realized I was not going to fall back to sleep. Without over thinking it, I got dressed, laced up my sneakers, and drove across the way to the university. Up the winding tiers to the topmost parking lot. Then up a bit farther, onto the dirt winding road I’d been watching all summer. The grade climbed quickly, then flattened out for a quarter mile of wooded traverse. My car and I bumped along for a tense minute. Then the darkness ended and we were spit out onto a rutted dirt surface abutting the open field. I’d made it.
I got out and walked around the athletic field and across the tall grasses. I looked for my summer home across the expanse of neighborhoods. I saw a deer, frozen, in a field down slope from me. I watched the fog recede over the train tracks as the sun rose and burnt off the morning cold.
Afterwards, I drove back through the dark forest, down the winding dirt road, and out to a Dunkin Donuts to grab coffee and breakfast for myself and my boyfriend.
That morning two years ago was one of the proudest mornings I’d had in a long time. I’d finally stopped daydreaming, analyzing, and Googling the possibilities in favor of taking action. I’d demystified a speck on the map—a gamble for a dreamer, but still one of my favorite activities. I realize now I will always want to look at that field, study it, make up stories about it, until, finally, I climb it and make it my own.