Falling for a 98-year-old. Heritage Trail Part 1. Madison, Indiana

I swear, the guy was 98-years-old if he was a day. And he lapped me on the Heritage Trail like he was a little boy, endless energy fueling his slight, pale frame. And he sparked some lingering little girl competitiveness I didn’t know I still had…

The morning started peacefully enough. I parked my car at the riverfront in Madison and walked the railroad tracks, scaring up a groundhog and a fox squirrel.

Groundhog diving for his hole.

I could see the smoke stacks of the Clifty Creek plant as I passed the flat section.

There is mixed emotion with those stacks. Since birth I have been tied to coal: my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, my husband. When I see a stack, I see the grime, the pollution, the pillaged hilltops and undermined acreage of my own house in Lover, PA. I also see the faces of my own heritage.

Heritage Trail indeed.

It was a long, winding 6-10% grade from the riverfront to the hilltop. After crossing under the highway, I hit asphalt. I meandered along the path, stopping to admire a bridge and stream.

I was pretty content to wander at Marla-speed up the paved path.

I heard a red-bellied woodpecker and tried to find him in the Sycamore tree above my head. I saw signs of woodpecker in some of the trees, though with the size of the holes, that was probably from a pileated, not a red-bellied.


I was in reverie, listening, as usual, to Edward Grieg’s Morning Song. It pops in my head pretty much every morning, like the gumdrop mint leaves, sweet clover lollipops and candy-flavored spring water that my friend Heather says abound at my house, or, at least, in my head.

I stopped to snap a photo of the overlook, and a kindly woman stopped to offer a photo of me with the view in the background.

I gave an I-love-you hand, as my family has done ever since my sister first got her degree in education of the hearing impaired. It’s just a thing, like families who throw up peace signs or horns.

And I do…love you, that is.

Near the summit, I caught a doe peeking at me over the top of a rise.

The summit, by the way, is a women’s prison. It’s a really beautiful site actually. Well, aside from the barbed wire, of course. They maintain the trails, I’ve been told. I think taking care of things is a beautiful means of rehabilitation.

If I get sent to prison (and, really, am I ever that far from trouble?) I hope my time is spent learning my lesson while picking up post-storm tree branches, spotting an occasional fawn or turkey.

Everything was fine for the trek up the hill. Really. I marveled that my right knee, missing more cartilage and sporting more spurs than I’d like to admit, actually did great up the hill.

Downhill was another matter.

By the time I reached the overlook, I was at a steady limp. As the knee bent to the grading of the hill, it would hit on that arthritis “catch” they call it. Frankly, I call it too much Marla on too little knee. In either case, I have learned to adjust my gait to accommodate for the knee’s tendency to buckle.

Nearing the overlook, I passed him. He was 98-years-old if he was a day. Would I shit you on that, really? I gave my cheery greeting, still hearing that blasted Morning Song, despite the heavy metal hollering starting to come from my leg. He made brief eye contact, nodded, and kept trucking it up the hill. I paused to look as he practically loped away. The guy was spry and fast. Within a few minutes, I looked over my shoulder and there he was rounding a distance curve coming back down the hill. I knew (KNEW) this old dude was going to lap me on his way back down.

Unless I picked up my pace.

At what could easily have been mistaken for the lumbering, maniacal gait of Jack Nicholson’s character toward the end of the shining. (This clip captures the scene with Benny Hill music, which pretty much sums up my competitive hobbling). That old dude was not going to lap me. I am not that slow, not that gimped, not that out of shape! The grade was coming on me as fast as I was loping downward.

The fall happened in a second. And yet, in my brain, it happened in the length of time it would take to read the Poky Little Puppy, my favorite childhood storybook. One minute I was forcing the knee into a fast-paced gait. I was gonna’ beat that old man after all. The next, the knee was buckling as I was rounding a non-fenced curve on the right side of the path. As it’s the right knee, the only thing between me and the hillside was, well, nothing.

I went sprawling, making the noise Kurt likes to call a bird squawk, because it’s generally just a brief “Awwwk!” followed by some form or another of me going ass-over-applecart. In this case, no handrail, right knee giving out on the right edge of the trail = over the side of the hill. I was the Poky Little Puppy: roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble.

The only thing hurt was my pride as I picked myself up and climbed back up out, picking twigs from my hair and brushing myself off. As I stepped onto the asphalt, the little old man came hustling by. He didn’t say a word, but our eyes met. He looked me up and down in that one quick glance. I could swear his eyes were smiling in triumph, though his mouth remained still.

He skittered on down the path while I picked up what was left of my ego and hobbled back down the trail.

Tomorrow it’s the flat path for me.

Love, Marla