by Sam Hopkins
I come from eastern Kansas, where my family has lived for at least some part of six generations, but that is not the place that I think I know best when it comes to the land and its patterns.
I know the mulberries will be ready to pick from the trees along Beech Ave. as school winds down for the summer. I know wineberries pop their ruby red about a week after the Fourth of July, guarded by poison ivy. I have searched for fabled barred owls only to find them when I stopped looking, as my eyes followed playful cardinals who led me to their supposedly wiser bird brethren. I could behold them as my nose took in smells from RoFo over the hill—I wouldn’t dare tell the owls it was the scent of crispy fowl.
I recently honeymooned in the Balkans. In the mountain valleys of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the geography that creates serenity in peacetime has also trapped souls during brutal wars. There in Europe, I thought of the creeks I heard called “cricks” where I grew up, and what arrowheads and critter bones lined them. I knew stories of migration and desperation, of the Dust Bowl and the search for water, and of rival Bleeding Kansas militias pursuing each other into those cricks. I am grateful that my journeys along the Stony Run valley with my family follow the peaceful paths of great blue herons, without fear.
Stony Run is full of stories told by nature and man. Maybe it would be part of a continuous expanse and unremarkable if the world were different—if mankind didn’t do such a damn good job of building, shaping, and taking the land as our own. But here it is, defined for us as an inheritance and responsibility. It keeps track of time throughout each year and across the centuries.
You may have met old men who played as boys in the park and heard their stories of running toward the Ma & Pa train tracks. You may have heard the laughs of bocce players on the upper Wyman Park field as young professionals get a sense of the place for the first time, in their own way. Hopefully you’ve heard and seen the Cub Scouts of Pack 151 playing—a unit renewed by parents whose kids hike and sled in the valley and which has grown to be the strongest in Baltimore City.
I no longer live along Stony Run, but my family has a bond to the water and the land around it, and we make a point to come back, hang out, and clean up regularly. The stream valley feels familiar and warm every time. With attachment to our natural spaces comes community, care, and a sense of patterns—what we can expect of our place on this planet, and what it can expect of us.