Topography of the Heart
As a child in Greensboro, North Carolina, I loved the secret places beyond the lawns where
birds nested, where they chirruped and scratched in the leaves and sat on their speckled eggs.
I discovered these mossy nooks because my mother frequently locked me out of the house.
This is not as bad as it sounds. I’m grateful that I had the freedom to wander outdoors alone or
with friends. If life is a journey, it’s good to know about the dark woods and the ditches early on.
Later I studied in London, living alone in a working-class neighborhood north of Kentish Town.
In the street below my window, neighborhood children played until teatime. They, too, were
locked out. At dusk, the “tellies” began to wink behind lace curtains and mothers called to their
I suspect these outdoor kids came to love that particular scrap of London as much as my friends
and I loved our patch of woods in North Carolina. We would find better places, though never a
place so real.
“Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay outdoors,” Henry David
Thoreau wrote, “even in wet and cold.”