I grew up at the foot of Bull Run Mountain in what used to be a quiet corner of Prince William County Virginia. Only minutes from quaint villages like Middleburg, and The Plains, my parents chose to build a house and raise their family on a piece of land so unspoiled and so pristine, that I often imagined while walking in our woods, that I had been the first to travel there.

In addition to neighborhood kids, we considered the deer, snakes, rabbits, fox, and other animals our childhood playmates. On more than one occasion, my twin brother and I would bring the bones of some animal we found, or remnants of a snake found lifeless in the grass to show and tell at school.

Summer started when the fire flies arrived and the wild blackberries by the woods’ edge grew large and plump, tart but perfect. Many days we would explore our woods. Others, we would play wiffle ball until our bare feet were green and calloused or swim until our hands were like raisins.

Although I have not lived in this corner of the world for many years, I have long mourned the region’s extensive growth and constant building. What used to be cattle and horse farms are now house farms as far as one can see. Acres and acres of forest have been cut for new roads, stores, parking lots, more stores and homes.

Because it has long been painful to see these precious places destroyed, I have not been back to the area with any frequency. This weekend however, I returned to celebrate the marriage of my oldest and first friend. Now in her late 20’s, she decided to have the ceremony in the backyard of the home where she grew up, across the woods from our home.

As the evening heat pressed down on us and the hydrangeas bright and bold waved at the bride and groom saying their vows, I wondered to myself how many times we had played dress up and/or wedding in her basement? How many dinners had I eaten on this porch? How many times had we wandered around the woods looking for treasure? Although my family had moved many states away 15 years ago, this house, the house I grew up in yards away, and the people who once lived here with us, had been home.

There are many of us who grew up in areas that no longer exist as we knew them. I would venture to say anyone who was raised outside major cities 20 years ago, cannot return home to the streets and neighborhoods that used seem peaceful, serene.

Although I understand that growth requires change, I prefer to think of Mountain Road, Waterfall Road, Route 15 as they used to be.  So rather than watch as we drive by the landmarks of my childhood,  I chose to close my eyes and imagine light colored lean deer standing in the driveway on summer evenings, or the sky lit up as fire flies dance above the persimmons, oaks and maples.

In my mind, Prince William County still smells of damp mountain air and has small family farms across the land. In my mind kids still get to explore in the woods for hours and hours, imagining they are the first to ever climb this tree or discover this flower. In my mind, that corner of the world is still untouched.

So while many of us can’t go home again, at least we can be grateful for what it used to be and keep those memories close. We can be grateful for blessings we enjoyed and hope that future generations will be as nurtured by the natural landscape as we had been.