On a cool summer day,a bunch of us in the family were hiking on a wooded parcel of land that belongs to my parents. Hiking with my extended family is really an aimless wandering, with no destination and no trails to follow. We stop often to rest on rocks covered with pine needles or thick beds of spongy moss, everyone sprawled on the ground while a toddler ties his sneaker for the hundredth time or a hungry baby gets breastfed. Boy in Black was just a little kid, and I remember that he was carrying a wooden stick that he kept using as some kind of weapon against an imaginary foe. My father and I were looking for a boundary marker we'd put on a tree years ago, but we wandered way off course and soon were pleasantly lost.
When the younger kids started acting tired, whining and begging to be carried, we decided it was time to head back in the direction of the vehicles we'd left parked on the road. We'd eaten the oranges we carried with us so it was time to go back to camp for lunch and perhaps a swim. My father and I were arguing about which direction we should take – he and I can argue about anything – when Boy in Black interrupted: "I know which way to go."
We looked at the kindergarten kid doubtfully, but he seemed confident. I shrugged and tucked the baby I was nursing into my sling, my father hoisted a toddler onto his back, and we set off following Boy in Black.
I couldn’t really make sense of his path. I would have followed the line of rock ledges, or gone along the edge of the pine forest. He cut straight through everything, ducking under tree limbs, practically crawling through bushes, walking straight through patches of poison ivy. Every once in a while, he would pause for just a moment, as if he were listening intently.
My father and I looked at each other in amazement. Boy in Black was heading in the right direction, taking us straight back to the road. We already knew the kid was smart – he could do math better than any kid his age – but could it be that he had some kind of super tracking sense? It was uncanny how confident he was, how sure of himself. We traipsed after him, an assorted group of adults, children, and babies, all following the little boy in the black t-shirt and black zip-off pants as he scrambled over rocks and through groves of trees.
By the time we reached the road, we had figured out his secret tracking method. He wasn’t using the sun, or the prevailing wind, or any sort of intuition. He was listening for the sound of the highway which ran parallel to the road our vehicles were parked on, following the faint buzz of traffic that hummed in the distance.