Saturday, July 29, 2006

Monday, July 3

This morning I decided to explore Mound Park, which is a well-hidden system of trails just off of Hoffman Park. I walked up the lattice-work, paver block entrance, past the gate, and up the shallow grade of the path. I had traveled this path once before, as I walked west past the cemetery on the trails behind Hoffman Park. Before I got too far, a north-bound trail broke off from the main east-west path, and I chose to explore the unknown rather than continue towards the paths behind Hoffman that I already knew.

It wasn’t long before the path broke back towards the west, but up higher on the hill, about thirty feet above the entrance trail. As I walked, I noticed that it appeared to trace a path around the mountain, which I suppose is more of a very big hill (or mound, if you will) than a mountain. Walking along, I saw another path break north, this one straight up the steepest part of the hill, up towards some exposed sandstone on a ridge near the hilltop. I was tempted to head right up, but figured that I’d just explore it on my way back from wherever this path was taking me.

Soon, I heard the roar of machinery, and through the dense summer growth, I could see the industrial park, which I did not realize was so close. Almost as soon as I realized where I was, the smell of the garbage dump blew in with a strong gust of wind and nearly made me vomit, out of disgust at both the smell itself and at the notion that a major part of this trail system was rendered useless as a result of poor planning. How can one enjoy nature with the constant assault on the senses and sensibilities?

I jogged to set out of the stench, but soon realized that this only made matters worse because I had to gulp down the foul air I was trying to avoid. To make matters worse, I had to run up a steep hill, my lungs requiring even more oxygen than normal running would demand. Eventually, I pulled my shirt up over my nose and mouth to act as a filter, which actually worked pretty well.

The wind had begun to whip pretty furiously now, with trees bending mightily, to the point that I began to worry about them snapping and falling on me. Katie popped into my head again, as she did on at least an hourly basis, and I thought about how much easier it would have been to accept her death as the result of an accident, as opposed to suicide…news of her dying as a result of having a tree fall on her would have been much easier to swallow, I think.

Just this morning, before I came out for my walk, I heard a story on public radio, one that mentioned the suicide of a photojournalist. Apparently, he had seen such horrors in the course of his work; wars, starvation, disease, and the like; and it all weighed on him so much that his work didn’t seem to be making the world any better off. At least that was the Cliff’s Notes version of his story…as the commenter had said, “suicide is always complicated.”

It was the first time since I heard news of Katie that I’d heard suicide discussed in a public forum, and it stung just to hear the word. “Suicide”…far too small a word to contain the swirling tempest of emotions it conjures up. I was now finally to the point where I could get through the day with little to no crying…well, never no crying, but the decreasing amount of crying engendered a sort of guilt; like I was letting her memory go. What would it mean if, a few scant weeks afterwards, we were all well on our way to moving past all this? It seemed like turning my back on her, like I was belittling her profound significance. If we all just got on fine without her, how are we to argue that what she did was really so wrong?

As I continued uphill, more questions swarmed in my head. Upon examining them, I realized they had been buzzing around, not yet intelligibly formed, inside of me for some time now: Why is it that news that was so devastating just a week ago now seemed almost matter of fact? Does time heal all wounds? Do we accept what we cannot change and adjust? Or do we just go numb?

As I crested the steep path, I was faced with the choice of continuing to the left or to the right; I chose right. About fifty feet down the path, I saw a little lean-to constructed of plywood, some sort of meager shelter for when the weather got too much. Standing by the lean-to, I looked to the west and saw a huge round concrete building. There were many pipes sticking out of the top of the structure, painted sky-blue, and it was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Little worn trails ran along the fence, but I decided not to explore those just yet, and instead headed east, wondering if maybe these trails connected with the trails about Hoffman Park.

As it turns out, they did. It occurred to me that the trail system that I had always assumed to be a part of Hoffman was, in fact, actually Mound Park, and that Hoffman was actually just the lower, open part with the playgrounds and ball fields and ice rinks. Names don’t matter much, I suppose, but it’s always a little weird when you find out that your labels are wrong.

Seeing as the wind was still very strong and it looked like rain clouds might be moving in, I decided to head back. My jog past the garbage dump was a little easier this time, as it was all downhill. The garbage smell was offensive, but upon reflection, it occurred to me that maybe it’s not such a very bad thing…I thought that maybe if we could all smell the garbage that produce, we wouldn’t make so much of it.

Soon I was back at the little path that broke off of the main trail and went up to the exposed sandstone. The path was steep and thin and littered with loose rocks, and I attacked it, trying to get up quickly, to let my momentum carry me up. Up on the ridge, I could still smell the garbage. It pissed me off no small amount to see this beautiful site ruined by the stench of our society. I was ready to go home now, feeling disgusted and helpless.

Then I noticed that a very small trail wound its way around a small gap in the sandstone, and, following it, I saw that the hill went up even higher. Now that I was really up on top of the hill, I noticed with relief that I couldn’t smell the garbage anymore, and I saw a lone wild rose growing out of the prairie grass.

Smiling, I turned and headed home.


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