Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thursday July 13, 2006

Today I went to the upper falls, to a trail accessed through a hole in a chain link fence. The trail ran down a narrow grade for a very short while before coming to a cliff-top overview of the lower part of Glen Park. I’d been here once before, and then only briefly, around sunset, and I’d come back to explore the little path that run along the cliff face to the south of the overview. The last time I was here, I saw a heron sitting on the peninsula down by the river, but he wasn’t there today.

I went through the dense foliage and made my way down the path along the cliff. It was necessary to use hands to grab tree trunks and vines and roots that protruded from the cliff face to keep balance. As was the case with most of these narrow paths, the footing was loose and treacherous and required focus. But that is what I love so much about these paths…they allow you to slip into a zone and let your instincts and intuitions carry you; something that most people never ordinarily find the time to do. As a result, they start to lose touch with whom and what they are, and then start to feel ambivalent, uncomfortable, or even rigorously opposed to the situation when it does come up in their lives.

The narrow path traced down the cliff face, and then switched back where it came to a street water runoff. The runoff area of the cliff was not nearly as steep as the rest of the cliff…it had probably been erodes for some time by the water. The area also had a bunch of concrete poured down its face, cementing all the rocks and trees in place; to prevent further erosion, I suspect. I switched back with the path, which required me to lower myself down off of a huge limestone slab down to a small grouping of small pieces of limestone jutting out of the cliff some two or three feet below. The vines growing on the cliff face were a big help. I tested the stability of the limestone below gently with my foot. Luckily, they were solid; otherwise, I’d have been left hanging with quite a struggle on my hands to get back up to the big slab.

The switchback part of the path was just as treacherous as the first part, maybe even a little more so, but it was also farther down the face of the cliff, so the possibility of a slip and fall didn’t seem quite so harrowing. Finally, I made it to the path’s end: a little cove in the cliff was cut out by the waterfall, and above that peaceful little pool, a cave was carved out of the limestone, big enough for maybe two people to crouch in somewhat uncomfortably.

I sat down on a rock that faced the cave. The discovery of this neat little area would have brought me a lot of joy in the past, but now, it failed to move me. I began to wonder if maybe Katie had ruined the woods for me. The silence and solitude I once found so comforting and liberating is now where I am most tormented. She is everywhere…I can’t look at the Swinging Bridge, or the river, or hear the crickets and toads at night without thinking of her. Everything momentary simple pleasure I experience is crushed under the weight her memory brings. I suppose that’s the trouble with being friends with someone with whom you have so much in common...they haunt you everywhere when they are gone. She isn’t just always in my thoughts; she’s become a prism through which I view the world.

I sat facing the back of that cave for a while, emulating Dogen, the Zen master, but I found no peace despite the tranquil setting, and eventually I got up and left. I climbed down to the river bank and crossed the river on a series of rocks sticking out of a shallow part. I walked a cross the island in the river and crossed over rocks at another shallow point, and jumped up onto the west bank of the river, where I was faced with another near sheer cliff face. This cliff also had some paths that traced their way across it, and I climbed one that brought me underneath the Swinging Bridge.

This was a place where teenagers would come at night, and the place was littered with bottles and cans, candy wrappers and empty cigarette packs. It is so hard to see things like this, to see our greatest natural resource treated so callously, and it saps the hope in me.

I sat down and watched the river flow. Under the bridge, the river narrows and encounters many rocks, and gets a little noisy, but in a very calming way. My mind wandered and, as usual, found its way to my dead friend.

Before she died, life to me was like a daytime sky, with clouds, the sun, the moon, and birds; everything easily identifiable and sure. Now it was like the sky at night, with too many stars to count and an overwhelming infinity to it. The last time I saw her alive we talked about the stars…

Tears began to well up again. That is one thing I am certainly grateful to Katie for; she taught me how to cry. Before she died, I hadn’t cried in about 25 years. I wanted to, but something in my psyche wouldn’t let me. Pride, I guess, or machismo…maybe shame or fear. Lately, however, I cried all the time, and it really did help me.

I smiled a little at that. I began thinking now of the good times we’d had, about how funny she was.

“What do you call a black guy who flies a plane?” she asked one day.

“Umm,” I replied, racking my brain for an answer. I knew the correct answer would be funny, but certainly not racist, as she was far too intelligent and sweet a person to be base or mean. What could it be? I thought. I wanted to show her how clever I was.

“A pilot, you racist!” she interrupted, smiling devilishly. I laughed. She was a great person and a great friend.

I thought about the papers and pictures she’d left behind, that Sy had rescued from being deleted. I’d read all of her papers save one, a paper entitled “Aesthetics”. I would very much like to know her thoughts on the subject, as she was so intelligent and also a great artist, but I cannot bring myself to read that paper. I don’t think I ever will. As long as I have that paper, I still have one last new interaction with her. I feel as though once I read it, that will be the true end of my communication with her, and that causes me a great deal of mental anguish.

Footsteps on the bridge, followed immediately by the noon whistle, brought me back to the present. With a sigh, I gathered up my thoughts and stood. I retraced my route, finding the climbing of the steep cliff paths a bit easier than the descent. One of the rocks I stepped on to cross the river was a little wobbly, and I ended up having to leave the stone and stamp my foot clumsily in the river to avoid completely falling in. I took off my shoe, wrung out my sock, and continued on my way.

Up on top of the cliff by the hole in the fence where I had first entered, I looked down. A tall, thin tree grew up over the cliff top; it was hard to believe it was the same tree that looked not so very impressive from down by the cove.


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