Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Falls in the Fall - Part 3

Part 3

This is the third part of a four-part series.  Click here to start from the beginning.

Someone had carved their proclamation of love in this sidewalk section just four months ago.  This kind of thing used to be almost a rite of passage for the rebellious teen, lauded in movies and books to the point of being cliché.  But here, this stand-alone town often overlooked in the shadow of Louisville, I find it terribly endearing.  

Looks like business isn’t too good at this old school board building, with just two offices advertising locations here.  The building is an old school board building built in 1925; as there’s no doubt a school board office elsewhere now, what with school still existing and all, I’m curious what the impetus was for them leaving the building purpose built for them.  It’s also possible that, instead of a school board building, it was itself a school, christened by the board, more or less. 

How’d I know it was built in 1925?  I’m psychic, you see.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

This is typical of Christmas decoration trends in the suburban places in Louisville and throughout Kentucky.  Turns out a half-mile of westerly flowing water doesn’t wash away the trend here in Hoosierland.  Unless you have a swath of disposable income you’re willing to spend on string lights, plastic figurines and utility bills, most people have a smattering of Christmas decorations accrued in years past from family, friends, yard sales, trash piles, and yes, intentional purchase. 

Our own collection of seasonal décor is largely inherited; reconciling what works together and what we’ve just bought is a challenge for every home decorator.  But some, with good reason, believe that all themed items, regardless of age, working order, or matching patterns, are appropriate for Christmas.  In the end, we’re all just celebrating a season, right?

After two hours of walking (and two weeks of reading,) we’re finally at the Falls!  While I’m sure I’d been here in years past, potentially multiple times, this unceremonious entrance to the state park was not familiar at all.  The road ended, and this cordoned path began.

I’m sure I’ll say this many times across these journeys, but telephone poles and the wires that cross them will be a quintessentially American fixture in my mind.  No neighborhood, back alley, or street corner is complete, in my mind, without them.  Comically included in many popular artistic depictions of these mundane infrastructural components, a pair of shoes was dangling from the lines, tied and chucked by a loving friend or stranger of the victim. 

In this case, it appears there were two victims, or one particularly unlucky single victim, as there are two different kinds of shoes suspended from the line: a right-footed boot and a left-footed sneaker.  We’ll just hope they were old and worn out.  Heaven knows my mother would have just as quick done this with an old pair of shoes I’d be flapping around in if she’d had the chance.

After climbing a pair of chicanes, I emerged on the top of an open ridge flanked on both sides by grassy green space.  Not a moment after mounting the ridge, a church’s distant bells began to chime 3:00.  I checked my phone to confirm the time, and after the Westminster chime had played, a hymn began.  It was “How Great Thou Art,” a traditional hymn sung within Methodist and Baptist congregations written by the long deceased.  As I caught my breath, a sung a couple bars of the song to myself, marching north along the road until, several moments later, the hymn’s last notes dissolved like a sugar cube in the atmosphere.

Certainly added as an additional way to release pressure when the rivers and creeks overflowed, this would delay the output of water when floods threatened the area, these particular pipes have long been sealed and most likely act as markers for runners and joggers, noting their place along the park’s length.

As I swung northwest as far as my time would let me, I followed the path, assuming I’d eventually end up in New Albany given enough steps.  Despite looking at a map while planning the walk, I wasn’t too familiar with my relative positioning based on the towns and landmarks around the park.  For all I knew, I was going to stumble upon downtown New Albany just around the corner.

The slope was gentle and wide; whenever I see a hill that fits such a profile, I just think about snow sledding.  This hill fits three out of the four criteria for good sledding: gentle, long, and free of obstructions.  The fourth criteria, rollout space at the bottom, however, was severely lacking.  You’d have to jam the brakes pretty hard to not end up careening into the spiky, dry forest at 25 miles an hour.

Down in the trough, a lone walker was making his or her way along the rough track cut by vehicles or manually to allow a safe, level walk free of precipitous missteps. 

When originally turning back to follow the path through the park with the boys and the dad and the Hunger Games, this was the cross street I passed.  Arlington was my northernmost point of travel today, and it would mark my turnaround point.  The path continued around the corner farther, but with the day aging and no idea when I’d need to be back at home, I about-faced, deciding I’d have enough time to still explore if the opportunity arose, hugging the park until I arrived at the Clark Memorial Bridge.

Turns out, the opportunity was happening right now.  I turned around and realized that the slope’s strength had declined significantly enough for me to descend and approach the shore without serious risk of faceplanting.  I ambled down the incline to an almost prescribed clearning and made my way through the dry, dormant trees to the shore.

With hardly any trouble, the river was in sight.  While it was easy to get a glimpse, getting down to the water might be a trick.  As it was, the flat area that contained the forest was elevated by probably twelve or fifteen feet from shore level quite drastically by a glaring, unforgiving cliff.  Obviously, there were no stairs; I’d wandered off the path, and they couldn’t anticipate my need.  I wanted to get to the rocky shore itself, though.  I’d come so far.  There were three options.


The subtitle of that option was my left brain.  It’s the smart half.

Option 2: Turn around.

Yeah, that sounds like fun.

Option 3: Find a way to climb down and hope there’s a way back up.

Now that’s more like it.

As I faced my quandary, a passerby who had chosen either the first or third option strolled by.  He waved and greeted me, and I returned the same.  The man was at a distance, but he appeared to be in his early fifties, a local, and ready to talk.  He asked if it was mine, gesturing down to below where I was standing.

Studying my current footing, I realized I was standing on the roof of a makeshift domicile, complete with tent, campfire, and personal effects.  The roof was made of a combination of plywood sheets and the rootball of a large tree whose birthing earth had been eroded by high water levels for dozens of years, perhaps most powerfully seventeen years ago.  All that was left of the roots was the ball-shaped mass that anchored itself against the cliffside.   

Regardless, the home was surprisingly effective.

I told the man it was not mine; he said he’ come down here since he was a kid and he frequently saw squatters set up camp here, especially runaways.  He’d admitted to doing it himself many years ago.  We maintained a long distance conversation about the area and the weather for upwards of a minute, and after a relative lull, he bid me a good day.  He turned around and returned from whence he came, and a moment later, I was alone in the quiet breeze, dilemma still unsolved.

I had to get to shore.  I wasn’t just going to turn around.  But how?  If these two photos provide any scale, that ground was too far to jump down, so I’d need to lower myself enough to not break an ankle when I finally let go.  For some insane reason, I stepped out ever so carefully onto the ramshackle roof, twisted, dry branches and all.

With every step, I felt something that my wife described to me perfectly several weeks later; my age.  In attempting to cross a log for a geocache, she realized her balance was not what it once was.  For me, this situation amplified my already poor balance and coordination by an order of magnitude.  My whole body was low to the roof, but I tried to remain as silent as possible.  I mean, what if there were someone home down there?  Maybe they had a gun?   Was I dead?  Is it too late to go back?

Foolishly Fearlessly, I scuffled along the top until I could reach the tree’s trunk.  I lowered my legs over the makeshift home’s awning, slid my back along the log’s rough edges until my arms couldn’t support my weight, and I jumped.

Now, I don’t know if you used to climb trees and jump from large heights as a kid like I did.  I would be known to take two or three stairs at a time when dismounting, with my personal record being eight steps with the help of a railing, and six without.  When practicing the ancient art of jumping down from a height, there is a microscopic moment in the fall when you expect to hit the ground and, when you don’t, you mentally freak the geek out.  I crossed that threshold about a tenth of a second before contacting the uneven ground, I feel forward, grunted and stumbled to a knee, sliding along the fallen leaves.  I swiveled around to catch the eye of what I would assume to have been a very angry squatter, .22 in hand and evil in his clouded eye.

Truly, though, the river was the only noise I heard besides my own heavy breathing.  My hand hurt a lot, as I had used it to break my fall and it had sustained several minor cuts.  My ankle felt rubbery, but I could stand on it.  Walking back up to the point of jumping, it was a bit higher than I thought, but still not high enough to complain about.  I was just getting older; the last time I had done that, I had a decade less years and fifty less pounds to carry.  Things change, but it’s still fun to do it.

Elated with my successful descent, I hustled to the smoothed, rocky shore of the Ohio and peered upstream at the city in the distance.

I took an honest seat, and I stared out at the river, listening to the splashing and undulating of our city’s livelihood.

I sat there for probably ten minutes before moving, watching a boat coast by and listening to the sound of the locks in the distance open and close.  As I was attempting to reach nirvana, a 737 came roaring overhead.  Less than a minute later, another one came rushing in, then two more jets, all within the span of two minutes.  A sky filled with four low-flying jets, all bound for SDF, perhaps six or seven miles away.  Two Southwest jets, the 737s, were flying in from Phoenix and Chicago, my FlightAware app told me.  The other two, an American Eagle Embraer and a Delta MD-series jet, were coming from Dallas and Minneapolis, respectively.  I watched them for a minute as they lined up over downtown for their respective runways and disappeared from sight. 

As I stood to leave, I noticed the rocks and pebbles scattered on the ground behind me.  Now, I love to skip rocks.  It’s not really something I did as a kid.  As I kid, I just threw them; no, the art of skipping didn’t come to me until my college years, and it’s such a simple, fun way to enjoy a body of water.  Most of the time when you’re by a riverbed, there’s a handful of small, roughly spherical pebbles lying around.  Occasionally you’ll find a fairly smooth long one, and that’s often the best you get.  For skipping rocks, you want lots of flat surface area, you want smoothness, and you want enough weight for it to carry the energy you put into it. 

The shore was littered with rocks that perfectly fit this description.  I scooped up a handful gleefully and began skipping them like a pro.  Some were so aerodynamic that they’d actually turn before striking the water at an odd angle.  Others sailed like a dream, granting several excellent hops before running out of momentum fifty or sixty feet from shore.  Sadly, some were too slippery, or my pitching mound was too slippery, to be effective tosses.

On my right, a brilliantly-colored pool of what I presume was algae bubbled and flowed along the rockface.  In no way do these photos accurately capture the vivid, coppery color of the rock.  It’s one of my favorite colors; I’d love to drive a car or own a statement piece of furniture blazoned with that mighty hue.  It was a color you rarely find outside of a lab, but here it was, right in the middle of a state park.

It was almost four.  Time to head home.


Although I missed last Wednesday, you can expect an update every Wednesday.  Next week I'll share the final installment of this trip and tell you what's on tap for 2015!  Merry Christmas!

Keep going -


No comments:

Post a Comment