Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Falls in the Fall - Part 4

Part 4

This is the final part of a four-part series.  To start from the beginning, click here.

My trip was about all finished, but I wasn’t in a hurry.  I retreated from the edge of the water, leaving the puddle of radioactive waste and my prime skipping rocks behind. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this when you wander through the forest during autumn, but it’s a totally different experience than during the warmer months.  You can see a lot farther, for one thing, so the backdrop muddles together a lot more in the distance.  Moving is generally easier for the same reason; no leaf-laden branches and surprise thickets to impede you.  The sound, though is probably the most fascinating difference.

In the spring, when a breeze comes up, and especially when a storm is coming, you hear a cacophony of leaves rubbing together, making that deafening, but somehow also relaxing, sound of leaves brushing together.  In the fall and winter, though, when the trees have forfeited their protective layers, they rattle together like bones.  It reminds you that, in the end, you’re just visiting some big, upright sticks.  The wind cuts right through, making you feel exposed, even when you’ve gone far off the path. 

I could see the green hill from which I came through the branches, even from the other side of the linear wood.  On the other side, the rough path I’d seen earlier bore me back towards the bridge to Kentucky.

Wait, what?

I checked my phone’s weather app; 65 degrees.  Somehow, despite being 33 degrees outside of its limits, this little snowpile endured.  I touched it to confirm its identity, and sure enough, it was cold and wet but surprisingly firm.  The exact combination of shadow, wind patterns, and sheer determination kept this little pile of snow alive.  Good job, snowpile. 

I finally reached the end of the dirt path, which had risen almost to the level of the elevated, paved path I’d taken to circumvent the Falls of the Ohio. 

This visitor center met me at the end of the road.  It’s fairly new, as I recall them talking about the renovations in the Courier-Journal a few years back.  I didn’t have to go in, but I’m sure it would have told me more about the reason the Falls of the Ohio are both naturally and historically significant.

Thankfully, this artfully crafted hunk of bronze gave me a hint.  Apparently, the famous Lewis and Clark expedition convened here; though the visitors’ center might not say it, the legendary expedition did not “start the clock” here.  That would be some 250 miles west of here, just north of modern-day St. Louis.  Lewis and Clark were some of the first white people to move west across the land to the Pacific shore, and their expedition helped pave the way for America’s western expansion.  Mind you, someone was already there, but that’s a story for another time.

The statue’s faces were kind of creepy, but I suppose you’re not supposed to look at them that closely anyway.

Exercise and education!  It’s probably for the best.  My entire knowledge of Lewis and Clark can be summarized from their spurious appearance in a cinematic oeuvre of great import.

There was a vehicular road and a sidewalk that ran concurrently east of the center, so I kept to the skinnier of the two and pressed on.

With as far down as the shore was, I suppose the path I’d used had taken me up rather than coming down to me.  The little dots of people down there were enjoying the nice weather, but some were actually looking for something.  It wasn’t loose pop cans, a lost cell phone, or a washed up bit of ambergris.  No, they were looking for fossils.

It appears that this region is more widely known for its paleontological value more than its chance meeting between two in a long line of explorers.  The flat shore, which has been slowly eroded away, is home to fossils of all shapes and sizes, presumably washed onto the shore and buried over millions of years.  It seems that the park’s geography is a perfect breeding ground for historical evidence pile-ups. 

Fossils are really, really old.  I mean, I get excited when I find a ten-year-old piece of trash on the side of the road.  These fossils are several orders of magnitude older.  One day eons ago, those bones were moving, those shells housed a living creature, and those teeth were seeking out anything else to bury themselves in.  You can literally hold history in your hand.

As fun as it’d be to find a fossil, the plethora of signs announcing a strict rejection of the “finders keepers” rule made the prospect a bit less exciting.  Besides, I’ll let those kids down there find ‘em.

This is the Fourteenth Street Bridge, another of Louisville's many crossings of the Ohio, but one very few humans actually cross.  The Big Four Bridge is old, but the Fourteenth Street Bridge was already an antique in the former bridge’s heyday.  This thing was built three years after the Civil War ended and is still being used today.  It only carries rail and very brave human traffic, but don’t think I didn’t consider how to get up there.  There was a hill that led right to it and everything.

If you can’t read the bold, red sign, it says: 

“Danger: Leave Fossil Beds When You Hear Siren
“Water Subject to Sudden Rise and Turbulence When Gates Open”

You see, the large concrete retainers on the left are part of the Louisville locks system, allowing ships to move down safely through a series of water tanks that adjust the elevation of the water to allow large ships to bypass the otherwise impassable Falls.  When I was younger, my dad would take me to the locks on the Kentucky side just to watch the ships come in, the water to flood out onto the spillways, and the emergence of the vessel on the other side of the dock several dozen feet lower.

This is what the Falls look like now, a trickle of what I’m sure they used to be, and controllable, no less.  I went down a dirt path to the edge, as close as I could get, just to listen to the calming, rushing water.  No matter how you manipulate the water itself, the sound is the same.

Technically speaking, from the Fourteenth Street Bridge eastward, the rest of the park was city property.  A large, green embankment sat on the north side of the road, so I climbed up it and walked along it to see what was on the other side.

Turns out it wasn’t much the average pedestrian would be interested in seeing.

These rusted, industrial tanks held some unknown matter, and further research turned up nothing, except that they didn’t want you to know what’s in them. 

Maybe it’s Coca-Cola’s secret mixture, or KFC’s “offshore” stockpiles of its signature herbs and spices.  Maybe it’s sarin.  Either way, they looked cool.

There’s the Colgate clock!  If you’ve fallen asleep on a familiar south-to-north road trip, you could wake up, see the Colgate clock and know exactly where you are.

I’d been walking along this ridge for a couple minutes, moving my feet involuntarily to stay on clean grass.  Wait, clean grass?  Yeah, it appears this ridge is a popular hangout for the local geese gaggles.  Fun fact: did you know a group of geese on the ground are called a gaggle, but in the air they’re called a skein?  Like a skein of fabric, I guess.  Anyway, their, uh, post-consumer meal remnants were scattered all over the top of the ridge.  Like, all over. Every step was an obstacle course.

At the end of the ridge, the western tip of the Jeffersonville levee abutted with the shaped earth, and I briefly considered walking along the narrow, concrete top of the levee.  I dunno, though, I ain’t no Ezio.  Instead, I clumsily ambled down the natural hill to the park below.

Aww, wedding pictures!  When I took this walk, my wife and I had just celebrated our five-year anniversary.  This young couple had a great day for pictures, and I’m glad they did; planning a November wedding with anything outside can be a crapshoot in Louisville.  Luckily, the dice came up right for them.  It was a bit windy, but you’ll take 60-degree weather in November however you can get it.

There’s our city.  I’ve spent the majority of my life there, and there it is in its late-afternoon pallor.  In fact today had been kind of a wild day for weather.  The clouds were racing across the sky so fast that the sun would be completely obscured or overt five minutes apart from each other.

With the Second Street Bridge in sight, I walked the last, uneventful blocks along the edge of the levee.  It was at this point that my wife’s camera, burdened by my itchy shutter finger, filled up its small memory card.  It had already been nearly full when I left, I came to find out, but I took a moment and cleared maybe 20-30 duplicate pictures to make room for the last half an hour.

Now, the Second Street Bridge is –


Well, never mind.

Disappointed at the foiling of one portion of my plan and the lack of a backup plan to get across a different way, I resigned myself to go back the way I came and cross the Big Four again.

As stated earlier, construction is a perennial sign of progress in Louisville, as it always seems you’re being rerouted one way or the other, or the roadbed has been ripped up to the point where you might as well be driving (or in this case, walking) over gravel. On the other side of the underpass, I considered a drink at the gas station and declined in the interest of time.

I have seen this sign many times before, and for the life of me, I still don’t know what a jake brake is.  I have never seen a sign like this anywhere else in the world.  From my days of interest in street racing and modified cars, I figured it had something to do with J-turning, which is where you drive in reverse, swing the wheel hard, give it enough gas to keep from stalling and hold the turn until you’ve made a 180 degree turn and are facing the direction in which you were originally reversing.  In my mind, I think that should always be illegal.  The adding of the “brake” part made me think it was just doing that but using the E-brake instead of the application of steering input and throttle.

I was tired of my ignorance, so I looked it up.  Jake braking, it turns out, is a mechanism in diesel engine that allows for efficient engine braking.  As a stick-shift driver, I brake with my engine all the time, both to save my brakes and out of laziness. Engine breaking is usually reduced or absent in a lot of modern automatic transmissions, as they often don’t bog down the engine when you’re not giving it any gas.  But jake braking is apparently a more purpose-built way to do it, and I assume it is particularly loud, hence why you can’t do it after six.  My guess is that’s the descending roar you hear from some semis when they slow down, especially on a downward incline.  Either way, don’t do it after hours; I’m sure it’d be a weird ticket to receive.

I turned down Pearl Street from Court, looking to cover the chunk of the street I’d missed by detouring off it on the outbound leg.  Not two houses in, a cat greeted me on the well-decorated porch of a local resident.

A handsome resident.  The cat, I mean.  No idea about the bloke or dame who lived inside.  Cats are funny porch-dwellers; they watch you like a person would, but they never say anything.  In fact, you can walk up to them without getting funny looks.  Not like I did that.

The next house over bore an intriguing warning emblazoned on its boarded-up door.

It amazes me that there are still folks who rummage through old houses for the copper wires, fittings, and pipes that fill the walls.  Not that I’d condone it at all, but defacing pennies just seems easier.  The thing I find most interesting about this sign is it could just as easily be for one potential extractor as it could be for the other.  It could be to deter scavengers, yes, but it could also be for the builders, who could legally forage the copper out of the walls before demolishing it.  Either way, there’s nothing here of interest to either of them. 

The men who were working in the obelisk in Big Four Station Park were no longer there, and I rounded the long walkway up to the Big Four’s deck. 

The walk back across was still breezy; the guitar man was still jamming, and his bucket looked much more filled than it did earlier.  I emerged on the other side, and the couples of the evening had started to come out for a walk; people of all ages, but the number of high schoolers surprised me.  When I was growing up in Louisville, there were several known places you could more or less loiter: Bardstown Road, a mall, some of the more interesting parks.  It’s nice to know that there’s another place to add to the list.

We’ve got as many skyscrapers as we did when I was a kid, so the skyline is a very nostalgic look.  I’d recognize ours in a heartbeat just from the profile.  The building with the rounded top is Kentucky's tallest building.  For most of my youth, I remember they called it the Providian Tower, then AEGON bought it, but I don’t even think they’re there anymore. 

I like our city.

I like America.

The walk went about ninety minutes long, but I had a great time, and I got lots of steps in.  It just seemed wrong to such a nice November day go by without enjoying it.  That was something my father always said, “you don’t get these kinds of days all the time.”  He’s probably right.


Thank you for following me on this fun and winding journey!

Miles By Foot is concluding its first year, and although staccato at the start, I have every week planned for the coming year, and I’ll be travelling to places besides Louisville, and I want to bring you with me.

January will feature a walk I completed before this one, if you could believe it, but it was really a great time, and travelers, walkers, or both will find it interesting.  It's the first I did that required real out-of-state travel, and getting there and back was half the fun!

I hope these pictures inspire you to get out and explore the world right outside.  There’s so much to see!

Keep going –


No comments:

Post a Comment