Thursday, April 16, 2015
River of mystery
Last week I told you about my preferred, scenic walking route along the river and up over the pedestrian bridge, winding into the University campus. It's a route rich with secret nooks, graffiti, belligerent geese that make me slightly nervous, spirit turkeys hanging around to dispense wisdom, river wreckage, oddly friendly bald eagles, and mysterious hints of my city's history. A mudslide closed this route down a year ago and it preys on my mind. What's going on down there by the river? Has a wall of stone crumpled into the Mississippi? Does a mysterious West Bank medical building threaten to come crushing down the bluffs? Why is it taking so long to open this best of routes back up again?
Last week I told you a story about it, with aliens and avocados, because I needed some explanation. Now I'll tell you a plain story.
Today I threw caution to the wind and ventured through the barricades, past the skull and crossbones, between the razor wire, to see what I could find. Where the river road closes, and has been closed, for a year, I ventured on. Cat-killing curiosity took me over.
The first exciting revealment as I slipped into the no man's land was a vision of a post apocalypse city. The road was perfect and undisturbed. Everything lay in absolute readiness for people, and yet the people were all gone. I was inches from the heart of a major American city and yet walked through pristine abandonment alone.
The second thing was the graffiti. This was always a rich area for graffiti, but abandoned it had flourished. I had strong mixed feelings about this. I am a great fan of graffiti, and some of the pieces here were good, even very good. I've even started recognizing certain artists. But seeing some of these beautiful Civilian Conservation Corps stone walls along the river covered in paint seemed half a desecration and half an ingenious use of texture.
If I have a weakness or strength as an explorer it is in my loathing of turning around. I hate retracing my steps and can become quite imprudent in my quest to find a way through. So as I pressed on further and further along the forbidden gray riverside wasteland/wonderland I knew I would be more and more unwilling to not fight my way through. This sort of impulse tends to lead me to scrambling along cliffsides hanging on poison ivy to save myself a plummeting death. It leads me into dark caves and abandoned sewers, and has brought me to crawling on my belly getting torn apart by savage thorns.
You may be surprised to learn that these are things I do not normally enjoy. So as I neared the heart of the forbidden zone I was filled with some trepidation.
The first thing there I noticed was that the mudslide was kind of cleaned up. No great river bluff had gone tumbling into the mighty Mississippi, or maybe it had a little, but now it looked a lot more like the hillside had just sort of deflated.
The road was completely clear, so was the biking path. A small, very unused construction site sat in the middle of it all. It looked very, very, very safe to proceed. But for my protection there had been erected three heavy duty, carefully thorough lines of fencing to protect the site. On the river side they hung well out over the water to foil we intrepid interlopers. On the slope side the fence ran as far up the bluff as possible.
I was very irritated. But because the people of my city are generally sensible my solution was far less bad than a swim in the freezing river, or a crawl through a sewer. Explorers before me had worn a nice path up the hill along the fence and back down again, three times. I followed in the footsteps of others before me and was through. As is this story.