I have the window down anyway, because I'm pretty much stupid like that, but also because there's just something so, so refreshing about a breeze, about real air, no matter how chilly outside it is. It isn't so cold out yet that it takes my breath away, so I enjoy the season while I can - winter's coming, after all.
I'm driving. Specifically, I'm heading across a rickety old bridge just out of All American Park by the muddy Mississippi River, wandering with no real aim to Quinsippi Island. It's a place that has an odd, almost colonial feel to it, a place that screams to me in a way I can't begin to imagine. I hate bridges, but I'll cross this old piece of crap - what amounts to a VERY old rail bridge with wood slats placed over the tracks, with just enough room for a car to pass through with maybe five inches of clearance on either side - to get there.
I didn't dress right for this excursion. I'm at least wearing shoes, but no socks, and jeans with a t-shirt. Hardly appropriate for the kind of wandering I intend on doing, but I've thrown caution to the wind as it is. I want to be there; I need to be there. And once I'm across the bridge I head down that tiny road, made somehow into two lanes by a bit of yellow paint, and park next to some playground equipment. That isn't why I'm here, though; the boys are gone, one at daycare and the other at school. My being here is purely personal.
And almost right away, as I step out of the car and look around, taking in the sights (not much) and the sounds (animals), the place starts to scream.
It's not in a way I think most other people would hear. Admittedly, there isn't any real SOUND - it's feelings. It's thoughts, emotions, sounds that SHOULD be there, that were there thirty or forty years ago. The sounds of mechanical equipment, of the skyride that used to run from the island to the main part of Quincy. It's the noise of the rides and the smell of food and the sounds of families getting in one last visit on a nice afternoon before the island shuts down for the winter and the place goes silent. It's the distinct LACK of these noises that throws me off, even though they're things I've never heard before in this place. I wasn't alive when my mother worked over here, when there were concession stands and kids riding on things and people enjoying themselves. When it was more than a badly-upkept log cabin "village" and a marina. It's the exact lack of presence of things that I know existed here at one time that just DON'T now.
And it's admittedly very, very weird. I can hear these things, see them in my head, even though I can't even begin to imagine where they once were. It's unsettling in a way, because my mind insists they were here, and that I should be seeing, smelling, and hearing things that I can't and don't. Things that haven't been here since before I was born, things that won't be here again. Maybe it's better that way; it's hard to say.
There used to be more here. Even more than that, I know, it sounds weird - but it's true. There was a mini train depot, a ferris wheel, a round house, an auto museum, a souvenir shop, a carousel, and parking lots galore. There used to be SO MUCH. Now? Not really. Now it's a lot of silence.
And there's one part where if you walk toward a couple of restrooms - primitive things, with two stalls each and a small sink outside each - and then past them, you hit a plat of concrete. And it looks so damn out of place, sitting there, covered in leaves and dirt and dust, but when you look forward, you see.. Trees. Leaves, branches, grass, bushes. And one odd, out of place path that sticks out like a sore thumb.
That's where I'm heading.
Walking down that cleared out path is like heading back in time. It's a little muddy, but things have been cleared out well. At first, it's just me and the trees, which thanks to flooding off and on over the years and now thanks to drought are sparse enough that I can peek through them and see for some ways in whatever direction I please. I walk, and walk, and as I go down a small hill the trees clear out even more, becoming thinner and thinner. Occasionally one - giant in comparison to its kin - peers out, big enough that I might not be able to wrap my hands around it and have the tips of my fingers touch, but those are few and far between. Otherwise it's just mud and a bunch of trees that are so skinny they'd pass for bamboo.
Without warning, the land sinks in some.
It's sand, now, I realize as I glance down with concern. Though I have on sneakers, I can tell the difference in the terrain; it's vaguely slippery, and it's soft enough that it sort of feels like wearing cushy gel insoles. The sand here on the island is rather unique to riverbeds: gray, almost clay-like, and very fine. It catches me off guard enough the first time my foot comes down in it that I almost slide and fall, and boy, would I have felt like an idiot then. Now that I know what I'm walking on, though, it's easier. Besides, I can hear the water now, lapping furiously at the rather odd banks of the Muddy Mississippi.
As I continue forward, I can see the obvious signs of previous partying and potential gang activity, and silently thank my luck that I'm here during daylight. There are blue pieces of plastic tied to trees, guiding a wanderer off through the trees to another small clearing. No doubt if I followed them, I'd find myself half-lost among broken bottles, beer cans, and who knows what else - as it is, just by following the trail I'm seeing random bottles and other such signs of less-than-kosher human entertainment (including a thong used to tie a branch back; talk about creativity). Onward I go, and there, without warning, is the shore.
The shore itself varies considerably. In places it simply falls off from sand and some soil into the river; in others, it's moderately sandy. Still other places are nothing but rock, old limestone and contrasting huge slabs of square concrete that simply drag off into the water rather ungracefully. Everywhere there is wood of some kind; some piled up, obviously by human hands, and charred remains of campfires put out perhaps last night, or perhaps a week ago. There are huge trees and logs, felled by storms or floods, one of which I recognize as a log I sat on years and years ago with my then-boyfriend the last time I came out here. Then there's the driftwood, a term loosely used for the varying bits and pieces of wood that find their way back ashore from who knows where.
The water is almost painfully loud. The river's moving fast today, and the waves even moreso. It seems to fit the cold breeze, the atmosphere of the whole visit. It's pushing at my head, poking my brain, shoving me as though to say, "Time's moving. Time's moving. Faster, faster, faster."
Last time I was here was over a decade ago. Yet little has changed.
Last time all the things I see in my head were here was over three decades ago. Yet so, so much has changed.