Wednesday, January 15, 2014
"California" by Jay Farrar
The following is excerpted from an as yet untitled book that I wrote about waterfalls. Another part that is in black is excerpted from Eureka, Nevada. It is the second of many parts about this same story, but I place them here since I will be going back there when the weather breaks for the snowier, colder, and icier.
I had been to California before in my time with the Air Force. When I was there in 1990, I was stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento for about two months of clinical training, and I spent my time doing trivial things like hanging out on base or going record and book shopping in Sacramento, which are the kinds of things that all too many young people do to divert their attention from being stuck somewhere before they get where they’re going.
Sadly, I can remember enjoying Old Sacramento when I went through it, but unfortunately, I have no pictures to remind me of the place that I went to. This seemed to be the way that I operated in my time before conscious adulthood.
To arrive at this base, I rode across the Southwest and up through Edwards Air Force Base with a guy named KM and a gal named AS. It was KM’s car, and it was his mission to salvage the distance of time and space in his marriage that occurred while he was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for Basic Training and Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, for medical training. Looking back on it now, I don’t remember why their marriage dissolved. He wasn’t fresh out of high school, so perhaps, he and his wife had always been together, and now she was able to sow her wild oats. Perhaps, she had other interested men in her life. It seemed to be a lot more tempting for military people to stray when they had a choice between average, good, better, and best. Not only that, it almost seemed like the Air Force condoned it with the way people would go out to find a hotel where they could hang out and drink beer all weekend while doing whatever else it was that they were going to do in those rooms during their time in tech school.
For better or for worse, I never got to experience that part of my life since I was never cool enough to hang out in circles with people who were all about doing that stuff.
I’m not sure how the three of us ever came together in that car. We sort of associated with one another since we were in the same class, so KM had reason to ask us if we wanted to drive with him. Driving there was a good choice because the other alternative was flying to California and doing work details until our group began actual training. Here, we learned that if we drove, we would have so many days off from work, even if they were just spent in a car.
In addition, we would be given gas money; however, KM’s stipulation was that we would have to surrender a large part of the money to him. Here, he reasoned that it was his car and we wouldn’t have gotten the money or the option to avoid work detail if it wasn’t for him, so I surrendered the money without thinking too much about it.
As far as an advantage to getting to Sacramento early, I couldn’t think of one. There was one guy that I got along with named JF, who was from Louisiana, who was in our group. We got along well enough, but he was more interested in chasing random women. In this, he seemed to be pretty good at always finding someone to rub up against. As a young guy, he would definitely be considered handsome and intriguing with his soft Southern drawl that used to accentuate his speech with phrases that ended in "like a bad dog." For instance, he would talk about how some girl was hot, and then he would comment that he wanted to have sex with her like a bad dog. The same phrase could be given for wanting to fight someone.
It definitely made more sense than the humping dog attitude that one of KM’s friends would have when he would comment on female beauty with phrases that begin with "uh, uh, uh… she is so hot or I want her so bad (or all of this pent up frustration coupled with masculine bonding is starting to drive me nuts… I need a girlfriend really quickly. I’m going to explode)!"
But as for me, I had absolutely no interest in staying at attention to the military lifestyle any longer than I had to when I could be sleeping in without an alarm clock or avoiding close contact with anyone that I didn’t have to. Thus, the choice was obvious.
By going on this ride with them, I also got to see the desert, though New Mexico was driven through at night. I’m not sure when I fell asleep, but it was somewhere between west Texas and New Mexico.
They sat in the front, while I rode with our stuff in the back. I’m not sure how, but we fit it all into his car, which if memory serves me correctly was an old school station wagon. I didn’t mind since I could be by myself and spread out. They would banter back and forth as his music played from the stereo. For him, everything at the time was late 80s Van Halen style rock and a mix of Bon Jovi, Extreme, and Poison style music. As a result, the seguing of "Why Can’t This Be Love," "Every Rose Has It’s Thorn," "More Than Words," and "Wanted Dead or Alive" seemed to blend into a mix of radio friendly guitars and grunts that reflected the maturing of man from primal teenage love god through to dedicated husband, unrequited lover, or fallible man looking to establish a new identity as something masculine and successful in a harsh and unforgiving world. Perhaps, he will drive his motorcycle through the dusty highways to arrive at her door. On his back, he will have his guitar to serenade her with the words that he never said when they were together. He will be open to his failures in everything that has brought him here, but it is his honesty that will help him rectify his wrongs and steer his ship back to the right place in time, which is somewhere naked with her.
And if he fails, there is always Great White to tell him that he is "Once Bitten, Twice Shy." This will lead into how "You Give Love a Bad Name," and how if you thought that you had me on your line, you should "Look What the Cat Dragged in." Things might get loud and angry with some Motley Crue, Guns ‘n Roses, and Skid Row, but that’s OK. There is angst for where life has left us, but it’s never too angry after someone cuts his hair and changes his tastes to ones that prefer a jean jacket that isn’t ripped while remembering high school days at the town fair.
As for me, I wanted to get that music out of the stereo altogether. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I listen to some of it now (tastes change, and we can’t stay young and angry forever), but at the time, I wanted my tapes in the cassette player. As soon as I could, I switched out his drivel for My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult’s Confessions of a Knife. The industrial dance music of late 80s and early 90s Wax Trax bands had become my soundtrack for living in these pre-England days, and it fueled my drive through the early morning shift as I motored out of darkness into the light, where I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, as the sun came up. I pulled into a McDonald’s and gave the wheel back to KM after breakfast.
Back in the day, I seemed to remember Flagstaff as being where the mountains touched the desert, but my trips back into the Colorado Plateau confirmed that my memory was a little bit hazy as to what was and wasn’t real truly real. There were mountains, and they touched the desert. However, there was a little more of a buffer zone of vegetation that I remembered after that early morning drive. After that, I don’t remember thinking too much in any kind of productive way regarding the trek through to California until we arrived at Edwards Air Force Base on that late September day.
It’s fair to say that this base is lost somewhere in the barren desert outside of Mojave, a town that was thrown down between Bakersfield, Barstow, and Lancaster. Nevertheless, Edwards Air Force Base is a top of the line famous outpost for test pilots (such as ones that were mentioned in The Right Stuff) and desert sands (such as the ones that C3PO and R2D2 were forced to wander on Tatooine across after being ejected from Princess Leia’s CR90 Corvette, the Tantive IV).
Other than that, there’s not much of anything out there, at least with regard to things that move or require water and air conditioning to live.
From the entry gate to the base, the ride seemed to take forever until we eventually got back to a really cool looking runway for the planes that would become the highest of high tech military weaponry. At that point, it became apparent that the base was definitely a working and thriving military atmosphere. Considering the other bases I was on and would be on, the training bases seemed to be about cargo planes, and the military bases felt divided between the side that people lived on and the side that people worked on. I was a medic, so we never felt that much a part of the military side except for on the days that we had to wear our BDUs to remember that we were in the military. This was a pre-9.11 time, and so much of that endeavor seemed to take on the air of dress-down days or casual Fridays. It’s not that anyone ever minded, I just don’t remember being around people who expressed how they were getting some red-blooded military experience by doing it. Looking back, I’m not sure if it was a good thing or bad thing to do. It was a reminder of being in the military, but unless we were deployed to the Gulf or Yugoslavia, it wasn’t like we were in war times. Such was being in the Air Force in the 1990s. Hell, I can remember that my recruiter even advertising the military like it was a 9-5 job (in those words).
However, now, I don’t think people will ever forget how different their jobs in the military are and the danger that could be involved with them.
But that day of getting to KM’s wife, who clearly wanted nothing other than a divorce, was completely different. We were in everyday clothes, and we were just three people who happened to have taken an oath to defend The Constitution and the United States against its enemies, both foreign and domestic while listening to our superiors’ orders. We were just three teenage and early twenty-something people looking to get through to the next stop in our life and to make sense of what had happened at the last stop.
There were no "ooh-rahs." There was no Air Force song. For the most part, there was nothing but silence and bad rock music for the drive up the highways of California. From the lost opportunity for KM’s old future to survive that was Edwards, there was nothing left to do except to get to Mather Air Force Base and return to our new version of normal.
It was a long drive, but eventually, the colors of the Golden State came alive and we moved up north to the area outside Sacramento. We pulled into town and all things green, happy to leave behind the parched world of southern California and said hello to the vibrant center of California and all that our training had to offer.
Somewhere off in the future, in the weeks after KM’s marriage disintegrated, he hooked up with AS as part of a rebound relationship thing, which as I said, was very common in the early stages of the Air Force. Despite her one attempt to try to be conversationally nice to me while we were alone in the lodging facility, I had always had very little to say to her. Perhaps, I didn’t know what to say. Perhaps, I just didn’t like what she had to say about things. Prior to coming on the trip, I made it clear that I had less than no interest in her mouthy self or her thuggish, hip hop listening ex-boyfriend that she left in Texas. Like many people, he was one of those testosterone fueled people that see everything that isn’t like them as being a "faggot." A part of me was hoping to leave them behind in high school, but the early 1990s military seemed to be a haven for them. As part of a training team, people like him were all over the place. Even those people that didn’t embody his more forward approach to people he liked and those he would have just as soon punched in the head were forced to take on some of the attitude to what was right and what wasn’t societally acceptable.
Funny how things change.
When the Air Force divided up the flight as to who would go to California and who would stay in Texas, I was praying intensely to get out of Dodge, and I did. For whatever Mather offered, it at least got me out of the summer home of the Dallas Cowboys (at the time) and the year round home of the Marlboro Man. With this upcoming change, I was very happy when her boyfriend and several other less than enjoyable people from the flight were left behind. Still, this disheartened her to know that their "relationship" was over, but alas, there’s always something else waiting down the line, for better or for worse. It’s only a matter of time until the train hits the station.
And with the dissolution of her relationship and the collapse of KM’s relationship, they found solace in each other’s arms while lying together in an almost abandoned dorm building. Looking back, that was a good thing in the way that it made sense for them. However, for me, neither of them offered anything for me in my time in California. I had other fish to fry, and I had little to no desire to fry them with my fellow clinical training people that weren't JF.
Nevertheless, I did see her some years later at Lakenheath Air Force Base since she was stationed in England at that time that I got to my second base. And on that first day that I ran into her again, we simply noted that we had been in tech school together with that shared look of how the hell is my past coming back to haunt me now.
Sometimes, the world is just too damned small.
However, one day several months later, I ran into her at a barbecue that someone we both knew was having, and we had more time to sit down and talk since the party wasn’t exactly lively. There seemed to be an air of silence to the things that we had been through and that we had become in the two years since our last conversation. I’m not sure what I would have told her. I don’t know what there was to say. My life was pretty ho hum at the time, and even though I had been to a different base in England, I wasn’t married, I didn't breed a child, I didn’t own a house, I hadn’t won the lottery, and I really didn’t interact with anyone that she knew.
Likewise, with a minimum of details, she also told me about her life now that she was moving forward in the family way at Lakenheath. She also told me that KM was doing well, which was something that I hadn’t thought about in ages, but I cared about this in her presence. It’s not that I was actively rooting for horrible things in his life (I definitely wasn’t), but it’s just that our shared paths had drifted into unique paths that pointed away from one another. We had grown apart, but now a part of us was back together. Thus, I felt compelled to ask her the obvious and polite question of how our only true connection was.
This sense of asking how shared acquaintances are seems to be the thing that people do when they encounter other people from way back when. This isn’t unique to the Air Force; it’s in every reunion with someone that is long since relegated to the pages of history. In this, our re-crossing of paths was just like every other re-crossing of casual paths except for the fact that somehow, we were together the first time that I entered into California. She may be nothing else to the rest of my life, but she was that first trip west. KM was that, too. Perhaps, he and I would have something more to say because we did kind of talk and associate here and there. Perhaps, if we came together today, we would have found out that we ended up in different places, or maybe, we would have found many of the same struggles and successes in the 22 years since we’d seen one another. Will it make a difference if we see one another again, reacquaint on Facebook, or if we shoot the breeze over beers? Probably not, but with that, there is still a curiosity of what happened to those people who were our everyday lives, even if they only played a small role in the grand story of our lives.
I’m sure that if AS thought about her time with KM on this day in 2014, she would feel much the same way about him except for the fact that they shared happiness despite their sad tales of breakup woe, longing, and more of a desire to be a medical services specialist than I ever did when I went through those times we spent together in the military. Maybe she’s still married, and maybe, she has more kids. Maybe, she and KM still haven’t reunited or shared details of their lives since she became a married mom. In that, these are the things that say, "Don’t go dredging up past relationships when you’re involved in good current ones."
Nevertheless, maybe bad things happened, and she went looking for the better past.
Thinking of it today, I’m not sure how I felt about what she was and wasn’t to the story of my life in the conversation. Prior to writing this, she was just a last name (On a side note, last names were how we operated in tech school and clinical training. It took a long time after Basic Training to get used to calling people something other than Airman so and so or just a last name. It was all so informal and instinctive, even though now I would react weirdly to being addressed by my last name). Now, she’s a part of those two months of life in California, when life was so empty and bog standard that I never even tried to see the Pacific Ocean.
Imagine that; a person goes to California and never sees any of the sights that it has to offer. This can’t even be a true story, can it?
Nearly seven years later, I would see California properly.
And on that day in the redwood trees of the Pacific Coast, K and I walked through and we smiled at nature, and we smiled in each other’s presence.
And it was all good.
Being with K was a good alternative to being with a lot of the people that I knew in Pennsylvania. I had just started college, and I hadn’t met anyone of permanent consequence yet. I was working at a department store with older women and people who were generally a couple of years younger than I was. The only people who were really my age were the people who did store security. For the fun nights we could have going out for food and drinking and nights where we went out to see some live bands, there wasn’t any hiking trips that were going to be taking place with any of them. In that, there also weren’t any intellectual conversations and shared experiences that we were going to be having either (other than music and movies and TV).
And shared experiences were good.
Instead, life became as it does in many cases: making due. Many times, we associate with people because they are there. We aren’t doing the things we really want to do, and instead, we need to find something to do. Hanging out at bars / restaurants pretty much represents this. It’s an alternative to hanging out and watching movies (though it costs money). Sadly, with no real "shared experiences" to be had, the process of finding life is often like this. What makes it worse is that if people don’t watch out and they get too into the repetitive killing of time, there might never be anything good.
If the people in the immediate reality of my early days of post-England time weren’t really the answer to my long-term goals, then some of the people in my past definitely weren’t the answer to my long-term goals, but the thing is that I thought that they might have been.
When it came to people I had known from before the Air Force, my friends had either moved on or I moved on from them. In leaving them, I made a conscious choice to not go back to trying to be 18 again. I still loved music and was deeply interested in procuring lots of new songs, but I didn’t want my life to be reliving the memories of 18. That being said, I also didn’t want my life to be the ages after that up until 24 again either. I wanted to pull my head out of my ass and make something of myself, career and life-wise, since it was clear that the career that I had obtained in the military, Medical Services Specialist, was never something that I wanted to do ever again.
When I signed up, it seemed like a decent alternative from a list. I could do something that would help people, but I never really thought about how I had less than no interest in the medical profession. To put it simple, I never read a medical book. I didn’t watch medical shows. I didn’t pay much attention in classes like chemistry, and even when I did pay attention in biology, it was more for dissecting animals than it was for cellular level stuff. I could be trained to memorize things with enough practice, but I had no idea why an answer was what it was.
In this, I’m a "what you see is what you get" or history / sociology kind of guy. I get that the function of an organ is to do this or that, but I tend to be someone who takes it for granted that it does these things. The same can be said for understanding why my car runs.
In much the same way in life, I express my thoughts about what I feel with details. There is no hidden symbolism or underlying tones. Everything is out there on the table. Granted, I can be moody and shy (I prefer to think of it as introverted), but that’s not the same as saying one thing and meaning another. I get that I’m a complicated person in what has made me who I am as well as what has made me interested in or what has caused me to participate in the activities that I’ve been involved with, but I’m still pretty straight forward. The same applies for what I like. If I can’t see it, I don’t want to spend a lot of time imagining it. Here, I’m thankful for Google Image Search and Youtube, which as I stated before, are two websites that do wonders for making sense of the things that I want to see, but that I can’t see.
At that time, I was in college for what started out as accounting. It seemed to make sense since I liked numbers, but I quickly moved on to my love of writing, which I wasn’t doing in any productive way at the time (other than to write letters and crappy prose). It would take almost a year and a half before the great liberal arts nothingness changed after the satori in Nevada, which led me into teaching. Nevertheless, even in those early days of figuring the future out, I still wanted a new and better road for myself than the one that I walked down.
So to put it simply, I decided to burn a lot of the remains of the one that I walked down.
In the first year of being back in America, I was more likely to remember people that I met. Six to seven years isn’t a long time to make changes. We still remember some of our former colleagues’ names. Nevertheless, as time went by, it was clear that people have changed, other people are forgotten, and quite frankly, that’s not a bad thing. Then, there’s the problem of "where do I know this person from?" How many states, countries, places, ages, lives have I led to lead me to this familiar face?
And when it all comes down to it, do I really know this person or just think I do?
As a result, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just saying nothing and move on. Besides, if I’m not sure, what conversation was I even going to have anyway?
When I did encounter people that I clearly knew from my past, I did so with hesitation. It’s not that I hated these people; it’s just that I didn’t want to relive the glory days or the gory days. If I didn’t like who I was then, some goofy and immature kid, why did I want to be around people who liked me for being that person?
For instance, I ran into one guy, and we talked for a while. I agreed to hang out with him on the condition he told nobody else that I was back. However, he did, and when that combined with his disjointed and problematic life, I quickly abandoned him to the annals of history as well.
However, when it came to people from my Air Force days, be they K or another woman named V that I had been in the Air Force with, I was still willing to relive those glory days, even if our lives were taking turns for the different. With this, I knew that the times were limited, but at the same point, there was a shared experience of something better, something changed, and something more mature. They understood why I did some of the dumb things that I did, and they still thought enough of me to see past them and to realize that I was trying to transcend into something better.
For that, when it came to the trips to San Francisco to see K, it was always clear that our lives were in two different time zones and on two different coasts. Nevertheless, at the time, she represented everything that could possibly righteous and holy with a woman. All too often, I would become readily aware of some gal’s issues when we were around each other fairly often. I’m sure that they were aware of mine as well, but when it came to their issues, there was always a reason to go running from instead of running to. With K, I could just be and see her as awesome since I didn’t have to worry about her star exploding before we hooked up as boyfriend / girlfriend since it was clear that this was never the intent and purpose of where we were going as people.
The first days that we had known one another took us through the streets of the British town of Mildenhall, England, in 1993. At the time, she was a twenty-something American gal babysitting for a Lieutenant Colonel that was stationed at Midlenhall Air Force Base. At the same time, I was an Air Force medic at Lakenheath Air Force Base. After she left to go back to America, we exchanged letters for a few years with a few phone calls along the way. Later, when she returned to England, there was a brief reconnection as we drunkenly waltzed through the buildings and historic artifacts of Bury St. Edmunds. From the naiveté of a few years earlier, we were now aged to our mid twenties as I was now an expatriated American looking to go back to America after the dissolution of my time with the British gal that I had once desired to spend my life with. While I was returning to the shores of the America that I had grown up in, K was traveling to Ireland to spend a summer abroad, living the life of a young and independent woman who was expatriating herself as well – if only for the summer. In those few days, we traded places with regard to how America laid a claim to us.
And I think back to the words of another time...
"Exactly what is America?” K said to me in the warm June haze as I gazed on the image of 4 legs dangling off of the pedestrian bridge. There we were, seated on a concretewalking platform that stretched itself across the A14 motorway, and floatingly, my intoxicated mind turned to survey the distance between Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich. The distance between 2 worlds and 3 years of my life was a greater stretch than the 30 miles that a person would know to be the geographical answer. To the front, we saw the smokestacks of Bury’s sugar factory as it gently turned smoke into the twisting fingers of dirty clouds, which reached up into the peaceful July sky. If we would have chosen to look out far enough, we could have stared ahead on a road that would take us all the way to Cambridge, and I often did since it was yet another place from the prior 3 years of my life.
So much life spent existing in 3 cities, so many lifetimes lost on English streets, and so many dreams floating lifelessly out to the Channel… So many things that were dead in all of these places, I couldn’t even fathom the ghosts that were yet to come and what would transpire in all the time after this evening.
It might be thought that my mind drifted off to a time that awaited me less than a week later, but it didn’t. I was at peace in a moment that I thought would last forever knowing that this was a point in my life that would be immortalized forever for its potential significance. I guess you can say that sometimes you just understand these things. I know and still know that I did. With that, I stopped my mind from running and allowed myself to enjoy the moment and not get caught up in the anxieties that have always ruled my life and dominated my subconscious.
This is my ghostland kingdom. This is the place where all my dead roads travel back to the burned down buildings and fallen monuments of my youth. These are the lives that have touched me and cannot be erased. Their energy floats around me and haunts me on a daily basis. Whether it’s the remnants and artifacts that they leave or the souvenirs that I have kept from our interactions, they are always here. This is my Mesa Verde waiting to be discovered and catalogued by some Richard Wetherhill.
But that night, instead of falling prey to the poltergeists of my brain, I created a permanent imprint of romanticist beauty. It was something that I wouldn’t understand until the moment these words spilled out onto the computer screen, and that understanding in and of itself is something beautiful, something altogether apart from everywhere else that this tale tends to go, but it is the circular nature of where this story must go, all the stops that it must stop at, and all of the spirits that must be faced to get to that point. Like the smoke, it has now dissipated and changed into so many things. By virtue of the experience of over 40 years of life total and over 15 years since the event happened, much has changed. Such is the benefit of hindsight, but so too is it the negative of not feeling for the situations in the way that I used to.
As compared to other periods of change and turmoil in my life, I don’t think that there was anything that was truly plaguing my mind with potential anxieties, evils and thumping images that I didn’t want to think about at the time. We were just sitting, feet swinging, cars whizzing by underneath us, minds soaring peacefully in an alcoholic buzz, and the words flowing forth in that literary world that is early twenty something quasi intellectualism. Perhaps this naiveté is why this night stands out in my mind 18 years later. Maybe this is what it is it is because British cider is good at drowning out immediate thoughts. However, in looking back, though there was so much that I had thought about prior to that evening, so much that I troubled myself with and hoped for, to think back on that moment with anything other than an overly nostalgic feeling of being nearly one quarter of a century old would do no justice to that period of my life. We were 2 people on a bridge destined to go somewhere, at random points together and the rest of the time apart, and for that, the symbolism of being over a road, on a bridge, between the lives we were leaving and the lives that we were going to, it was a point to stop and reflect and just celebrate what life is instead of wallowing in it’s pain and suffering. This was our Open Road, and I was exhibiting my best Walt Whitman to chronicle the life of my times past, present, and future.
Thinking about those things now, I could have followed that road either direction to better days and darker images. No matter how I followed it, I would have ended up like Robert Frost, feeling the weight of days in knowing how it made all of the difference, but that it was a good journey all the same. For this, there are so many thoughts in my head as I type out these words, over and over to that not perfect perfection, and I wonder if I could ever do that 24-year old self of mine any justice when I look back and wonder what happened to him…
For he is dead and no longer with us. I would not have him here if he could be since he has long since failed to create a better world for me. Let’s take his best parts and bad decisions and weave them into the story that becomes this man standing at the midpoint of his life instead. Throw the rest on the ashes. Let them be shredded and burned on funeral pyres and thrown in trashcans. That is all that his poetic verse is good for anyway. Let the world of the new reduce everything else to insignificant nothingness.
And like that, I am back in the now of a year later where through letters, K and I reconnected with both of our journeys and our returns until the news came that I would be able to visit her again in California for the first time.
While there would be other times that we would see each other in a world far away from the England that we met in, it was really the first time that I went to California that stood out. Sure, I would see her in 1998 and 2000 as well. I was supposed to see her in Boston in 1998 also, but I wasn’t able to travel up to the city in such a short time, so I didn’t go. This wasn’t something that made her happy, and it ended up combining with my decision to adjust our trip to Seattle to a much shorter trip to the Sierra Nevadas instead. For me, I needed to get back to St. Louis by Sunday August 30th so that I could see Mark McGwire on his quest to break Roger Maris's all-time home run record before the Cardinals went back on the road.
In part, I had also stated that the trip wasn’t going to happen because my right leg had really gimped up from driving cross country as well. That was true, but it was truer that I wanted to be able to see whether McGwire would actually hit one out of the park on that late summer night. I can’t explain the moment to you if you weren’t a part of that summer. You’ll simply have to trust me as to why I would do that.
As far as our adventure, which took us to Lassen Volcanic National Park, we had fun, but it wasn’t the same for her. Things were tense with us for some time after that, but on my 2000 cross country trip, I saw her again. We really didn’t have much to say. It was cordial at best until we got into an argument over a political issue.
Most friendships just drift apart. Some go out like fireworks, but for this one, it was like an aging electrical plug that just smokes and pops and that’s it. When it’s done, you get a new one and you move on. Simple enough.
However, on that first Saturday in San Francisco, K and I were still in a really good place. She asked me if I would ever consider moving to California to restart my life, and I thought… hmm… it does have potential – but it doesn’t have financial possibility.
But it still seemed like a pipe dream that could be dreamed about in the dull days of a Pennsylvania life going nowhere fast.
On that next morning, we drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge and wandered through John Muir’s California redwood trees and marveled at the creek that would one day seem so similar to the hidden Pennsylvania world of Ricketts Glen that I would travel to with ST five years later.
Just like at Ricketts Glen, piles of stones embraced the banks of the stream while ferns and bushes colored the world a vivid shade of green. Logs lumbered down mountainsides and trees stretched majestically to touch the sky. They seemed so high that it was as if they could paint the clouds. Everything was so beautiful here. Jay Farrar would sum it all up so beautifully when he sang that, "No one can dream a place like California."
Dreaming of California as I stare at my pictures on a winter day, I can understand what he meant by this.
Almost as if in a dream, there I am in one of those greatest hits memories of a lifetime. Even if it all seems so surreal now, the pictures exist so it must be true. My cheeks aren’t near as skinny as they once were. As I reflect on the person that I saw in those pictures, I look completely different because my glasses aren’t on my face. The Lemonheads T-shirt that I once wore religiously for purposes just like the one I was wearing it then are lost in a landfill if it isn’t buried like hidden treasure in a recessed box in my parents’ basement. My belly has had added fifty pounds or so to its girth since I was looking slimmer and trimmer in those pictures. The green and black Columbia jacket that I wore for some of the pictures is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the warmth of a March day in California’s northern woods is felt through the celluloid images of a moment long, long ago.
Nevertheless, there I am, straddling the log that is hoisted above the floor of the forest and the stream.
I think of the other photographic memories of that day, and the picture show continues with K dressed in contrasting shades of blue, standing seductively inside a hollowed out redwood tree. In another picture, she is holding a tiny flower. In many ways, she is a child of the 1990s and all that it stands for with regard to Generation X. California was definitely kind to her culturally. It makes me wonder who she has become now. I can only hope it's someone like the woman I imagined her to be way back when I first met her.
Sadly, all I have left to judge her future from is how she stood inside of that tree and how warm and wonderful that day felt in my memories. Thinking about it now makes me want to go back and to feel it all again, with someone different. Oh to feel it with someone more special to me than K ever was, for what could be better than to walk in this garden with my beautiful wife?
In the same way that K and I were once friends, it seemed like ST and I were also going to be friends. We had hours and hours of endless conversations that flowed in the youthful way that conversations between the sexes do, but in this time, we were never boyfriend / girlfriend. K and I met on a bus coming back from London to Lakenheath Air Force Base. My friend that I had been record shopping with had tried to chat her up. When he found out that she lived near us, he called me over, and she and I began to talk. Within a short time, he was out of the conversation, and she and I were talking. Right before we got back to the base, I did the opposite of what I would normally do, and I asked for her phone number to hang out again sometime. She said yes, and we hung out. It was a fun night wandering around the pubs of Mildenhall, but it was clear that she didn’t have interest in a long distance relationship or a short time fling, so we just became friends. Eventually, after our first week together, I realized that not only would this never be, but instead, I would prefer to just keep her as a friend. In youth, these things make sense, and I can say that nearly twenty years later, I’m not fretting over what I lost not having love or a casual fling with this person. Instead, I have our memories of friendship, but in reality, I have a much better wife than she would have ever been.
And for that life that I have grown into, I am gladder than glad.
Back at Ricketts Glen in 2, K was no longer a part of my life, even if her memory still was. Instead of being on California time, I was with ST in that slowed down way that exists throughout the void of Pennsylvania that lies between Pittsburgh & Harrisburg and Pottsville & the New York border. Some people call this part of my home state Pennsyltucky, which is a very fitting name since there’s nothing here except small towns and mountains. It’s not quite the banjo playing world of Deliverance that exists to the south and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but it’s not urban bliss either (while many people think of Deliverance as Kentucky or West Virginia Appalachia, it actually played out in north Georgia).
To the west of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County, the eastern seaboard seems to vanish as the highway runs through the Blue, Allegheny, Tuscarora, and Kittatinny Mountains. After the fourth tunnel, it’s almost all forests and mountains with very little exception. Sure, there’s Pittsburgh on the other side of the state, but for the most part, the towns that exist seem only to service drivers looking for food, gas, and lodging. Further south and to the west of all of this lies the Rust Belt. If you’re into outdoor pursuits, it’s a pleasant place to be. If you were trying to make a living there, Bruce Springsteen’s "Youngstown" is your theme song.
To the north of Route 76, the concrete and asphalt give way to more forests and mountains. There are few towns of size. By the time we get to Route 80, there are even less towns of any size between Erie and Williamsport. Roughly 20% of the northwest corner of the state is forest and mountains. In the north central part, dirt roads are very common as God’s Country is four-wheeling, hunting, fishing, outdoor sports, and lumber country (with a little bit of natural gas drilling thrown in for good measure). Even to the east of Williamsport, the forests extend back to Scranton and Wilkes Barre. We can add 10-15% of the state to this. If we go from there down to the turnpike, it’s fair to say that this is over half of the state covered in the deep green flora of mountain country (even if it’s not tall enough to be "proper" mountains).
The Endless Mountains are a part of all of this. Ricketts Glen may get some visitors, but there aren’t traffic jams on the highway trying to drive Route 118 to get there. The lack of urgency is a good thing, and it slows down the mind to think and to feel of the woods. Thus, you can have whatever you wanted to have in that moment.
And at that moment, I wanted to have an awesome day.
And so there we were, having another one of those early twenties "collisions." These are the moments that stand out and define us in larger ways, but they aren’t meant to last. Here, it’s true that it’s about the happiness and joy of the moment, but it is also about recognizing what’s permanent from what’s fleeting. It’s about separating the wheat from the chaff.
It’s about getting in there and getting your hands wet and just feeling free to be for a while. And while you’re at it, it’s about preserving the greatness long after it happened, so that you say, "I remember when."
Which is exactly what I did.
Leaving behind the place where Kitchen Creek in Pennsylvania faded into a nearly exact replica of Redwood Creek in California, we proceeded up the mountain. Along the way, I burned through a couple rolls of film of all of the waterfalls that we would encounter, and through it all, I was more marveled by each waterfall as we went up Ganoga Glen and down Glen Leigh. There were huge thrusting showers like Ganoga, and there were tiny spigots like the Cayuga and Oneida. In between were some picturesque gems like B. Reynolds and Harrison Wright. From the place that Waters Meet, I took tons of pictures while still trying to be conservative with my film as based on my need to have film for the pictures that I might want to take of the things that I couldn’t even imagine, which I knew were still out there, but were as yet undiscovered.
Since that time, we have entered a world of digital everything in 2014. It’s hard to think back to those days of ten years ago when it was about $10 just to buy four rolls of 35mm film. In order to tell this tale to the youngens who might be reading it, it is important to clarify that with this roll of film, you could get 24-27 pictures – if you were lucky. Then, you would have to pay about $6 to $8 a roll to get it developed, even at a cheap option like Wal Mart. This didn’t even mean that all of your pictures were worth looking at or that Wal Mart used sufficient colors for the prints because often, they didn’t. While using Kodak film that they developed, I lost entire rolls to blasé color. I also saw my black and white pictures printed with color ink, which took some of the distinctions out of it.
On a good day, with what a photographer pointed, clicked, and repeated on and what the retail store developing services gave you for the money that you paid, you could get about 15-20 worthwhile pictures - if you were lucky. Nevertheless, you would only get a few really and truly great pictures that were worthy of being enlarged or displayed in a frame, if any. The rest of your supposed treasure trove would be outright garbage or mundane versions of what was actually experienced in nature because as we all know, pictures never do justice to the reality.
In just this way, I’ve got hundreds of pictures of Jamaica that don’t come as close to displaying the sapphire blue waters mixed together with the crystal blue waters as I saw through the dirty windows of Johnny Bravo’s van. If you don’t believe me, you can go there and see for yourself. Trust me, if I had the opportunity, I’d go back to try to retake my pictures and make them better if that’s what you need to believe me.
Now, photography is just point and click to create as many images as your SD card will hold in 8-16GB of space. This means that unless you’re shooting pictures all day for a week, you probably aren’t going to fill up your camera, even with your pictures being saved in the highest quality format. Thus, if you don’t like something, you can just delete it until you find that special flash or color or every one of the faces smile properly for the camera. This is an exceptionally useful feature for the very young photographer who is learning to take pictures and doesn’t have to be reined in by a parent who is nervous about paying for these "artistic" expressions.
But back in the ancient days where it meant developing a picture to see if it came out well, photographers had to be more choosey as based on the amount of disposable income that they had to develop and store their pictures. While many of those pictures didn’t last, a good deal of the aging photographers saved everything they could justify keeping in well-organized albums. This means that now, those pictures are rotting away in photo books that cover shelves of storage space or their once priceless treasures are getting thrown away after being scanned and saved in the vast endless spaces of storage drives. Sadly, for the money that went into them, it seems like such a waste.
I have a relative who has always been an exceptionally prolific photographer who has tons of albums that are filled with pictures like this. Many of them now rot away into the recesses of time. And while she has chronicled pretty much every family get together since she got her first camera, most of the pictures (not all) are candid shots of people doing whatever it was that they were doing instead of the more preferred posed variety that actually shows everyone in the picture’s smiling faces. This was her thing, which she did to create a more natural feeling despite the fact that the people in the room knew that they were getting their pictures taken, so they stopped being natural. So it goes.
Unfortunately, when it came time to rescue and scan many of those forty to fifty years of pictures in 2007, many of the subjects had long since faded to an un-natural color that screamed 1970s style in the worst possible way. That said, as based on the repetition and facial recognition, it was possible to be choosey in deciding which of them were worth the time that it took to scan them, let alone the space it would take to house their digital traces somewhere else.
Back then it should also be noted that space isn’t as infinite as it is today in 2013. A perfect example of this was the transition from 2006 computer purchasing to 2007 acquisitions. In 2006, the person at Dell asked me if I really needed 320GB of storage space. I knew that I did and I gave him the tone that stated this. In 2007, I couldn’t get less than 250GB for my parents who most likely didn’t need 10GB of storage. Sadly, they didn’t even make anything that small anymore and they gave me the tone to express that I must have been an idiot for not wanting some symbolic greater amount of computing power that my parents would never need. Times had changed, and I should have been happy to pay for more space for them – even if I knew my math well enough to know that all the KBs and MBs that they were using weren’t going to add up to anything that represented multiple GBs in the long run. (For me, I was actually excited about my own storage space acquisition. When I got my first computer in 1998, 1GB cost about $90. Now, I can get 1TB for that price and still have money left over. For that matter, I nowl have the 1TB computer and external hard drive that I’ve been longing for. Oh yes, it is mine, and it's wonderful).
As for the pictures that were now in my relative's possession, the older pictures from way before she was born are priceless and I knew that they needed to be saved by any means necessary. Whether they were family pictures from the early 1900s to the 1960s or they are the trips that my nana took with her family and my grandfather Manny, a man I never met since he died when my mom was eight, they were blurred into a complete and sickly black and gray fog of time. I did the best I could to save the pictures of their trips to waterfalls at Ausable Chasm and Watkins Glen, two locations that were both in New York State, but even with the fact that their deterioration stopped six years ago, their current incarnations aren’t as vibrant as they were for my grandparents when they went on their journeys of love to see those places.
Nevertheless, they still are, and they are inspiration to go to places in them or to other places that are like them in order to chronicle this generation’s adventures, which will inspire the next generation (or the ones after that).
To this, I often wonder to myself: "Where will my website and the images that are contained on it be when that time comes?"
And for the photographic opportunity that it represents and because of the technological advances of modern photography and storage space (as well as sharing), Ricketts Glen beckons the average and advanced photographers to shoot and reshoot, to see and to revisit each place that has been seen, and to find a way to make it the best version ever attained in the mind’s collection of images of the waterfall kingdom.
And it does this because there is always a better picture awaiting on some later trip.
Like collecting variations of the live versions of songs by Phish, there are some versions of songs that shine out above all others songs. This is the feeling of what was never appreciated until it was done in this way, performed out of nowhere as a complete surprise at this time, or heard in this frame of mind.
And this is true of the images of Ricketts Glen as well. Sometimes, waterfalls are better when they’re skeletal. Other times, they are better when they are raging torrents. As to whether the rock face’s juxtaposition against the lines of water that are pouring in front of it stands out to the sheer volume of tens of thousands of gallons of water collapsing from each leap of a mega-fall is all relative to the visit. Seasons and leaves play a huge part in this decision in much the same way as prominence in the mix of the piano, drums, guitar, bass, vocals, or occasional horn and vacuum cleaner would at a Phish show. So whether it’s all about why I should heed the message to not "go back to Kill Devil’s Falls" or to feel the sentimental thoughts of growing older that is "Backwards Down the Number Line," or whether it is whether I want to be with someone who should want to "come waste (their) time with me" while we experience the best of what nature has to offer us, it’s all a way to "feel good, good about" waterfalls.
Thus, it’s all about (splitting open and) melting into the aesthetics of the greatest hits of an artist God and absorbing what at one time could have been protected as a national park had World War Two not have occurred and America not needed the resources of the Civilian Conservation Corps for more pressing issues, like say fighting the Germans or Japanese troops who were attacking and annexing their neighbor’s homelands while killing anyone that they didn’t like in brutal fashion at a rate that was very alarming.
In spite of this "loss" of exceptionally protected land, were it not for the foresight of the Central Penn Lumber Company’s sale of 48,000 acres of the land that they inherited from Colonel Robert Bruce Ricketts, the original owner of the land (not to be confused with Captain James B. Ricketts who was captured by the South at the Battle of Manassas during the Civil War), I might have been perceived as some tree-sitting hippie wandering onto private property in order to stop a logging operation instead of just some guy looking to explore the waterfalls of this Luzerne County state park (mind you, I might prefer protected lands to seeing forests spoiled in the name of junk mail and excess packaging, but I don’t really have the time or inclination to protest these things in the form of shouting and sign waving)..
But for what was to be and the things that never became, the world was still given access to a great park in the mountains of northeastern PA with what the Civilian Conservation Corps did to improve upon the destinations of America in the days of FDR and a revitalization that swept America way back when, before I was ever a thought in anyone’s head. However, when it came to actually recognizing what Ricketts Glen was in the grand scheme of nature, it would take until 1969 for it to be recognized as a National Natural Landmark and until 1993 for it to be christened as a State Park.
I guess people are just slow. Go figure.
At Ricketts Glen, the stonework that makes up steps and paths is a necessity in a heavily visited waterfall-filled State Park. Were it not for these paths, this would have made our ascent to the first waterfalls and later climb up the glen from the place that the two creeks join together far more difficult than it was. Here, should a person take the time to note it, he will see how the pathways still stayed within the aesthetic of the cliffs and mountains that the streams glided through (Watkins Glen does this very well, also). The staircases and steps weren’t intrusive, but they were solid in how they stabilized a walkway through some windy and treacherous drops, and with that, the architects and construction workers helped everyday hikers and their children to scale some of the areas that would have otherwise been impenetrable.
By definition of being a State Park, it says that certain things within the park need to be seen, and it acknowledges that they should be seen (Take note, guidebook writers. Your job is to help get people here and back safely!). People shouldn’t have to bushwhack through the woods in the hope that they will find what they’re looking for on the main trail of the park. Sure, there will be other trails there, too. Some of these will be where people can go for that more "exclusive" hike, but if the main attraction is why the place is a park, we shouldn’t make it excessive (unless that place is somewhere that is big, bold, and dangerous - like Everest). Imagine if we made people swim through an alligator moat to see Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World or put landmines in front of the Mall of America (I’m not trying to give people ideas!). Refusing to build a proper trail (with adequate warnings to reflect what endurance skills are needed to accomplish it) would not only be cheap, but it would be equally counterproductive to the established goals of said "established" place.
That said, if it's a wilderness place, that's a different story.
A path allows for that. This isn’t bad. It might mean that the park isn’t necessarily "wilderness" anymore, but it does reflect that if funds are being pumped into the park (theoretically), then people need to be able to visit said park without needing GPS / compass training or having to be rescued group by group, every couple of hours. Such is the need to create a well-manicured balloon-shaped 7.2 mile trail, which cuts through a fairly steep mountain from start to finish so that casual hikers, like I was at the time, could get inspired to do something like Sullivan Run, which was definitely not casual hiking or for anyone else who wasn't willing to take the extra risks.
However, as this story will do, this will detail how I not only got to achieve my hikes into that trail, but how they grew in size and stature as I gained confidence in myself on the trails of Ricketts Glen and many other similar locations.
Nearly five hours after it had begun, ST’s and my initial journey through these trails was all over, and it really was one of the most momentous and life-altering occasions that I had ever experienced. As a result, I was hooked and ready to go back to this place again.
For as great of a day as I had on my initial trip, my first trip back ended up being a brief stopover the following summer, which barely saw what the park had to offer since I was running on borrowed time between being there and going to visit my cousin and his wife in New Jersey. Somehow, for all of the travels that I had taken, I still didn’t understand distance, let alone time. Putting them both together created even more problems of what was possible to see and achieve in such a short time.
Even now, I still have this problem as I stare at a map of California, Oregon, and Washington, and I think that I can see a significant chunk of every single one of these places in ten or so short days.
However, with my time compromised and my need to be somewhere else in the all too immediate future, I did what I could and went off to my dreams of getting back there again at a later time when the universe afforded me the opportunity.
Here, I knew that if I got there twice, I could get there three, four, five… twenty times. All things were possible. I just had to make time to have a good time.
Thus, I would and did go back again soon after that. And I would go back again after that. And I would visit and revisit this park endlessly for all of my days, despite the other waterfalls that I would try to visit or revisit. Despite the fact that Ricketts Glen was changing from what it once was into something that had become over-populated, trashed-up, and used and abused by people with no regard for nature. I’m not talking about carrying out your poop as part of some excessive "Leave No Trace" program, but I sure as hell think people can carry out their lunch, cigarette packs, and old dead socks.
Nevertheless, I will still find my way back to this waterfall kingdom because underneath this mess is still Ricketts Glen
But those additional journeys and the things that I discovered on them are a part of the story for later. This part of the story is about how I discovered waterfalls, and it needs to be understood before those other journeys and revelations are made.
ST was a good person, and there have been times where I reflected on Ricketts Glen and its place in my life, where I’ve wondered what became of her. Past her move back to Florida after a series of disastrous friendships and relationships with a host of different men and the marriage that she eventually was said to be a part of, I’ve lost touch with her. The last I heard from her was when a former co-worker mentioned about said marriage to me after he realized that I knew her. I didn’t enquire into how exactly he had ascertained this, but alas, he did. I’d like to hope that she found true and permanent love, but I think about how she was such a free spirit and lover of all of humanity, and thus, it would be hard to settle into that role of "wife."
Despite what ST was or wasn’t, she was a good person who truly and genuinely cared about people, but her naiveté to the goodness and generosity of all people meant that she couldn’t distinguish said casual touchy feely-ness with most men who receive it and said men’s need for more touching and more of a relationship from this friendly, smiley, affectionate and attractive gal who wanted to be a part of their lives.
It also didn’t help that in the period she was doing this, she was without a definite home that she lived in for more than a few months here or there. It’s not certain how all of this began, but one thing is for sure: one thing would lead to another in her casual friendships, and she would have a roommate to stay with. Nevertheless, soon enough, things would happen and she would have to move out of these houses and apartments that she lived in with said men who wanted to take their daytime camaraderie to a new world of nighttime fondling that she wasn’t always looking to be a part of.
Thus, for all of her goodness, and she really was a kind-hearted person, in the time I knew her, ST never seemed to have a permanent place to call her own. Nevertheless, she always came out of a situation smelling like a rose. In all of these cases, her new benefactors would be guys that were roughly her age, and she was more than happy to let them be kind to her or to let their families be kind to her, and she would get dragged into another situation that would be difficult to get out of, but somehow, the universe helped her find a way to gain freedom from her man friend’s shackles.
In the end of our time together, her failsafe plan that was given to her by the universe was moving out of a boyfriend’s parents’ upstairs apartment and moving back to Florida with her mom. She went toward it dragging her heels because of her seemingly-indelible connection to Pennsylvania, unable to understand why the demise of a relationship meant the demise of an apartment, but she still went.
In hindsight, if marriage was in the cards in Florida, it seems like the best thing for her.
But way back when, way before this, I met her over a summer at RACC’s tutoring center, and we hit it off because I was a storyteller and she was a listener. Over the next few weeks, we made the dead times of tutoring turn into something worth sitting around at, and we also had a great time in her escape to my apartment from the place she was living in with one of the endless stream of guys who was desperately and unsuccessfully hoping that she would transition from roommate to sleeping buddy / girlfriend / wife. While she never had interest in making the transition, he did get upset for getting played and led on for what she might someday become.
I guess that was to be understood.
When things seem so obvious in shared cohabitation and friendship, it should be obvious what should and shouldn’t be, but alas, from my own experience and from that of what I have seen from other people, it never is when the hope of a magical love comes knocking on our doors and then backhands us across the face in a sad bit of laughter. Thus, there is anger and hatred and bad breakups and "screw yous," which basically should be a learning experience for all, but it never is or was - especially for ST, who should have gotten tired of having to go through them over and over again.
From the early giddiness of our friendship, things would change, and I could feel what other guys must have felt, too. Steph was a cuddler. It didn’t matter if she was in a relationship or not. She was flirtatious and affectionate, and as I said, with her long dark hair, pretty eyes, and wide smile, she was definitely a catch that was made even better with her listening and accommodation skills, but there was never a desire for her to be tied down to anything. In the starry nights of July 2002, after the emptiness of my whole time with my ex-girlfriend became very problematic, ST seemed like the perfect antidote and the right direction for the future of all things good.
But in these moments of almost, sort of, not quite, I knew that I wanted her to be something good, but that she never would be. However, with her flirtatious and casual presence, I knew that I needed to state my feelings to the situation as I would tell her that I couldn’t be just a friend, trying to learn from my mistakes of cohabitations and Friend Zone visits past. I swore that I had learned my lessons from the ghosts of the past, and to a degree, I had, even if I would have liked for something more to happen, even if it wasn’t ever going to happen. Thus, inevitably, ST and I both had to come to grips with her desire to be around me as the comforting best friend who would listen to her boyfriend tales of woe in exchange for back massages.
Here, I wanted company for the summer in my trip out to Yellowstone. Ideally and originally, I hoped it could be there, and for a short time, we contemplated going to some place such as Mammoth Cave National Park. However, this dissolved as she got more and more lost in the spirals of where she would end up living when her time spent living with the guy she was with when we met ended. As she met a new guy that she was interested in being with, out time together completely ended.
And with his presence in her life, I knew it was going to end much sooner than she realistically and logistically wanted it to end (since it’s clear that she would have always liked to have an alternative place to be since she needed to have options when things would happen, as they usually did).
In the end, after my now solo trip to Yellowstone happened, we went our separate ways. In late August, she moved to another fully-furnished apartment. Prior to that, I went across America to escape the demons of the 2001 / 2002 by driving straight into their hornets’ nest of all of the things that I never had and all of the mistakes that I had made, confronting the relationship end of J, the failures of my first year of teaching, and friends that never quite panned out as friends along the way.
One of these friends was ST, and while I tried to reach out to her from the road, my phone calls always went into her answering machine. Perhaps, this was better, but it made the lonely drive even lonelier as it led me right back home to an empty apartment devoid of friends or fun and filled with the thoughts of what would my second year of teaching actually be like.
By the time the cold air was blowing through the streets of Mount Penn, my life was getting lonelier and more absurd. I was a teacher, but I wasn’t happy at the school that I was teaching at. I didn’t really have many friends, and those that I was friends with were interested in other things. In addition, as a high school teacher, I was coping with my professional place in the universe. Nothing made sense, but through the repetition of days and the need to pay the bills, I did what I had to do in order to make it to 2003.
As autumn turned to winter, I saw ST in smaller and smaller doses, most notably right before she left. By that time, the warmth of summer was buried in the coldness of winter. There were no more fun adventures. There were no waterfalls or late night hanging out sessions. There was only the endless nothingness and boredom of the adult work grind. Work, eat, defecate, sleep, and dream of a better tomorrow. Repeat ad infinitum.
It was the same for ST, too, since her short-term love affair flowed into an implosion that left her in need of yet another place to stay. This brought her to going to Florida. It was sad to see her go, but we said goodbye. I wished I could go away, too, not with her, but away.
However, I stayed, and I persevered like many of the trees that have been beaten down in the forests where I walk. Their branches droop as the seasons whether them, but still, they push upward and onward. What other option is there?
Eventually, the weather will get better, and with it, there will be sunny days, too. I just had to wait for them.
Thus, in the end, despite the enjoyable first days of ST and my short-lived friendship, I never did go back to Ricketts Glen with her again. In fact, that was really the first and only official trip that we ever took together, a trip that now seems to have faded into a modestly sized guitar solo packed between the lyrics that were written to accompany them as far as where they fit in the soundtrack of my life:
"I’ll be at the waterfall clearing my head soaking up nature and thinking of you and leaving’s the last thing I thought you would do." For all that she brought to the direction that the rest of my life would take with her introduction of this place to my pushpin-filled map and photo albums, other than the fact that she was my first tour guide, I rarely associate the entire place with her except to think that there was a picture of her at the one thirty-foot tall straight drop off waterfall named Harrison Wright.
Most days, ST’s place in my life is as forgotten as yesterday’s news, but when I return to Ricketts Glen and walk through that part of the creek, I will see her image impressed upon the backdrop like some ghost that now haunts the valley. It’s not always standing there, but from time to time, I can see it there, clear as day, as the waters rush around its posing form. Other days, it’s already gone, as if the endless waters rushing downstream to run under the bridge at Route 118 have taken it somewhere else, somewhere forgotten.
Most days, but not always.
Instead of some unresolved sense of nostalgic romanticism for a friendship lost to the sands of time, I realize that what made this waterfall so spectacular was how wide it was as compared to other waterfalls in the area. Waterfall guru Scott Brown, the author of Pennsylvania Waterfalls, was equally impressed with it, giving it a five star rating for much the same things that I would find to be fantastic.
In addition to the width of the crest, Harrison Wright seemed to be very symmetrical and impressive in how it stood against the forest and creek that surrounded it. Nevertheless, years later, when my friend P posed in front of it, he made a poor substitute for ST’s presence in front of the waterfall, but that’s more because he was a hairy, shaved-headed Greek guy, and well, she was a long-haired and smiling gal that was up for adventure. I still have both pictures that my friend posed in, and even though I’m now married to my wife, who is a more wonderful and amazing woman than I could have ever hoped that ST would be, and even though I am still long-distance friends with P, I still appreciate the original picture from my first trip more than I do the picture of him, even if he has every right to be in a waterfall picture since he is more of a direct connection to the genesis of waterfalls than she is.
And so it was in the aftermath of her minor role in my life, I may never have gotten to say that I had experienced love with her, but I received something far more valuable from our time together: I got waterfalls in the times I stole for me from the drudgery of work, eat, defecate, sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED