Our second hike was through the Garden of the Gods. The mainstay of the park is a lame stone paved trail that takes one past the largest of the rock formations, a bluff area over looking a valley. Once part of a vast sea that millions of years ago covered the state, today it plays host to tourists who clamber over the rocks that despite not being as dangerously high up as say the Grand Canyon would very likely be the death or at the very least severe disablement as a result of any misstep.
The Guide claimed that the hike (and I hesitate to call anything that is paved and manicured a “hike”) would take about 40 minutes. Even with photo ops, we trekked it in half the time. It was easy to see what a clusterfuck (god, I love this word) a well-laid out place such as this would be once the summer and families on holiday began to arrive though Rob is incredulous that anyone could possibly visit this area on purpose (if we could have endured a longer car trip, we’d have been farther south ourselves). As it was only the end of March and just in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s, there were few people aside from us visiting.
The Flip-flop family were the people we encountered on the first real view from the bluff. Clad in shorts and flip-flops, they had hopped and huffed themselves out as far as one could go without actually falling off. The youngest, a girl of about seven, had leapt a space just a tad shy of her own height out to a stony flat and was trying to coerce her father into following. If that were my daughter so inappropriately dressed for hiking/rock climbing, dancing around on a 7 by 5 foot surface above a sheer drop of a hundred feet give or take – I would expect someone to turn me in for bad parenting. The father gamely attempted to make the leap but one look down the crevice in between his perch and the girl’s stopped him fairly cold. He tried to grab a thin tree that even I could see would crack like an egg and thought better of that too. The mother was sitting a bit farther out with the two older children still farther out behind her. I wondered if she had scooted all the way out on her butt because it didn’t seem to me that she could have stood all the way upright if one of her children’s lives depended on it. Still, she was the one who insisted that they all gather on this far point for a picture they could use on their Christmas card. Gotta love those people who can plan their obnoxious holiday missives 9 months in advance. “Look here we are on the bluff at Garden of the Gods in Illinois. This shot was taken just before my late husband fell feet first into a crevice and dropped 75 feet to his innard splattering and excruciatingly painful death right in front of our children and myself. Merry Fucking Christmas to you.”
Rob, sure-footed as a goat, hip-hopped out to the edge. The mother commented to me on his agility and kept the comments on his legs and bum to herself, but I saw her looking. Rob does have a very fine set of legs and a magnificent ass. He was just saying to me the other day that I don’t express my awe of him enough and so I thought I would throw some his way.
We wandered away from the Flip-flop Family as quickly as we could, but soon encountered the Outsiders. Teens whose dress – MySpace Goth – indicated that they thought themselves rebels. The black on black look topped by the hack job hairstyles, Cleopatra eyes and possibly accessorized further with piercing is so cliché to me. Having taught in middle and high schools for twenty years I can barely remember a year that I didn’t see kids dressed like this. Sometimes a handful. More and more as the time passed. But it is a tried and true sign of rebellion – nose thumbing – that like the youth music of the moment can hardly be called original anymore. I wonder when, like blue jeans, Goth like dress will become something that adults wear routinely, enduring the groans and eye rolls of their own children. I was listening to an NPR interview with Tracey Ullman where she explains why she doesn’t wear jeans. As a 48 year old divorced mom, her son considered jeans on a woman her age to be “sexy mom jeans”, the kind that women past forty and single wear to catch a new husband. Will the Goth young someday be accused of wearing “edgy mom chains” or “black widow clothes” by their teenage children who are afraid that they are in the market?
I had seen the two girls before we began our “hike”. One was a faux Goth. She had the lope-sided Veronica Lake look, dyed a dark pink – magenta maybe – and was dressed all in black but she clearly looked like a poser. Just doing the minimum defacement to be allowed to hang around. The other girl was as close to the real deal as a kid can get in southern Illinois. Jet-black hair that was clearly a dye job and hacked/shellacked into a variety of stark angles. I wasn’t even sure she was a girl at first because she wasn’t wearing the skintight pants of her companion but boys black jeans with stomping boots and a black jacket over a t-shirt with something on it I didn’t bother to read. It would have been obscure or insulting or both and I don’t read kid’s shirts anyway. I never have. Once in my early teaching days at a middle school on the eastside of Des Moines after I had escorted a class to the auditorium for a school performance of some kind, one of my co-workers sidled up to me and asked me if I had read the writing on the shirt of one of the boys in my class. While I had noted the scrawl that covered his shirt, I hadn’t paid it too much attention. Turned out it was the word “fuck” in cursive over and over. I don’t read kid’s shirts. Nor do I look into their mouths. There are just things I don’t feel I need to know.
When Rob and I ran into the Goth girls, they were accompanied by a boy who was holding the leash of a yippy looking little black (what else?) dog. I had spotted them on the far bluff that we were heading toward earlier and we had slowed down our pace a bit as the Flip-flops were far behind and we didn’t want to be stuck occupying space. Wearing the obligatory hoodie and fringed shaded eyes, he was darkly dressed as well. I didn’t get the sense he was “with”either girl though Pink was clearly enamored of him. The slunk past trailing the noxious odor of cigarettes that became thicker as we approached the rocks they had just vacated. I had forgotten how smoke hangs in the humid air but not how much I loathe teen smokers. Especially when smoking is part of an “outfit”.
After we’d moved off the tidy stone trail to a real hiking one, we ended up following a couple who Rob had initially suspected of being a pair of young lovers in search of an open-air shagging spot, but when we caught up to them they were just a couple of middle-aged tourists (Tracey Ullman’s son is right – it’s the jeans – coupled with ball caps and dyed hair anyone can fool Mother Nature now, provided she’s only got a rear view and from a distance). They attempted small talk but we shut them down, not being in need of hiking buddies and also because we are both a bit reclusive – not just a honeymoon thing either.
The hike itself turned into another off road experience. Flooding has drowned evidence of worn trails and enough people have simply created new paths hither and yon that it is pretty easy to end up running out of trail in a dead end. Like the first hike, we simply bushwhacked but by this time were in the valley between the bluffs and a coming rain and the setting sun made it seem darker than it was. At one point we were skirting close to the bluff and the distinct rustling of, in my opinion, a lot of bats, sent me scampering at almost a run to catch up to Rob who is always leading the way at Storm trooper pace. Later as we approached the truck in the parking lot, Rob spied a bat circling in the dimming light.
“Is that a bat?”
“Yes, there was a whole bunch of them back in the bluffs.”
When he wanted to know why I didn’t point them out, I replied.
“Because you’d have wanted to go back and take a look.”
And he would have too. And I hate bats.
The parking lot was deserted when we emerged from the trail after bushwhacking through the rain. I wasn’t too surprised. We hadn’t run across anyone that day who wouldn’t have melted.