Mr. B. and I finally realized that trying to do much on Saturday after working at the concert on Friday night is foolhardy. We end up getting run down and cranky and prone to bouts of acid reflux and bouts of battling each other over silly issues, like whether the moon is really made of green cheese or might be made of a thrillingly malodorous Bleu de Laqueuille.
Ever since coming to this realization, we have taken to shuffling around locally instead of shooting off on a reckless adventure that involves driving 250 miles and visiting three parks in one eight-hour period.
Last Saturday, Mr. B. reminded me that he had been wanting to revisit Falling Creek Falls, a charming little nature park that is located just north of Lake City. We’d been there on Easter to photograph the root-beer fizz of a falls, and we’d been there again when a muscular thunderstorm prevented our entering the park at all. I was delighted to revisit the falls and to perhaps take the full trail instead of just the boardwalk.
No sooner had we arrived at the park than a black cloud appeared to the northwest. We got out of the car and took a few pictures of a bee molesting a flower, and then we got into the car and drove a mile or two out of the rain. Once you get outside of Lake City, things become quickly rural. I turned down a road called Testament to search for a church, and then I spied the sign for Outlaw Country Road, which revealed not some modern-day bandits but one modern-day mobile home and a couple of older ones.
After a quarter of an hour or so, we went back to the park. There was another car in the lot as we set out down the boardwalk for the easy lope to the falls. We ran into the park’s other visitors as we arrived at the deck over the falls and we said, as one does, hello. The other couple was a large and heavyset young man and a short and slightly less heavyset young woman. They left as soon as we arrived.
Mr. B. quickly started taking pictures. I have been on a bit of a camera quest lately, since my point-and-shoot has inadequate zoom and the continuous-shoot pictures are too small to be clear in print, so I messed around with the manual feature while Mr. B. got lost in an artsy reverie over the tannin-stained waters.
Somewhere between an ISO setting of 400 and 1600, I noticed a flash of white among the trees. This turned out to be a t-shirt worn by a young black man who, it soon became apparent, was accompanied by a pair of hard-looking young white women. They walked towards the deck, and, friends, here we have it: I had a bad vibe. I stepped away from the deck railing and turned towards them. Mr. B. was happily changing his aperture and had his back turned towards the new visitors.
It was the way one of those girls looked at me when I said hello. I noticed heavy tattoos on her arms, but more than this I noticed the curled lip and the hard, hateful eyes. I backed up farther and watched as the three positioned themselves on either side of Mr. B.
Both Mr. B. and I have both been a bit under the weather lately, I suspect from using the community pool and contracting a hideous type of community-pool dysentery. My stomach flipped and I said something, quietly, about going back up to the bathroom, and then I zoomed back up the boardwalk, intent on using the bathroom and getting my cell phone and the vistors’ license plate number, although not in this exact order. I jammed up the boardwalk and as I closed in on the parking lot, I ran into the couple who had been on the deck when we arrived. The heavyset young man stopped me as I sped by. “We’re leaving the park because of other people,” he said.
“What other people,” I asked. “Me?”
“No,” his girlfriend said, “the three that just came into the park.” She explained that when they left the deck, they took the wooded trail that follows the creek. There, they ran into the trio, a meeting that her boyfriend described as “Scary, and I didn’t want to get into a fight.”
He added that if he had to fight, he would have.
I ran the rest of my way to the car and called Mr. B. on his cell phone, hoping to spur him out. Now, I have to say that Mr. B. is an intellectual and a dreamer and a full believer in the potential good of mankind, and probably not the kind of person who would react without question upon a conversation that went like this:
“Honey, start walking towards the parking lot now. Don’t ask questions, just start walking.”
I’d have had to explain why I said this, and I’d have had to go into the “vibe” and how I wasn’t the only one in the park who felt it, and so on, and Mr. B. was raised in the Sixties and is far more open-minded than I. And I’d have had to yet again explain my daughter-of-a-Marine upbringing and the watch-your-back-ness of that, and I had my father’s voice in my head saying, “What the hell were you doing out there, anyway?”…and it wasn’t going to lead anywhere but to confusion.
I ended up not having to say much of anything. As I was trying to coax Mr. B. up that boardwalk, the trio sauntered out of the woods, got into a crummy turquoise pickup, and roared off down the slick road, tires squealing.
I had their license plate number, their descriptions, and the color and size of that girl’s gang tattoos all written down, ready to go, making me feel a bit like a volunteer rent-a-cop keeping law and order a small jog around the corner from Outlaw Country Road.
Addendum: Know your local gang graffiti. There was graffiti here and there along the rails of the boardwalk. Falling Creek Falls is a lovely, tranquil place, but it is just outside of a tough part of Lake City. Knowing graffiti is a lesson I learned in Los Angeles. I’m not saying there was trouble afoot at this park on that lazy summer day, but I wouldn’t have ruled it out. My leaving the woods when I did put the trio between what could have been a victim (Mr. B. “You left me there to be mugged”) and a witness (me). That, and I really did need to use that restroom.