An Afternoon at Sweetwater Creek

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Old mill

Down at the ol’ New Manchester mill

There are some strange people in the woods.

Sunday, my wife and I took our daughter, age 4 and fast approaching 5, on a little jaunt at Sweetwater Creek State Park. We wanted to see the old mill, and we wanted to get a little exercise.

We came upon all manner of “new” observation points sturdily constructed of treated lumber, and their obvious age and the fact that we couldn’t recall them having been there the last time we walked down to the old mill told us it’d been too long since we went for a walk in the woods.

See, I have terrible luck. I went to get us dinner Saturday night at a drive thru, and the car in front of me placed three separate orders, then amended two of them. Two cars behind them and in front of me pulled around them and left the line. I had to ask the girl at the window if the people in front of me were drunk or just really stupid. “One of each,” she said.

Creek

The “crick.”

And that’s what happens to me when I go out. I run to the grocery store, and a man looking at his phone walks straight into my shopping cart while I’m putting groceries in the back of my van (this also happened Saturday). I am a magnet for the belligerent and socially insane. They’re drawn to me like a suicidal moth to a flame. This phenomena has led to me becoming a bit of a shut-in (not that this doesn’t still bring the crazies to my door).

But my wife and I have started trying to be a bit more active, getting away from the couch and out into the world. This makes me happy. I’ve always envied the “outdoorsy” types who always look like they’re having more fun in this world than the rest of us, with their Jeeps and Subarus and rugged earth-tone pants and wide floppy hats wicking away their sweat. It didn’t seem that hard, what they did. I mean, hell, I already own a tent and a pair of cargo pants, so I’m halfway there based on the look alone.

(Be honest: every time you see someone in a Jeep, you feel like they’re having more fun than you are. You know they’re not; they’re driving slower than they want to, it’s always too hot or too cold, people pitch trash into their vehicle when the top is down and there’s no way to inconspicuously pick your nose in a Jeep because everyone’s staring at you. But they’re staring because you look like you’re having so much damned fun.)

This is where I hope our move will lead us. I’d like to go kayaking. I’d like to go hiking. I’d like to go camping more than once every three years.

I’d like to eat more granola.

But before any of that can happen, I’ve got to learn to cope with the fact that crazy can even find me deep in the woods.

When we arrived to find a place to park, the lot was full, as you’d expect on the first truly pretty weekend of the year. We circled around, and drove past an ambulance parked at the trailhead. The EMTs were in no hurry. There was someone in the back, but they weren’t particularly animated. Two women were hugging and crying outside the ambulance. It didn’t look good.

I circled around again, and lo and behold, a spot began opening up! I stopped and backed up quickly to grab the spot. The woman vacating it took her sweet time. She kept staring at her phone. I made the “hurry the hell up” motion out my window, and she rolled her eyes. Why do I always end up with the assholes?

But then she pulled in behind the ambulance, which had since been closed. The EMTs still didn’t seem to be in any great hurry. Oh, so that’s what she was doing on her phone. Now I see. I felt almost remorseful as I nonetheless occupied her parking spot.

On the trail, we struggled to make the 4-year-old understand why walking in the woods was recreational. There were no swings, so the whole concept eluded her as she inquired, “are you sure this is a park?” We also struggled with trying to walk my dad’s overly friendly Yorkie, who was hell-bent on greeting every living thing on the trail whether they wanted her to or not. (The whole thing really sapped a lot of the pleasure out of the experience.)

At the bottom, near the water, is where the weird ones gathered. My daughter was transfixed by a Wiccan-looking lady in a long Celtic gown with a leather pouch around her neck, walking with two other guys who looked like they’d be much happier at a Nickleback concert.

Old mill

Down at the mill.

Then there was the giant of a man with a stooped posture and dreadlocks of black hair that looked to be colored more with Krylon than Just for Men. He wore a black T-shirt that was really much tighter than it needed to be. He didn’t look like a woodsy sort, but then, he also didn’t look like he’d be the kind with a good looking woman with whom he had evidently procreated twice, but that appeared to be the case judging by the party that was with him.

And there was the pudgy guy overcomplicating for his evident lack of masculinity with two pit bulls on chains leading him along.

(There also was a film crew working just off the trail, but my wife wouldn’t let me stick around long enough to see if they were shooting a porno.)

These weren’t the outdoorsy types I envied. These were the types that make me feel a lot better about being myself. What were they even doing in the woods? Didn’t they have someplace else to be? Why did they have to douche-up my view? Did they realize they were even more out of place than I was? Did they go home and write blogs about how strange I looked, in my green cargo pants, white tennis shoes and pocket T-shirt?

Am I becoming the stuff of legend somewhere else in the digital ether?

But that’s how it goes.

When I’m around, anyway.

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