This post is part of the blog “Pulling on Trouble’s Braids” by CCC officer Robin Berger. Robin explores issues of race, gender, class and privilege, seeking ways to bridge the many great divides of contemporary American life.
I sit at the bottom of Ithaca falls, the sun-warmed rock beneath me hard under my tailbone. At my feet is a gorgeous, half rotted barn-beam. As I write, I look at it and wonder how to bring it home.
Ithaca Gunworks used to sit on the bluff on my right. The area is fenced off now, with signs telling people not to handle the rocks or sit on them. Too many years of gunsmithing has left the area soaked in lead.
A thin, long-legged young girl – eight? nine? – dances around me. She looks over my shoulder to see what I’m writing. No doubt finding my handwriting impossible to decipher, she finally asks, “So are you writing about all the places you’re visiting, or what?”
“Kind of,” I say. “Do you do that too?”
“I couldn’t possibly,” she responds, shrugging her shoulders in a worldly, well-traveled kind of way. “I’ve been to too may places … I can’t remember them all.”
We exchange the wheres and some of the whys and wherefores of our lives. She tells me her name’s Kendra, and she’s the second oldest of four children; “the fourth in a family of six,” is how she likes to put it.
Her dad and Kendra’s two sisters come over. Dad is about 38, a New Jersey State Troopers hat on his head. He and his daughters sort rocks and look for fossils.
The girls are dirty in the glorious way of children on a camping trip, hair matted and knees dirty. I show him the sign about the lead poisoning. He shrugs and says they’ll wash their hands. Maybe it’ll be enough; I don’t know. Carrie, the mom, sits next to me and apologizes for invading my quiet space. “No worries,” I say and then bring up politics.
She’s a stay-at-home mom and life-long independent voter. Carrie nods towards her husband. “I have no idea how he voted – he’s by nature more conservative than me. But I can’t imagine he voted for Trump.” Her dad did though … they’ve barely spoken since the election. She gestures towards her daughters, purses her lips, and shakes her head.
Since the election, Carrie has friends she barely speaks to, and businesses she won’t visit. She says the election has torn her world apart. Her voice shakes as she talks about the national parks, and the climate-change deniers.
“We’re giving our souls away,” she says of the defunding of national parks. Her husband listens but says nothing. One of their daughters scoops handfuls of rocks into the pockets of her backpack. Both parents laugh.
“We have our kids for such a short moment,” she says. She’s not sure it’s enough, anymore, to prepare them for what lies ahead. She has almost no hope.
Throughout our conversation, the girls climb over and around both parents with the assurance of well-loved children. Ithaca Falls sheets and sparkles, flows and riffs. Other families come, take pictures and leave. The air is filled with roaring water, sunlight, and laughing tourists.
We say goodbye, finally, and wish each other good travels. I watch as they walk away. I hope those girls toss their rocks out and wash their hands.
I hope they have a better future than either their mom or me can imagine.