The sun is sinking behind us, the shadows from the overarching trees have grown into one around us. Passing open river flood fields, the grass seems particularly greyed in its pre-autumn straw hues. Shadowy and silent, it is unmoved in the still air. Water stained plywood boards stare blindly back where windows once graced the faces of abandoned homes and a forgotten general store. A historic church stands minimally kept and alone save the bones of the many buried dead in the swath of cemetery to its north.
This ride is a favorite, I love this ride, he loves this ride, but something is off. We’re keen eyed albeit stolid against the impression that something isn’t quite right, like a source-less shadow in the room. Turning, looking for haven, we venture down an old county road, gravel and rock and a cautious ride. Feeling every slip, we push forward excited toward that haven, that finest view of sunset. The last sun is parceled in lacey patches thru end of summer leaves and flashes of golden rod and reddening sumac splash the periphery. I don’t remember “no trespassing” gates before, but they’re open and I assume they’re markers for the back end of the resort property behind us. Ahead the road disappears and doesn’t seem to end, but it should.
It should have ended where a bridge began, a beautiful truss bridge, brilliant in withering patina turquoise and planks from better days, and careful riding balanced on one of the parallel tire decks. And across the bridge was the finest campsite on the Illinois River, sequestered in trees on the east bank, the bank the tourists forget. There it was always quiet and green like something from a fairytale bathed in ethereal light throughout the day and mysterious river moonlight by night. The view peered through a column of trees to canoes passing by and the graceful arch of the blue green bridge smiling upside down at the river she’d connected county road to county road over for decades.
The road should’ve ended where the bridge began but the bridge doesn’t end or begin any more. It isn’t there. Brakes and gravel and dust and Josh’s heart was on his face and I couldn’t help but cry out low.
There was nothing wrong with that bridge. But for the last year, a newer, ugly concrete highway style bridge has been being constructed about a mile up river at the cost of the scenery and flora. It connects the highway to the opposing bank county road, a road they’re paving, a paving project we realized when we looked across the river apparently meant the end of the most beautiful campsite on the Illinois. The trees have been cut down. It’s as open and empty as the pasture land on the other side of the road. Bare and ready for development, more resort properties to clog the river, more overpriced cookie cutter homes in a flood plain, all for folks to use that ugly concrete connection, for folks to see and be seen.
After a series of why’s exchanged, we park lower on the bank and talking ceases as the last lonely rays of sun illuminate the great empty space between the four pilings.
We walk the shore avoiding eye contact with the empty gap. We walk up the bank to the crest where the lip of the beautiful bridge began and stare at what life looks like when it’s erased all at once. We mourn in silence at the top of the crest, then back again down to the bank.
I remember the last sunrise I watched from that bridge, just a year ago.
Riding home in weighted quiet and engine hum, back through town, traffic blurred, and at a light I asked Josh the most rural, untouched way back. A few miles, a turn, development disappears and thru trees we wind, the moon rises stunning and the road banks higher until we are back in the hills over the lakes, under the trees, hidden.