So there’s this place down near the tip of the peninsula, tucked away from the prying eyes. A place where me and a few friends can go and sit back and enjoy ourselves.
I was really into the wildlife back then. Wildlife and the party.
I’d been around a bit and had found the most primo spot in town. Funny, ‘cause it was in St. Pete, but it didn’t seem like city at all. A chalet of trees and birds and a pond. Okay, they call it a lake.
Had to be a chill place. Not too many people. Few rangers.
About twenty minutes away from the hotel, I uncovered it when I was real young. If you’re telling someone how to find it, you tell ‘em, “You drive south just about five miles. On your right, you’d see a big pond surrounded with cattails. I liked to watch the sky – there’s always a hawk or two circling overhead. Go past the pond – Lake Maggiore – and make a right, you’ll circle round the far side. That’s the entrance to Boyd Hill.”
As often as I could convince the gang, we’d head south, the car packed with blankets and a basket of treats. Most times the girls would throw together some food. I always tried to make a day of it at the picnic table, fishing and hanging out, away from the judging eyes of the city. If we were lucky, George’d bring his guitar and Alan the ukulele. I’d pull out the harmonica as soon as we got settled.
The streets were paved until you got into the park. After that, there was gravel.
That crunchy lot was my gateway to heaven, I said. Park the car and grab your sacks and wander back along the plank deck to getcha up into Lake Maggiore.
Not a great plan to stay after dark, because of the gators not being real friendly to humans, but if you got up real early in the morning, you could get a good eighteen hours in. Of course that was assuming you didn’t get eaten alive by the skeeters.
Also, didn’t travel without a shotgun. While it won’t do much for the mosquitoes, as much as it pains me to say it, you had to have one just in case the wildlife pursued ya. Personally, I hated the thought of killing one. They were awesome creatures. But there were city folks with me most of the time, and a man’s gotta make sure none of his friends go down early due to being a stupid asshole.
Pile into the car, pile out of it, do a little hiking, and perform along with the cicada orchestra.
While most of the rest of the gang would end up doing their worship at church the next day, I found God in the forest and swamplands.
Some of the best memories I have was at the Lake with Toni. Once we were together for real, being down there was like we were lucid dreaming. We’d spend hours out and after our first trip together she came up with some powdered herbs we could smolder to scare away the bugs. Smoke a little weed, cast a line out into the waters, and at the end of the day, the fish we caught could be smoked over a small fire. We escaped reality and the rest of the world.
Her laugh was candy. She liked to sing and I’d blow along on the harp and when the music really moved me, my feet started moving and I’d have to stand up or they’d try to carry me away. She’d peel away into hysterical laughter until her cheeks were wet.
She’d throw her head back and when she finally needed to catch her breath she’d look up at me and it pressed the air from my lungs. Toni mesmerized me – her mouth sucked all the air from the forest. I’d have to lean in to her to breathe again.
Some days we’d lay the blanket out on the picnic table. And, well, you don’t need all those details. I loved the smell of our sweat and sex mixed with smoke and oak trees.
But those days with my woman were numbered. That’s the one thing I missed most when she left – our alone times at Lake Maggiore. Tried to make new memories there so I didn’t end up crushed in the forest without her. After she went back to Roy, I spent a lot of time there. It was the place I felt she was closest.
I’d catch myself falling back in time in the years following.
Many times I’d go up there alone. My own private confessional where the priests were those massive oaks. And the cranes the only witnesses. But mostly I tried to bring the gang – if we were loud enough maybe we’d chase away the demons. Maybe we could run off the visions of her pale body laid out on the picnic table. The smells there brought me back to the ghost of her laughter.
It was a policy that when the life of the party got quiet, someone plied me with more liquor. Feeling sad and lost? The answer is always to drink more. They all looked after me in those moments. They’d grab me up from my seat and the Maggie’d wrap my arms around her neck and guide my body to follow hers in a dance. Distractions were good.