There’s a place I like to go on Saturdays. It’s very out of my way, a four-hour drive each way to get there and then come home in the dark, stumbling through the door bleary-eyed and feeling slightly like I’ve been left my body.
I don’t go there every Saturday, but it’s the only day I will go there if I’m so inclined. The timing doesn’t matter, just as long as I’m there.
I first found out about the wharf two years ago on a hike, having spent hours traipsing the woods in thin-soled running shoes instead of the heavy solid boots the guy at the outdoors store said I should buy. “I’ll be fine,” I said to him. “I can handle a few pebbles.” He’d looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I felt sure I was unintentionally mimicking his expression, convinced he was out to get a couple hundred dollars extra off my unawareness.
Turned out, he wasn’t. That first hike I’d felt every rock under my shoe and thought ruefully on how the boots would have given me more traction on the damp earth. At home that night, not wanting to catch an I-told-you-so look, I ordered them online.
In my weary state the wharf had looked like a great state to sit down and have lunch, though I drew the line once I saw the number of sharp sticking-out nails and how rough the wood was. Instead, I’d withdrawn, unfolded a plastic tarpaulin over the grass and lain my lunch out.
I don’t think anyone ever knew about the wharf. If they did they certainly left it well enough alone, no doubt equally wary of the roughness and age of it. As I sat there watching the waves lapping against it, I thought about the size of the boats; no doubt small, canoes maybe. Short trips out for fishing – there was a sign up warning people on the total weight of fish they were allowed to take per trip.
How did they enforce that, I wondered. There was no office, no apparent way for someone to judge that the haul of the day was the approved weight. I tossed a pebble into the lake and it vanished before I could blink: I left that day and thought about it no more.
It became an unusual habit for me to come out here and sit silently, the world narrowing down to just a handful of sounds that were perfectly natural, a sharp contrast to my workday where I’d be surrounded by ringing phones and six or seven conversations all around me. Here, there were only the sounds of me walking, birds singing and the soft lull of water against the shoreline.
As I returned again and again I saw the wharf bleaching with age, fading from inky-dark wood to a paler yellow-green shade, depending on the light. When I wore sunglasses and looked at it, I really couldn’t judge the colour – without sunglasses it seemed much lighter, and it got so I could barely remember the colour.
It might’ve been a trick of my imagination, but I was convinced the wood was becoming smoother too. One morning, I ran my hand over the nearest post and felt the splinter snag – not smoother, then. Tentative, I balanced my weight on the second rail and was sure the wood groaned perilously, certain I could feel it start to cave in. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I grabbed the post (gloved hands this time) and threw myself back to land.
Before I left, I placed a few coins on the nearest plank. My knees got damp and stiff from kneeling on cold ground – two more minutes and the water began to seep into the material.
Next time I returned the coins weren’t there, but that didn’t mean anything. There could have been a curious bird picking up shiny little objects, so I placed a small rock on the plank. Harder for a bird to lift. It’d require a human to move it efficiently.
Strange though it seems, I never saw another person when I was hiking. When I returned a few months later and compared the photo I’d taken with the actual image of the wharf, the rock had barely moved, though I was sure the piece of wood below it looked a little more dented. Sure enough, my subsequent visits let me know the wood was caving in under the weight of the rock. I wondered about moving it, and decided not to.
Winter was the worst season to hike, according to all the websites I’d read on the matter, and this only made it the best time for me. In place of water bottles, I packed a Thermos of still-boiling tea and travel packets of sugar – instead of sandwiches, a pie wrapped in layers of tinfoil and tucked into a specially-insulated bag.
I’d eat the limp-but-warm pie, earmuffs covering my ears and the wind blowing scarf tassels against my chin, drink tea that warmed my bones and then snap a photo of the rock on the frosted-over wood. Somehow, despite the same composition and subject matter, I maintained that every photo came out different.
By the time I got around to going back it was summer. When I returned, I saw the rock was gone, and below it a gaping hole, full of splintered wood.
I left early that day.
I came back more in summer, taking advantage of the good weather to unwind from a busy workweek, and was happy to find that even in this much good weather the people I saw were few and far between. There was never any interaction between us all – I supposed that we, all lone hikers, were out for the same thing after working all week.
One day, I got there to find the wharf rebuilt. The wood was clean, freshly painted; the planks solidly not weather-beaten.
I left, and didn’t return.