Alex had come to the lake before many times. His dad brought him and the rest of the family for fishing or camping or long walks to breath fresh air. His father had always loved the outdoors and it was one of the most important things he passed on to his son. Alex loved to be outside, not really getting why so many people stayed inside with their computers and other machines. He also had a computer and a cellphone but he could disconnect easily in order to enjoy the world outside. Normally, his day would include a visit to the park; at least a shot one, to feel less stressed and just relax for a while. But a park in the city still had pollution around and filth and he decided one day that his next holiday would be spent in the lake of his memories.
He told his family he would go, hoping they would go with him but that didn’t work out as he planned: his mother did not like to leave home and she had never really been the kind to love dirt, so she passed but asked him to take many pictures. His siblings had similar answers, only less precise about why they denied his request. Something about the children, their jobs, a meeting… He decided it wasn’t his business and that, if they decided to come, he would be there. Alex planned to stay a three-day weekend, in order to really explore and live again those days where his father and him would walk for hours in order to photograph rare animals or find “new” places in the forest.
The weekend began and he arrived very early on Saturday, leaving his car in the small parking lot that the national park had available for campers. There, Alex saw the first thing that had changed since the days of his father-son trips: the parking lot had been expanded and a lot of people were already there, mainly from the neighboring towns. Apparently they had all thought, like him, that camping was a nice plan for the weekend. He grabbed all of his equipment and was about to begin walking when a ranger stopped him and asked him if he was going to camp. That was a very stupid question, seeing what Alex was carrying but he decided to just nod. Apparently, spots were now assigned.
He began walking, now with a map provided by the ranger, in which he could see the exact spot where he had been authorized to camp. His father would have been furious, as he had always liked to camp wherever he wanted, sometimes by the lake, other times by the river. But Alex decided not to complain and just thought of visiting his father’s camping spots later that day. When he arrived to his spot, he found out that at least five other tents were already up in that area. It was outrageous as in the past there were never more than two tents next to each other, and not only because of attendance but because of safety issues. But there was no one to complain to and going back to the entrance would be lost time so he just dealt with it.
Putting on the tent was no easy task. He had forgotten that, back when he came with his family, his parents were the ones to do all the chores previous to the proper camping experience. Alex and his siblings would just play around the area until it was all magically done and they never really asked if they could help or how it was done. Alex tried for a whole hour to put up his tent but all the little sticks and the stakes and the proper tent were too complicated for him. He didn’t get the diagram that was in the instructions, that at least existed, and had no idea what to do next. But suddenly an older man from a neighboring tent helped him out without saying a word. In a few minutes the tent was up and the old man gone.
He waited there, extending his sleeping bag in the ground, but the older man did not come out of his tent again. In the silence, Alex could hear the sound of a radio and realized his noise putting up the tent must have distracted the man from some game and that’s why he had gotten that much needed hand. When everything was in order, he decided to go back to the entrance and ask for another spot but he realized the number of cars in the parking lot had doubled and that would mean there were no good spots left. At least his was near the lake. He decided to go there next and hoped it hadn’t changed as much as the rest of the park. He even felt the trees were different, if not fewer.
His jaw dropped the moment he reached the edge of the lake. Back in the day, only a handful of people enjoyed fishing and swimming there. The water was very cold so it wasn’t like many people cared for a swim. But now, somehow, everyone was in the mood. There were at least a hundred, if not more, people in the water. They were playing with beach balls and squirt guns, laughing loudly and eating all kinds of fast foods along the shore. Alex was surprised he didn’t see any vendors around, with the amount of people eating. Something he noticed was the absence of boats so he decided to ask a couple that was close about it. According to them, fishing had been banned in the park.
So now, that was gone. He had brought his old fishing rod but now it was useless, as well as his binoculars in order to find birds. He had noticed no chirping or any kind of bird noises in the whole area he had walked through. He decided to go to the edge of the park and hope for a better perspective on things. He couldn’t get off the smell of ketchup and mustard and the images of fat kids crying and playing in the lake. That must be discriminative in some way but he didn’t mind. He was just hurt to see that a very dear memory of his childhood was being destroyed slowly by what was supposedly called progress.
He reached the area that his father and him had explored so many times and he was happy to see it just like he had seen it all those years ago. No yelling and crying of children and adults here. Not the sound of music or cars. This place was the real forest, the thing for which he had come to this place. He walked around, taking some pictures with a small camera he had recently bought. He was even able to spot a couple of birds and was certain he had seen a deer but maybe it had been his imagination. Suddenly, he remembered a day with his dad in which, after a particularly long walk, they had discovered a small cave by a cliff. The place was beautiful, having a great view over the forest and a cooler environment in the summer. So Alex tried to locate it.
He walked for hours, just like back then, trying to remember the trail from his childhood. After a couple of hours, he realized he was probably lost. He had found the cliff but not the cave and realized that it would soon be night. He decided to look for the cave one more hour and if he didn’t find it he would come back later. Then, he heard something. At first he thought it was the wind but then he realized they were human voices. Maybe someone was in danger; maybe they had an accident and needed care. He tried to follow the noises and only realized what was happening when he stumbled to the ground, twisting his ankle and looking at the entrance of the cave he had known as a child.
But they were no children or parents there, only a couple of teenagers having sex. They stopped right when they saw his face on the ground. They screamed as they pulled up their pants and, from nowhere, the same ranger that had assigned him his spot appeared running. He told them to stay still and to walk in front of him back to the entrance. They took a while but they finally got there just as the sun was setting. The ranger and the others entered his small office and he asked what had been going on in the cave. The teenagers said Alex was a pervert that was watching as they kissed and Alex said that was bullshit, because they had been fucking and not kissing. The guard asked him if he had been looking at them for long.
Alex realized the ranger was on their side, as he looked at him with disgust. He told the truth, stating that he had been looking for he cave because his father and him had discovered it many years ago and that he had stumbled to the ground because of a rock. His ankle was hurting very bad. But the ranger did not appear to believe what he was saying. He told the teenagers to leave and never to go back to the cave again as it was off limits. As they left, he stood up and went for a nurse’s kit, and tried to fix Alex’s ankle but it was already swollen and hurting more. As he tried to do anything, he talked, implying that he did believe Alex had fallen because of a rock but also because he had been too busy nosing around the cave.
Alex stood up, inflicting a lot of pain onto himself. He told the park ranger the park had gone to hell as no one even respected nature, every single fragment been taken for tents and a lake full of fast food. The place had been a natural beauty and now it was just a shame, as it was his conclusion of blaming it all on a guy wit ha swollen ankle and not on the two kids that had taken the cave as a brothel. Alex forced his foot out of the office and, fortunately, he had his car keys with him. He just drove off, leaving his tent and other things behind. They were just a memory he wanted to erase and never go back to again.