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One of the strange things about being here is that information isn't over saturated.  For example, there aren't a thousand photographs of the River Lagan nature preserve that I walked through this afternoon. I would likely have never been able to find the entrance (which is within walking distance of my apartment) without someone telling me where it is.

So one of the things I'm doing right now is expanding the digital presence of something that is currently under-represented on the internet. There's some official website for where I went, but nothing informal that reviews it. The conversation happening there seems to be about how considerate bikers should be. Initially, expanding the profile of the lovely spot seems like a good thing.  For example, if some tourism or ecology board in the UK googled how many hits that the River Lagan has, mine could drive up traffic, leading to an increase of funding for a relaxing and ecologically interesting area. But an increase in traffic and tourism can also have drawbacks.

The scent of rotting, I noticed near some muddy peat, is different here than the wetlands around Nashville, or the Everglades of my childhood.  Nashville's rotting smells of sulfur, of something slightly disgusting. South Floridian dying vegetation comes to my memory as a brackish smell of salty standing water. I recall it as tepid. Here, there wasn't much of the smell of rotting matter, even though leaves were all over, but when I stood near the gathered heap of moss, leaves, and flowers in mud and water, I could only feel it smelled sickly sweet. It made me walk back and smell again.

The trail I walked is an old towpath for a river and lock system that shipped goods through Northern Ireland. But now it's just a interconnected series of paved sidewalks, trails, and deer paths. I must have passed by three dozen people on my walk. Almost all of them were old, a large percentage had dogs, and a handful had strollers. I couldn't believe this level of activity. Even in Central Park, the most high frequency park I've ever attended, all the visitors were tourists or locals walking quickly to get somewhere. There are far more people in New York City than Belfast, but percentage-wise, they just don't show up on a random afternoon to relax and walk their dog. In the Botanic Gardens, a larger and more centrally located Belfast park, I also hadn't seen so many people considering how accessible it is. That may change when undergraduates return, considering how close it is to campus.

I suppose the difference between the path I was on today and the two more urban parks I've mentioned is in some sort of cultural difference. But I can't quite pinpoint it. When I tried cycling across Belgium, I found myself on many towpaths. But I don't think I ever saw a soul on them. And the weather was far better there.  
I think that people here know they have to get out and stay active or they'll get depressed in the winter. This is still technically the last few days of summer, though it doesn't look or feel like it to me. Today I could really feel the latitude of the island. I felt like if I squinted into the distance, I might be able to see sailors coming a-viking from the sea.

Halfway through the walk, I found myself heading over a footbridge onto a little island with some mighty trees. I know very little about kind of tress, having grown up surrounded by two kinds--pine and palm--but I wanted to call these birch, or fur, or oak. I know they're not oak trees, but they felt like it. They surrounded me as I wound my way through the undergrowth on paths that I suspect would be good for birdwatching. In the trees I saw a few boxes that I assumed were handmade birdhouses.
I kept worrying that I had gone the wrong way. I've walked a significant amount of trails in the hills around middle Tennessee.  They were all marked. Some with signs, some with marks of paint on the tree. But here I kept seeing paths split off with no explanation, or drop down to the river or a stream even.
But I kept going. I knew the area was well trod, I had a phone, and I felt I could remember my way back if I had to return.

At the end of my walk (but not the end of the trail), I came to a little pub across a footbridge. I'm told it's about halfway to Lisburn here, and I didn't stay long. The wind started to pick up around the bridge and a gate that led down to a dock kept slamming open and closed in the gusts. I saw one gate strewn on the ground, broken already.
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I'm not sure why the bridge was red. I don't think that ships big enough to harm the bridge could even make it this far up the Lagan. And even if they could, I feel like the bridge is high enough and visible enough to avoid damage. The bridge, unlike everything else, didn't really blend into the surrounding area. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, so I stood on it. From there I could look down into the water, or look down onto the dock, or hear the wind whip a gate. A man with a dog walk past me. The dog seemed like he knew to keep left.

The new bridge was just stacked on top of the old one. Perhaps it was red because cyclists were meant to hop off their vehicles and walk them through. But I doubt they could have ridden them across the narrow walkway even if they wanted to. Certainly not with people coming or going.

In Florida, it always felt like the new thing was stacked on nature. But there weren't any man-made objects to put on top of things. In New York, you either keep things fresh or they get knocked down and replaced. In the South, antiques are venerated. Old mason walls stand at the borders of property lines that may no longer exists. Here, the old things are still used every day for their original purpose. But the context has shifted around them. I couldn't help but wonder who planned this, or if it could even be called a plan.
It felt like a nature preserve, but it also preserved a history before there was a nature preserve. I almost stopped at the Lock Keepers, the remnant of the old canal lock system here, for a drink. Just to see what it was like. But the day was fading and I didn't feel like walking at night.
 


Comments

Jennifer
09/19/2013 3:25pm

Beautiful pictures. Looks very serene.

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