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At once the whole complexion of our journey was transformed. It became Edenic. We were surrounded by tall shady forest, enveloped in a minty chlorophyll scent, spellbound by birdsong. We could hear the babbling of a brook.
At the foot of the steps, a dirt path plunged further into the ravine at such a steep angle that we had to catch at trees to keep from tumbling. We arrived at the bank of a stream that ran swift and burbling between stone retaining walls. The water looked mountain-clear and cold. Should we follow the path downstream or upstream? Upstream, we decided, sensing that there would be more forest in that direction.
The path rose, dipped, rose again, the net result being that we were climbing, coming closer, presumably, to the source of the stream. The trees stretched immensely high in what was clearly an sustained effort to grab every last ray of sunlight flickering over the lip of the ravine.
The trail became muddy, nearly vanishing at spots. The retaining walls were overrun with plant life and sagged from erosion from the watercourse brushing its base. The constant sound of rushing water was exhilerating. Taking advantage of a series of rocks strewn like ellipsis dots across the stream, we hopped over to the east bank where the path was firmer.
We passed under the tall bridge that carries traffic on St. Clair Avenue over the ravine. There was a grove of wild crab apple and berry trees. Annie sampled the fruit but I distrusted it. I’ve got in the habit of believing there’s toxic chemicals in every natural product nowadays. Annie laughed at me over that. Then she wanted to kiss. That was nice, in the sun. We looked around but there was no plausible covert place to lie down.
The stream curved sharply. The retaining walls had badly deteriorated, sinking below water level in a couple places. We crossed a shaky wooden footbridge back to the west side, where we saw there had been major subsidence — a muddy hole had opened up and swallowed the aluminum barriers and yellow caution tape the Public Works people had tried to cordon off the site with.
Through the foliage, high up on the crest of the ravine, we glimpsed some fine brick homes. We saw upper floors, roofs, chimneys. The Moore Park neighborhood. They presumably had spectacular vistas over the ravine. A breeze rustled through the leaves up there, but down here the air was stock-still and humid, like a terrarium.
If she were to buy a house, Annie told me, it would have to be near a school, because she wanted to bring her eight-year-old daughter over. That part wasn’t going to be easy, though. Annie’s sister was caring for the kid back in Shanghai and seemed to have the means to resist handing her over, on the grounds that the child’s education would be disrupted. Annie planned to make a trip home in fall to sort matters out. I always felt there was something she was not telling me about how her marriage fell apart. So be it. My attitude is, if you don’t want to tell me something, then don’t.
I also had the feeling that if Annie went back to China she might decide not to return here and I wouldn’t see her again in this life.