We went walking down by the Hudson River in the town where I grew up. Hadn’t been there in a while. The beach curved around, clean and bright.
When I was young the sand here was covered in beer cans and gnarled driftwood logs, strewn with broken glass and tires. The view was always great, as it is today, even in the murk of mid-July. The majestic Palisades stood proud before the kids who hung out here at the beach, kids called the river rats, who colonized this place.
Since my childhood the village has taken back its little cove, renamed it, given it a wheelchair-friendly wooden walkway. Gulls and cormorants still post themselves atop the picturesque ruins of old docks. A park next door has a friendly playground, benches, green lawn. It’s all tidied up so that everyone can enjoy the shoreline, not just river rats.
What’s that, says Maud.
We look, out just beyond the beach, where the water gets deep.
I see it, I say.
A large wooden cross, fastened to a piling, the tide lapping up against its neck.
A descanso, says Maud. She knows about descansos, the southwestern side-of-the-road memorials, crosses usually, that show where a person has died in a highway wreck. She’s been researching them for school.
A water descanso.
I remember now… some kind of boating accident, Maud says. She grew up here too, in this town, has seen the changes in the park over the years, the improvements, the things that go on under the radar, too.
The beach is pretty, the tall stone cliffs ever-beautiful, but you can’t tidy up death.