Overgrown grass brushes against Andre’s legs as he walks along the narrow dirt trail. With laser focus, he scans the landscape for empty bottles and cans, food wrappers and other discarded trash. The white nylon bag he carries is already a quarter of the way full, a sad indication of how necessary a cleanup in this area is.
The afternoon sun hovers in a sluggish meditation, its heat steadily baking Andre as he continues his hike. He is surprised to find himself alone out here on such a perfect day, but that is the beauty of a midweek visit. The weekends were typically busy with local naturalists and curious visitors wanting to check out the “nude bathing area'”, but very few people made the effort otherwise.
As the sound of the cascading river grows louder Andre changes direction, making his way toward water. Silently, he strikes a deal with himself – When this bag is half full you can have a swim. Along the banks of the river he soon spots fast food waste, and with a gloved hand, he gathers greasy paper bags and cardboard packaging. He shakes his head at the thoughtlessness of those who have come before him, wondering why they would spoil a place this beautiful. It seems especially reckless considering the trashcans conveniently placed around the perimeter of the car park. Further downstream he finds empty beer bottles and a tangle of nylon net wedged between two boulders, no doubt the careless legacy of a solo fisherman. Beyond the boulders, a tube of forgotten suntan lotion sits beside two bags of empty crisps, which are now crawling with hungry ants. He watches them salvage the oily crumbs.
Pausing for a sip of water Andre removes his gloves and reaches into his backpack in search of his bottle. With the absence of any decent rain this season the river doesn’t rush with its usual urgency, but instead flows with a casual lethargy. Standing on top of the rocky outcrop, he takes in the vista; the coursing water slicing through woodland. On one side of the river, fragrant pine trees jut from the steep hillside and weeping willows grow sporadically along the bank. On the other side; dense woodlands create a wall of stooped trunks and branches; an impenetrable gateway to unknown territory.
Positioned beneath the full blaze of the afternoon sun, Andre feels seduced by the water. Even though his bag isn’t at the halfway point the magnetic pull of the river becomes too much and he breaks his promise. Kicking off his sneakers he simultaneously removes his t-shirt, which is now heavy with sweat. Loosening the drawstring of his shorts, he pulls them down, along with his jocks, as if they are the same item of clothing. Capitalising on the heat held within the rocks, he fashions an outdoor laundry service, meticulously laying out his t-shirt and shorts.
Clambering carefully – across a cluster of grey stone, Andre makes his way to the sandy beach, where his feet are gently massaged by the coarse sand. Moving slowly, he inches into the cold water; toes, ankles, and calves enjoying the cool relief. As the water reaches the back of his knees he inhales sharply before plunging further to the tops of his thighs. Another deep breath. The anticipation of moving any deeper is too much and, instinctively, Andre cups hi…