Richmond Street to the River

by Tim Gilmore, 7/7/2012

As a rule, the closer you get to the river, the more expensive the homes. Park Street splits Riverside in two, and the  Colonial Style houses riverward of Park Street are more expensive than the Queen Annes and bungalows between Park Street and the highway. The latter might sell for anywhere between a million and a half and $15,000. The houses riverward of Riverside Avenue and St. Johns Avenue are the costliest. A riverfront Richmond Street house sells for a few million, a vacant lot is for sale for $1.6 million.

But a street that’s not a street runs to the river between the vacant lot and another multi-million-dollar home.

Between houses that were society houses when built in the 1920s runs a no-man’s-land down to the river. Somebody there, hidden in the reeds, repeated the bitter old slogan, “Eat the Rich.”

“Adverse possession” is a legal term for occupying a property in conflict with the possession of the legal owners.

“Squatter’s rights” refers to the right gained to a property by living there in forfeit of the legal owners. Squatter’s rights intersect in theory with the “natural rights” philosophized by Locke and Hobbes and Paine, theories influential in the founding of the United States, “natural” because when you occupy a place you begin to internalize and thus territorialize the place. Pioneers did this, though so did the Indians whose land was pioneered away from them. Cats do this. Apes do this. Wolves and wild dogs do this. People do it. Even philosophers.

Off Richmond Street, a street abuts. The street has no name. Shortly, it dead-ends at a line of wooden markers. The markers don’t stop the dirt path cutting through the vegetation to the river.

So the street has no name and does not end where it ends and continues via dirt path toward the St. Johns. It cuts through Elephant Ear plants and kudzu. It cuts through the sand and the ticks.

Then, on the left, brightly painted boards nailed to a camphor tree as steps. Above the steps, platforms. Platforms in the camphor. On the other side, a wooden ladder in the sawgrass. Then, there’s the river. The grand homes around this narrow corridor exercise no power over it. The muck beneath the sawgrass is choked with beer bottles.

Dense sawgrass can cut you coming through in the middle of the night. Expensive dogs behind expensive landscaping bark expensively in expensive houses in the dark. Their owners paid their price. But the river was here millennia before them. So were the oaks. So were the snakes. So were the rats. So were people who had no money. Even if they had escaped their long genocide, the Timucuans who lived here for millennia couldn’t afford now to buy back their homes.

The wooden ladder leads up into the camphor, and the branches of the camphor tree lead up into the sky, and the waves of the river lead into the waves, and time, both forward and backward, gives way to time.

Where the road should have extended toward the river shines one streetlight in the woods between the houses. One streetlight illuminates one wild corridor between these artificial estates. Streetlight masquerading as one of the trees.

Behind dappled shadows in twilit leaves, a wanderer could see anything. Angel with the head of a pig. Defying the defining of borders. The wealthy there, the landless here. Angel in the trees chuffs through the wind that soughs through the leaves. Long ago and far into the future, he is constant. He is loyal. He is faithful. He is always here.

—Tim Gilmore, 07/07/2012

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