I thought to myself, why did they name these woods after Dante’s Inferno? Nine Circles of Hell. Paradiso. We entered Purgatory Creek Natural Area, the trails named Dante, Ripheus, Nimrod, and Beatrice, the object of his unrequited love.
We walked under the hanging robes of Spanish Moss, grim reapers of the forest, like we were walking down a hallway of chandeliers.
Stepping into the lower creek valley, we startled countless does and fawns who leapt out of the grass like salmon jumping out of a river, upstream, their white tails flushed out of hiding like doves.
We reached the Malacoda trailhead, and hiked around a heavy, ancient oak, and surveilled young bucks close by, grazing in the yellow, swaying grass of the meadow.
We stepped to the side of the trail for oncoming mountain bikes, skidding around us, and we arrived at the foot of the Overlook, at Geryon Grotto.
We smelled paint, reached the adobe rock cave under the cliff, and hung our heads. I put my hands on my hips and looked back up.
Four young men in masks in the upper cave were spraypainting the rocks, shaking their cans with beads inside, the fumes sharp in the cool air.
They froze when I stared them down, and stopped. My fury seeped out, boilermaker whistling steam. My wife tugged me out of this circle of hell, and we left the grotto, hiking back into the thicket, tripping on rocks, giggling at ourselves. The air and the sky grew calm and received the evening with new colors, a pink and violet haze.