“Ugh, it smells like sewage combined with that Massachusetts seashore smell,” Janelle says.
I have to laugh. “What, like dead fish?”
She nods and holds her nose.
We are deep in the man-made slash that used to be the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company quarry. They smashed granite out of this earth to build their mills 150 years ago. It is a strange, mysterious place, a football field worth of ravine carved out of the granite. The chopped walls, now covered in graffiti, rise up around the bowl. In some places, like where we were able to scramble down into the ditch, the walls are only six or ten feet tall. In other places, the cliffs are sheer and easily 50 or 60 feet high. According to the history of this place (or legend, in a place like this the difference between history and legend is thin) the bottom of this pit was much deeper once. It was filled in about 30 years ago to keep kids from diving into the sitting water from the cliffs above; keep them from doing this because there were drownings.
This is a scar, still fresh and angry. This is the place where the city came from, where after the quarry closed a swim club called the Brownies would perform dives for crowds; a place where teenagers did and do come to play and sadly sometimes die, and now nature slowly, painfully stretches out to try to reclaim what we took.
It could be a beautiful place, like a mini Flume Gorge. It has that potential, that air of natural wonder, even despite its proximity to a ski hill and reservoir. But instead, typically, Manchester has left it to its own devices. After removing the stone and filling it in, after shutting it down and off, after trying with no success whatsoever to keep people from coming here, the Granite Ledge struggles once again against encroachment; this time against graffiti and litter. Piles of spray paint cans and energy drink bottles are strewn throughout the ravine, floating in green slimy outflow bubbling up from some hidden cavern below and trickling down toward the row of homes that line the western end of the gorge.
Janelle and I swing around the eastern side of the bowl. Looking up from the bottom we can see the electrical wires and tow lines from the ski area. The pool of sitting water that remains is mostly slush now, and the retreating winter is uncovering all manner of peculiar objects: tennis balls, paint trays, brooms, a football. We pick our way to the other side of the ravine and look up at the cliffs that give The Ledge its moniker, and I talk to Janelle about The Brownies. The daredevil divers would leap from the cliffs above into holes cut in the ice below. Their strange antics caught international attention and crowds in the thousands would gather along and around the cliffs to watch their ice shows.
Now, just ghosts. And litter.
After a while, we scramble back up a short section of wall, complete our circuit of the ravine and leave The Ledge to time once again. Along the way, we fill our daypack with as many empty bottles and as much garbage as we can safely tote out. We stop at the playground to toss the garbage and Janelle makes a beeline to the monkey bars. I join her and we swing around for a while, filling our lungs with spring air, considering the place where we just came.
“Not bad being out here,” I say hopefully, “any woods is good woods?”
She smiles. “Hey, for a Thursday after school, I’d say it’s pretty great.”