The History in Losing The Briar Patch

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When I was little, it scared me; the screaming, the billows of vapor soaking the cement bridge that crossed over it. I would watch from afar as boats came careening down the cliff’s edge, their passenger’s arms high, their pleas for help echoing off the nearby lake. It scared me to watch them dive into the patch of thorns under them, and it mystified me to see them bobble out on the other side of the bridge, giggling and shaking the wet from their hair.

I watched them go down the mountainside year after year, making sure to pause every time I passed to watch each rider dive from the heights and wobble their way out from under the bridge. Everyone was soaking wet; everyone was happy.

As time progressed, I grew enough courage to creep closer to the railing, to watch in awe as the briars took each log down into their depth. At one point, I found myself in the splash zone, and the breeze of cool water vapor in the middle of summer was a blessing on my skin.

I grew tall enough with time, and one day I was in line, waddling myself toward the logs, toward the cliff’s edge, and toward the briars. Each sign I passed told me to turn back, and each second grew heavier with anxiety as the line twisted its way to the water’s edge. I don’t know how I managed to make it into the log that first time, barely able to see over the wooden seats, but I did, and I joined the wobbling crowd I had watched for years, on my slow march toward the edge of the mountain.

It was more than I expected, though I couldn’t tell you what it was that I expected in the first place. Bears and rabbits and frogs all waved from the water’s edge, singing and running, each with their own story to tell and their own gimmicks to bout. On the first fall of the ride, I had begun to regret my decision to brave the boats, but the laughing of my new rabbit friends eased my mind.

And then he was trapped, to be made into dinner. And my heart clenched. The ride grew hot and dark, and the vultures overhead beckoned for me to lose all hope, to do what would end in their dinners. My rabbit friend was tied, his voice jumping in fear as he was hauled up the mountainside with the gleam of the fire on which he was to roast the only thing to light his path. The log buffered underneath me, and the ticking of the lift cemented the fear in my heart. It felt like years since my rabbit friend and I were dragged up the mountainside, and at the top, my log boat teetered on the cliff edge to show a bed of thorns waiting like a forgotten responsibility.

And then, together, we fell.

At the bottom, I was dripping from the waves of park water that waited at the bottom of the mountainside. Our boat wobbled along like every other had, though now I was able to look up at those around me who were just brave enough to touch the railing of the bridge and watch our fall. I was the wet one, and I was supposed to be happy.

But something was off. it didn’t feel right. No amount of singing chickens at the end of the ride, now whistling could make the ride make sense to me. As I stepped out of the gift shop that tail-ended my first time on Splash Mountain, I stopped to stare at the sign I had only walked under an hour earlier. And I stared at the tower of characters I hadn’t realized that I didn’t know. The rabbit, my friend, I had never seen him before that day. And after then, I only could visit him on the ride. Why wasn’t he free to wander the park, like all the other characters of the lands were. Why was he trapped in his cycle of torment? What was wrong with him?

It does seem ironic to me that I remember this first ride so vividly; a memory that has had over 15 years to mature. It’s ironic in that my very first thought was that the briar patch was never spoken about outside the briar patch and that its creatures never showed their face outside the ride. Even 15 years ago, everyone knew that these creatures could not exist outside of the space they were bound to, and yet no one seemed to see Splash Mountain’s closing as inevitable. But then again, I guess irony has its own way of being forgotten over time.

Yesterday was the last day Splash Mountain was open. Today Splash Mountain is no more. Yesterday, the ride hosted thousands of its fans of their final drop. Today, the water is being drained, and walls resurrected around the mountain face. And all over social media, at least my social media, people wail about its closing, about the memories they are losing, and about how suddenly they lost the ride.

To me though, even 15 years ago, this ending was expected. Its songs had been slowly pulled from the park for years, its characters removed from the celebrations, its story hidden from the public. Even its name, Splash Mountain, had nothing to do with the ride itself. People cry about the death of a classic, but don’t realize it was built decades after Walt Disney died. I had seen most of its life as it was, and almost immediately at its birth, the Disney company had begun to silence its existence.

I had walked past the ride in 2019 and paused for a moment to check the waters for filled logs that made it through the briars safe. This was before they announced the ride’s removal; before they announced the halfbaked concept to take its place. And again I noticed how little of the ride existed outside of its covers. A statue stood at its entrance, and the briars stood at the drop, but only a light whistled toon seemed to make it out of the briar patch unscathed, and even then only the melody could be found in the park. The ride, one of the biggest of the Disney company, one of the most well-known, the one that people boasted on T-shirts, bragging to have braved its 50-foot drop, didn’t exist anywhere else but here at its mountainside; here where its water fell.

Sometimes, irony beats us all I guess. Sometimes, it hides in shadows behind big proud banners, and sometimes it sneaks its way into the melody of half-forgotten songs. The irony here is that Disney wanted the ride forgotten as much as it could before the ride was pulled away from the world. And yet, everyone now screams for its justice without realizing how long this decision was coming for. Though it is baffling how much people seem to blind themselves with memory, caught in the cycle of nostalgia so much that they couldn’t see the end coming. Maybe that is the irony as well, that nostalgia was born more from the death of a story that no one would know today had a ride in Disney not immortalized it. Maybe in 10 years, no one will know of the briar patch; that the melody, the blue bird on my shoulder, will be only a set of classic notes without words to accompany them.

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