Last weekend, before the world lost its mind and we were all quarantined to our homes, we had one last glorious day hike on an unexpected 60 degree spring day- the kind of day that gently nudges you out the door and reminds you that spring is indeed right around the corner. It was brisk outside, but the sunbeams soaked into our jackets and provided that unique warmth that only the sun can. The wind reminded us of its presence and we hustled on down the trail to generate some heat.
We had an amazing day, unexpected really. Hemlock Cliffs is listed at just a mile hike, so I didn’t have high hopes for adventure. I figured our hour and a half drive would feel hardly worth the effort and we’d quickly be sitting in the car again. Immediately I was mistaken....
Descending the wooden steps brought us to the first of 3 waterfall features. We first explored the top of the falls, watching the gentle stream meander on its way unwittingly headed toward an immense drop. The water hung on the brink of the edge then plummeted 30 feet to the bottom.
The underside gave us boulders to scramble, fallen logs to tight rope walk, bridges to traverse, and hidden walkways to find. These high waterfalls also afforded us the opportunity to walk behind the falls and watch the water cascade down over the top of us- the sunlight glittering through the water, projecting rainbows and prisms.
Others were out that day with us too, reveling in the adventure and hidden delights of the afternoon. Each of us took our turns exploring and picture taking before moving on and letting the next group have the area to themselves. We shared an unspoken joy in exploration and discovery, sharing the same foundational human emotions of the moment.
On our way back to the car we stopped at an enormous old beech tree, weathered and gray. There on its faded bark were countless initials carved into its ancient bark, with dates from years past. I wondered to myself: Where are these individuals now? Does CG still love TC? Do they remember this day as I will in my mind’s eye? Did they ever think I’d come along and think of them?
A part of me was very upset with them. If they had left no trace, this spot- this treasure- would seemingly be untouched for generations and generations to come. My great grandchildren could come to Hemlock Cliffs and have the same unexpected adventure and solitude in nature that I had had today. Mother Nature would still be unfolding her cycles day after day, and year after year, without human dependence, offering us the same experiences despite the changes with time, fads, and culture. What were they trying to prove to the universe? That they existed too? That their love wasn’t strong enough for the world to see that they must carve it into that innocent flesh?
As I contemplate that last trip and wonder when the next time I’ll be able to walk freely without fear of this virus will be, I’ve been spiraling on the concept of time after thinking of GZ + JZC and generations past. We’ve lived hearing the history of our grandparents and generations before that have faced terrifying odds. I’ve wondered how they handled that unknown and sense of loss and fear. The greatest generation of mothers who sent their boys to war, of wives who said goodbye to their lovers and awaited letters in the mail, of children who huddled under school desks and in bomb shelters fearing nuclear holocaust…and so many other brave generations. Is this our burden to bear?
But as I observe nature more intently this week with my extra time, slower pace, and nervous heart, I’m noticing something that somehow gives me comfort. Listening to the birds visiting our feeder or catching the deer cross through our yard at sunset reminds me that Mother Nature will outlast this coronavirus and all of us here today. Decades down the road someone else can have that same experience watching the wonders of nature that I did, and wonder what this mom, wife, teacher did during the coronavirus outbreak. They’ll wonder how we stayed calm, what we told our children and students, how we survived it. Our lives have been meandering peacefully like that water in the stream until this week when we were dropped over an unexpected edge.
But I’m choosing to find peace in Mother Nature. To trust that just as those before me have faced uncertainty, now is my time to dig deep and put on a brave face. To enjoy the solace of nature and the certainty with which the cycle of life continues despite human interference, strife, or struggle.