Yesterday I took a hike with my children. We were in search of some of the lesser-known waterfalls that grace our nearest national park, more specifically a certain set of falls that I remember from my teenage years when our idea of a good night out was coming home covered in mud, creek water, and mosquito bites. (I wasn’t quite your average teen.)
The problem was that we had to venture past the sign that said “end of trail,” which now, as a parent, takes on a different meaning then when you’re a wild kid. “End of trail” as a child fills you with rambunctious spirit. “End of trail” as a mother fills you with worry and fear that danger and certain death loom just past the sign. But there are things you learn when you’re on the trail, deep in the sweet old woods of northeastern Ohio. Life lessons that can’t be found just anywhere.
There is also a totally awesome waterfall, as memory served.
And so we pressed on.
There are two ways to proceed on a trail when you have a very specific destination, and I admit I can barely walk anywhere without a very special children’s book that rolls through my mind with every step. It is a story about two bears who are both headed to the same place, but one bear chooses to earn money for a fast train ride and the other bear chooses to walk the long distance by foot. An honest race, the train-riding bear spends his time scrubbing floors and picking weeds and eventually takes the speedy train. The walking bear ambles through the countryside, watches a snake, takes a swim, eats some berries, and by the time he gets to the destination, his friend has already beaten him. The walking bear simply smiles and says that he would have been there sooner, but he stopped for blackberries. He is the obvious true winner.
It’s your basic “stop and smell the roses” lesson, but one that for me comes to life in the woods. So as we walked past the “end of trail” sign, I bravely took the lead and we walked, bear-style, through the woods in search of the hidden waterfall. (Some literary folk might even consider it the road less traveled?)
There were pools of water for stone skipping and hunts for crayfish. We marveled at a field of wet muck covered in skunk cabbage and for a solid minute we laughed at losing shoes in Ohio’s quicksand. Rock ledges and slippery shale in the creek bed made for careful and leisurely steps but with the stops of sunlight to refuel us, we finally made it to the falls.
They were still there, some twenty years later thanks to the slow moving time life of our good rocks. A cascading flow of water down a slope of shale that ended in a pool where I once sat with good friends, talked about our futures and contemplated the very meaning of life.
Once my kids and I were thoroughly wet, we headed back with me bringing up the rear instead of taking the lead. When you backtrack on a trail, it’s always surprising what you see when you are walking the other way, because even if you think you saw it all, you haven’t.
“Mom! Look!” I heard and my son had found a tremendous set of mushrooms.
“And there! Indian Pipe!” my oldest daughter said, pointing out my favorite non-green plant.
Just a few hundred feet up the trail, my youngest daughter stopped us all dead in our tracks. “Purple coral!” she said, finding yet another amazing fungus.
None of their finds were edible, but in our own way we stopped for blackberries. I couldn’t help but think that the bear in the book would have been almost as proud as I was.
I can only wonder what they will find when they pass the “end of trail” sign twenty years down the road.