So far, I have said little about this territory which surrounds me, but today I throw cares to the winds as I prepare to speak out. (I feel duty-bound to do this deed and once I am done, you have my permission to have your way with me.) But the anticipation has me all excited. My heartbeat has begun to pound inside my chest, while right outside my doorway, the air lays thick, still and heavy. My mouth just went dry. Dark rain clouds gather in the skies. The crickets have hushed. The crickets, little ones, have each went silent again.
Now a sharp listener might take note of a few errors that shall occur, because I will not slow down to research facts nor pause to check for any sort of accuracy as I go to spill these beans. No, speed is essential here -- I am about to reveal a marvelous state secret.
Please allow me to set the stage quickly before the authorities show up.
I live near a vast prairie. In my daily travels, I get to witness timely arrivals of wildflowers which grow near edges of the smooth macadam roads I normally take. First to arrive is a carpet made of tiny and regal blue ones. Then hoards of grand white ones take over as groupings of tall, bright orange ones wave to the world. A scattering of yellows is later followed by a wide-spread sprinkling of pale lavenders, and throughout the warm months, all of them appear just lovely.
I also watch the progress of corn and soy beans, which fill the remaining landscapes, as well as occasional deer or coyote. Clumps of trees here and there afford comfortable homes for them and other smaller creatures. Black crows, red-tailed hawks and seagulls patrol our skies, along with the usual run of smaller birds.
(Crows are very territorial animals. A certain murder inhabits a farm along my route, and this gives credence to my claim: three of the crows in the gang are rare albinos, and easy to spot.)
And then there are the numerous, common folk of Hoohooville. Nothing remarkable can honestly be said about them. They are average in both size and demeanor, and prove to be not much different from southern breeds I have met, other than their enormous numbers. Most are polite and sociable, and all appear to have intelligence. Almost every one of them will drop whatever occupies their interest, when confronted properly, and then spend an inordinate amount of effort engaging in conversations that can cover every subject imaginable.
(They do talk, these people. This is not an indictment, patient listener, but a simple observation, and not my point at all. And yes, I freely admit that I myself have been so affected at times, and have come away from some of these encounters both dizzied and disorientated, and also delightfully relieved.)
So to wrap up this sketch, let me tell of the day I first arrived here, after a long stay in a near-by city of some importance.
I left behind that city of flattened land with its mathematically arranged streets and rows of homes and office buildings, and took a curved and often hilly road that, for the next twenty miles, revealed to me one bucolic view after another. My heart sang as I rushed past this scenery toward my new home.
I saw rolling hills. Trees rode on far horizons. Content cows chewed in spacious fields. Horses stood at ease, whispering as I sailed past their greened pastures. At the end of the day I caught myself jabbering excitedly about that trip, and did so for weeks afterwards, I am told. Yes, Hoohooville quickly became a most-enjoyable place to live. But sooner than expected, a dull routine came to stay.
As one particularly hot and humid weekend encroached upon us, we decided to escape and seek excitement, so we dashed to our car, hastily threw in some camping supplies plus a few kids, and then shot out of town while the sun rose. We began to drive south across the prairie as fast as possible for the next six hours, until we arrived at our secret spot, the waterfall.
I am telling you, my wide-eyed listener, that this is a true state secret. Few people know of the existence of the waterfall, much less it’s whereabouts.
The southern tip of this fair state is a mish-mash of convoluted landscapes, ranging from low cypress swamps to higher areas strewn with enormous boulders. It seems that every place one goes, one meets spectacular national parks. Some have rock cliffs to scale, winding paths to hike or wondrous lakes to boat, fish or swim. Caves can be explored, canoes can be paddled and tents can be pitched with ease. There seems to be no end of things to do or sights to see, nor is there a shortage of willing volunteers.
But the waterfall remains hidden, tucked away in a far corner of one very popular park. Come now and let us go for a drive, and leave your window rolled down -- the breeze will feel great in this heat.
First, head south on the interstate. Then exit on a seldom-traveled highway and go east for a mile. Next, turn south again onto an unmarked gravel road which leads down a steep hill. At the bottom, find us a place to park in the tall weeds that grow near a shallow brook.
Finally. We can walk the rest of the way from here. And don’t bother locking the car.
Notice the dragonflies? Those skinny ones -- the iridescent ones -- I call them snake doctors. Oh, and look what lives over here in these rock pools -- tadpoles! No, come on. We can catch some of them later, plus frogs.
Let’s go look over the cliff first. Be careful, though, and don’t slip on the slicky spots.
Pretty awesome view, huh? I bet it’s thirty-five feet straight down. Yeah, people really do dive off from up here. They have to be crazy. You say you want to? I’d like to see you try.
We are standing on the edge of a solid slab of ancient stone. In front of us, a panoramic view of the deep ravine below is mostly cloaked by lots of tall trees. We can barely see a small, circular pool of water that lays below us at the bottom of the gorge, half-hidden by our ledge. Loud shouts bounce from sheer rock walls as we prepare to hike down below.
It takes some twisting and bending and some careful leaning away from the edge of the gorge in certain spots, but after following a narrow trail which meanders close to the rim, we reach a place where climbing down becomes possible. It is not much more than a vertical fissure in the cliff, and a small one, but by putting a foot there and holding on here and over there, you can inch your way down to a ledge some ten feet below. From that point, several handy depressions, possible carved there by ancestors, make the going slightly easier.
The more-daring leap the last distance, landing on a steep, leaf-littered embankment, and from there they are forced to run pell-mell down the incline before a stop can be made. Kinder sorts will lag behind to coax the anxious.
All but the children pause to collect their wits after the descent. The first things noticed, as whoops and yells from kids fade into the distance, is the stark silence, the coolness of the air, and the dim twilight. As you look around, you begin to feel as if you have entered a stone-bound fairy world filled with enchantment, and encased with verdant mosses and ferns. The filtered half-light seems to swallow up any words uttered, while a broken stick might echo sharply when stepped on, and unaccustomed peace seems to lay in all directions.
Huge trunks of fallen trees bar the way in places. Half-moons of mushrooms parade along one side, decorating the route nicely. Large monoliths of stone appear up ahead, and each one helps to support lichen on their flanks. Occasionally, one will also hold a small boy who might be seen silently perched on top, spying on adults.
The path, apparent at times, rises and falls over the canyon floor, leading us all to a final clearing set under the arms of an immense maple. Here too is a stone circle where other campfires brightened up other nights.
The cleared area has just enough room to erect two dome tents, one large and one small. They go up fast, and then kids are rounded up to gather firewood. The adults then go look for the vanished children, and collect dead limbs while doing so. This perfect camping knoll overlooks the pool under the waterfall, which from here, appears to hang from the upper cliff like thin and silvery, swaying ropes.
After all of the exploring, wading, slipping off and falling in the pool accidentally, chasing butterflies, and yelling as loud as possible is done, a fire is started and food is cooked. No matter how bad the food, it is always great when there is smoke, ash, sparks, and fireflies to deal with. Everyone then sleeps well on the floor of God’s magnificent creation.
A quick anecdote before we pack up to leave here (and do not forget to haul out your own trash).
We once arrived at our waterfall on a particularly hot day, so rather than haul all of the supplies down by foot, we decided to drop a few directly into the pool. Retrieving them would be a snap.
Let me warn you, my fearless listener: never offer a watermelon a thirty-foot drop into a pool of water. It will be a smashing fool to accept, and then the thing will never survive the trip. A cantaloupe, on the other hand, is perfectly suited for the job.