Friday, August 15, 2008

Quest for the Falls

The little bubbly creek at the bottom of our valley winds on down through the woods, joining up with other creeks, getting wider, deeper, and eventually meets the Allegheny River, seven miles from here. When I was a kid, my Nana and I used to walk down about halfway, to a beautiful waterfall. This waterfall is accessible via the creek and also via logging trail. My friend Lori and I went there, with Nana, multiple times every summer. With a deep, curving channel leading up to the falls, a drippy cave behind the waterfall itself, and a huge flat collection basin like a giant wading pool, it's a natural waterpark. We would hike down the creek, hopping rocks and dipping into any swimmable spots, and then walk back out the logging trail which you could reach by cutting up the side of the hill.

A few years ago, Lori and I and all of our little redheaded children (Sadie in utero) hiked down that logging trail to where we thought the falls must be. We looked up and down and all around, ranging over what we thought was a vast stretch of creek and valley, and could not find the falls anywhere. A lot had changed in the 20 years or so since we had been down there. We gave up. That year Sadie was born and my mother died, and we didn't come back here to Pennsylvania for a while. When we did come back, I had little Sadie, and didn't think about trying to make the hike.

This year, we have been hanging out with our neighbors who have little children. They are also homeschoolers -- surprise! The other day we were watching the kids play and she asked me if I knew where there was a waterfall down the valley. As I was recounting my trip with Lori to look for the falls, it occurred to me that Sadie could stay with Ahno while Benny and I walked down to the falls the old fashioned way -- down the creek. Then there would be no question about which branch of the logging trail to take, or when to cut down to the water, or anything like that.

So today, we went out in search of the falls.

After two hours of hiking down the valley, we found them:

Benny was so excited, he was exploding out the top of his little red head. All the way down, he had been identifying smaller, less glamorous waterfalls and saying, "Is that it? Is that the falls?" And I would say, "Well, I don't know, maybe, maybe an earthquake came and changed up the falls and now I don't recognize them." So he had no idea how big it was actually going to be. He was very surprised.

Here we are just starting out:

Little old red bridge at the bottom of our valley. This was our old swimming hole when I was a kid. A local farmer would dredge it out yearly and move some of the huge rocks, so you could actually swim and the water was over my head in spots.

Benny on the way down the creek:

An old stone foundation:

My Nana and I used to spend hours sitting here talking on this "look-out" spot, high above the creek. The ridge is kind of bounded by one giant root of the tree, like a railing. Now it's all overgrown and the tree has been cut down. She is someone who can talk to a child in a way that makes the child feel like a real person.

Here's Benny getting his first look at the falls. I let him go on ahead a little bit when I knew we were almost there, so he could "discover" it. He was whooping and hollering like he'd been stung by a rhino. It made a big impact.

For some reason I can't embed the videos, but if you go here, you can see Benny narrating his sliding out from under the falls, and if you go here, you can see the falls from on top.

So, after we were done goofing around at the falls, we headed up the hill to find the logging trail. After two hours of rock hopping Benny was still full of energy and leaping and running ahead of me as I clambered up. We got to the trail and Benny took off, while I marked the way at each fork with a lavender ribbon so we can find our way again coming in via the trail. We had been hiking out for about ten minutes when Leroy started looking weird and sniffing at something up the hill. I stopped, looked up, and I could see, silhouetted against the sunlight, the shape of a bear's head. Two big round ears, big round heead, a bear. Looking at me. My heart stood still. In that moment, I thought, no, it's too still, it's a rock formation, but it's so symmetrical! I actually thought for a second that someone had put a bear statue out in the woods. That was just the beginning of my irrational reaction. As I watched, paralyzed, the bear turned its head slowly around to look at something else and I saw its nose, unmistakable, real.

Let me digress for a moment and tell you that when I was very small, I mean very very small, I read an article in Reader's Digest about a man who had been attacked by two bears. The account was very graphic and included a description of him being disastrously mauled, having to pretend to be dead as he bled out like a fountain, and then crawling away, clasping his scalp to the top of his head to keep it on. Ever since I read that, at the wise, rational age of four or something, I have been super-freaked about bears. When I went walking in the woods by myself as a kid, I used to carry a big stirring spoon and a sauce pot and bang them at intervals to ward off the herds of slavering bears with their red-rimmed eyes, their trumpeting, lip-quivering yells, and their knife-like claws. When I started taking walks with the kids as an adult, bears remained in the forefront of my mind.

Now, here was a bear. Probably twenty feet up the hill from me. Yes, I should have let Benny look at it. Yes, I should have taken a picture. How I wish I had taken a picture, to silence my sarcastic husband who keeps chortling about "pickanick baskets." But I did not take a picture. I walked briskly forward, grabbed Benny by the hand, whistled briskly for Leroy, and we marched along the path. "Sing," I said to Benny. "Loudly." Benny, who spends much of his time being told *not* to sing, was happy to oblige. When I felt that we had briskly walked far enough, I told Benny, "RUN." And we ran as far as I could run. Then we walked until I could run. Then we ran. Like that, back to the van. What had taken us two hours by creek, hopping rocks and chatting, took us less than 30 minutes by logging trail, running like there was a bear snapping at our heels.

The bear was probably fine. Benny was never worried. When he finally was convinced that I wasn't kidding, he pleaded to be allowed to go back and LOOK AT IT. Madness. When we got back to the van, I realized I had been inhaling one long inhale ever since I saw the thing. I had so much adrenaline in my blood I probably could have torn it limb from limb, given the need. But we made it back to the van. We marked the trail for future use. And when Dan gets here next week, HE can take us back to the falls. I will be carrying my sauce pot and spoon, thank you. And Benny will be singing.


  1. Benny and Sadie are going to have the most marvelous childhood memories.

    I have seldom seen pictures that encapsulate joy as well as this pic of Benny in the waterfall. You have to keep a hard copy of this one.

  2. Great photos to go with a great story! I'm on dial-up so waited for the pictures to load. They were worth the wait.

    We have bear that visit our property, but only one year did one actually make an appearance during the day. He liked to eat slugs, and we had plenty for him to slurp up that year. Kinda wish he'd come back and slurp up the excess slugs we have this year! LOL