Truth be told, autumn is probably not the best time to see waterfalls. The creek and river levels run low this time of year, decreasing the breadth and strength of many of the falls. But there is still beauty to be seen.
On Monday my friend Elisheba Haxby and I saw Sweet Creek Falls. My excuse for going during the work week was research for my novel. In order to get those great sensory details for my writing, I needed to experience the Sweet Creek trail first hand, right?
The drive from Eugene to Sweet Creek is beautiful. (We took the back roads which made it even better.) With the sunshine and everything still mostly green, the landscape felt summer-like even though we are well into September. We were the second vehicle to park at the Sweet Creek Trail head, but by the time we were ready to head down the trail, the lot was filling up with cars. I was excited. For a trail to draw this much of a crowd on a weekday morning, it must be pretty good.
The trail goes along Sweet Creek, which is a moderate creek with plenty of big rock formations that form several smaller waterfalls and pools that would be perfect for swimming in warmer weather. The little falls along the way created anticipation in us for the big fall at the end. The air was full of the sweet green scent of trees, ferns, moss and water.
There were some slippery rocks, but most of the trail was even or had well carved out stairs and steps. This was definitely a much easier hike than my trek to Trestle Creek Falls in the spring. There was even a cool catwalk. I tried to imagine my protagonist and her love interest on the trail. “Watch for a spot where Cassie can slip, and Mark catches her.” I said to Elisheba. Of course, a moment later I slipped on a rock and fell on my arm. Goal #1 accomplished.
Going down the trail with my fellow writer friend was a new experience. Elisheba looked at everything with inquisitive writer’s eyes, and the constant “what if?” that is a novelist’s catalysis to story. “You should take pictures of things you see on the trail.” She stopped and looked up. “Like those limbs. They look like fingers reaching down.” She was right. My mind started formulating words to use in my chapter, the details to make the story come alive. Goal #2 down.
It only took us about 30 minutes to reach the Sweet Creek Falls. I stood there, waiting for the feeling of inspiration, but instead felt a disheartened “That’s it?” This fall was far from a thundering wall of water. But looking at the rock wall it flowed down, I could imagine how it would look different in the spring, when the breadth of the creek increased. How it could have more splendor at its peak. And that’s the job of a fiction writer, isn’t it? To imagine things how they could be, instead of how they are. To find the spectacular in the ordinary.
We made our way to the end of the trail, the upper part of the falls. We were closer to the fall, so the rushing sound of the water was louder, and we experienced the wind that came off the water, full of mist. We climbed over the guard rail and took some pictures. Then we each took turns making our way between two fallen trees on the rock ledge toward the fall, getting as close as we dared to the water. At last, my shoes got wet. (If I leave a waterfall with dry shoes, I really feel like I might have missed something.) At the top of the fall, we could look down at how far one could fall. The sense of vertigo was dizzying but invigorating. I was thankful we hadn’t let disappointment keep us from moving forward, or we would have missed the best of part of the hike.
The cumulative effect at the top was the feeling of adventure, of truly living. We might not have found quite what we were expecting at the end of the trail, but there was no denying the beauty or the power of this small waterfall. Whether we are in a season of spring or autumn, there is adventure to be found – we just have to look for it.