It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day. It was also a non-holiday, non-school day. A perfect day for a hike. I’d been wanting to explore McDowell Creek. It was labeled as an easy, family-friendly hike, so I took my three daughters, who invited a couple of friends. One of the friends was Isaac, a foreign-exchange student from Hong Kong. Isaac isn’t his real name – it’s the name he gave himself for America, because Cantonese is a hard language for us to speak.
I don’t look too carefully at directions before I head to a waterfall. I find it on the map, and If I have an address to punch into my GPS then I put that in and go. This was one of the those times I wondered if I put in the right. After turning off I-5, we were going through rolling farmlands with no forest or water in sight. A left turn here, a right there, and then through little picturesque towns. Highway 228 is a “scenic byway” and we saw signs along the road that marked it as such, with the phrase “Over the Hills and Through the Woods.” It was cute, but the old song got stuck in my head. Since we were not on our way to grandma’s house, and it wasn’t quite Thanksgiving, I had to change the lyrics.
Over the hills and through the woods
To the waterfall we go.
The phone knows the way to carry our crew
Through the rolling green hills and little towns.
Over the hill and through the woods
To the waterfall we go.
For this is a sunny autumn day
Okay, so I’m not a songwriter. But I had a 7-year-old to entertain on the way.
As is typical with these lesser known waterfalls, the parking lot at the McDowell Creek was almost empty. I was happy our group of six would have the trail pretty much to ourselves. The trail starts out with crossing a bridge over the creek, and then gently slopes up a hill. To my surprise, my 7-year-old, Sarah, led the way. The teen girls were soon snapping pictures of the colorful fall foliage and picturesque creek, looking for that perfect Instagram shot.
Isaac was a more serious photographer. He brought along a professional looking camera with a huge lens. Our little hike was a big adventure for him because despite our attempts at an explanation, he did not know what we were talking about when he said “waterfall.” I realized how much he was out of his element before we even left the parking lot. Somehow he got dirt on his hands, and wanted to wash them. I explained that there was no restroom with running water. He looked at his hands, disturbed. I laughed. “Just wipe them off on your pants,” I said. He did so, but not happily.
It was a short hike to Royal Terrace Falls. It sneaked up on me because usually you can hear a waterfall long before you see it. Royal Terrace Falls is different. The trail takes a left and brings you to a bridge, and then there’s the fall. It’s a bit on the quiet side because of how it flows down a three-tiered terrace of smooth rock. The way the water was divided when I saw it reminded me of a waterside at a water park. It was beautiful and fun. Sarah jumped up and down on the bridge in enthusiasm. The bridge shook, which made most of us laugh but scared Isaac – which made the girls laugh and Sarah jump even more. Watching Isaac’s look of wonder and his stopping to take pictures made me realize what an adventure it must be for him. In a foreign land, a different culture, going to see something he doesn’t quite understand. That takes a type of courage and self-sufficiency that most people don’t possess.
We continued down the path that would take us to the next waterfall. Again, Sarah led the way. This delighted me. I’d much rather see her enjoying the woods than playing Minecraft or watching T.V. We crossed the road and then it was a short distance to the top of Majestic Falls. We came to a viewing point that allowed us to look down at the creek as it fell over the rocks, creating Majestic Falls. There was a wire fence that separated the trail from the creek, but a break in it created unofficial access to the water. Making sure Sarah understood not to follow us, the older girls and I walked across the rocks that took us to the edge of the falls. There is something exhilarating about standing at the top of a fall and looking down. There is also something unsettling about watching your daughters do the same thing, no matter how old they are. At the same time, it made my heart full because that is the courage and zest for life I want them to have. I don’t want fear to ever keep them from following their dreams, or taking risks.
Isaac stayed back, away from the edge. I pondered what stories he would have to tell about American girls when he goes back home this spring. They like the forest and when their hands get dirty they just wipe them off on their pants or wash them in the creek? They jump on bridges and laugh when it shakes? They stand at the edge of a waterfall, getting their shoes wet, just to get a closer look at the beauty of the fall?
The hike back was quick. Too quick for me. I was ready to put another address in my GPS and find one more nearby waterfall, but regular life was calling us back home. Until next time…
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life and in change there is power.” — Alan Cohen Quotes