One day a few sumnmers back, Benjamin came home and told us he’d found a waterfall. It was a kid thing. All the teenagers knew about it. I remember him mentioning it in passing at dinner. He was thinking of asking a girl out and taking her there for a picnic. I thought he’d had a sweet idea and told him so. Little did I know then how those two or three sentences were going to change my life.
It was a few more weeks before he mentioned it again. He said we should hike up there with him. Since moving to Vermont I’d had my goodly share of mountain hikes. When a person mentions a hike do not mistake the invitation for a walk. Hikes and walks have nothing in common. They require different shoes and an altogether different attitude. A city walk might be brisk or it might meander through a park. It seldom caused me to reach for my inhaler, or created a need for a long soak in a really hot tub akin to a day digging a whole new garden. My city footwear hadn’t been up to the task and the new shoes I kept buying up here still gave me blisters. A waterfall sounds sort of nice, but he used the two words I’d come to dread in the same sentence. Hike and up…. Neither are particularly pretty words and both had caused me all kinds of new pains.
More weeks went by and summer had us enthralled. Summer in Vermont is a marvelous thing. The days are warm and sunny, but the mornings and evenings are usually cool enough for a cape. I had lots of capes of various weights from all the years I spent dreaming about living up here. Every autumn trip was cause for a new one and to be able to wear them in summer was thrilling beyond my wildest imagination. (That I would be wearing them in layers over my flannel nightgown in the kitchen where I would often see my breath in the mornings had not yet happened and couldn’t be imagined). All was certainly right with the world. Benjamin persuaded me to try the waterfall. Amazingly it was only a little easy hike, pretty much a walk, just like he’d promised. I’d been tricked before, but not this time.
It was a gentle hike beside rushing water. First you drove to Pawlett, which was just the next town over. You parked by the side of the road near a guardrail and a sign for the Harmon Mint. The mint was where Vermont made its currency during the revolution when we were our own country. Outsiders, and some insiders too, still call this place the Republic of Vermont for its fierce independence and wildly liberal politics. The mint is hardly all that’s left of our independent republic. Anyway, you walk along the guardrail until you find the place where the weeds were trampled down. Then you hiked up your skirt and climbed over.
Now I still wear long flowing skirts everywhere I go. I’ve been wearing these gypsy skirts for most of my life and see no sense in a few mountains changing my lifetime fashion style. It was true that the crunchy granola women up here all looked like ads for LL Bean, Fit for Life, or Ivory Soap. Well, not so much the older retirees. They had more of a Lily Pulitzer vibe going, but neither of those worked for me. I like a little drama, some cleavage, and a fair amount of mascara before I feel ready to face the day. The men up here seemed amused and flirted cheerfully like men do everywhere, despite my rather ample backside, so I figured it wasn’t all that different after all. But these walks, er hikes, left holes in my skirts and my confidence.
Now I was climbing over guardrails. Then we ambled down a little incline smack into a vast cornfield. Benjamin said to follow him and we found a walking space between the rows. It was getting deeper into summer and the corn was high. You couldn’t see anything but corn and then only what was right in front of you. I felt like Shoeless Joe Jackson was going to appear at any minute. Then as quickly as it appeared the field receded as we crept onto a woodsy trail alongside loud water. The woods were thick and so we couldn’t see the water. Just the same we knew it was there. These were piney woods and there was moss underfoot and a blanket of soft pine needles made the whole place smell like I imagined an enchanted forest might. And there it was, right in front of us, the waterfall Benjamin had promised. It was only about a ten-minute walk through the woods to what became a three-story waterfall if you kept going. It was rushing fast from the heavy spring melt. I caught my breath and sat on a fallen tree. The dappled light washed and waved through the tops of the branches. It was the most beautiful place I had ever been. And it was here, right where I lived. A five-minute drive and then a ten-minute walk…. (I mentally revised this gentle climb as a walk and not a hike) John and I could drag thermoses of coffee up here and neck like teenagers. We could spend hours here with Eli while he chased frogs and caught lizards. Our family would picnic here on lazy summer days and we did. We still do. It all came true.
During the challenges ahead in the days of the Horrible Quaint Country Store when we were going broke fast, the bills kept us awake at night, and the banker called us every morning to ask about our deposit and to decide whether we could continue our overdraft I would come up here and think. Sometimes I would hang my head over the side near the top until all my senses were filled with the sound and smell of the woods and the water. I could block out everything up here and remember that this had all been a deliberate choice. We’d intended to find another life. We’d been a little bored in our old one. We certainly weren’t bored anymore. It turns out we’d been right about building a deeper connection to the natural world. There was nothing much wrong that hot thick coffee drunk from a thermos next to this waterfall on a sunny summer day couldn’t fix. Life was old here. There was a sense of perspective living next to trees that had seen the American Revolution. Lots of the houses were older than our country. Our kids learned as we did. We were finding a new language and a new way to live. After a crummy test, or a broken heart we’d all come to this waterfall. We bring our dearest friends and relatives when they visit. The waterfall was ours. It is a symbol. We didn’t have to run out and buy something when we felt cheated or lost. We didn’t need a stiff drink either. We had everything we needed with each other, and this simple beautiful place we lived fed us and nurtured our souls. We don’t have many movie houses or vast cineplexes for entertainment. There are no malls, and not too many wine soaked gallery openings either. But there are waterfalls and mountains. It has filled us up. It is enough. In fact, it is plenty…..