Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Just a Little Hike in VA

6/15. Today I was at Shenandoah National Park driving Skyline Drive. It’s this 105-mile road that follows the contours of the ridge with pullout scenic vistas every couple miles. So I’m stopping at all these viewpoints like it’s absolutely obligatory to stop at every one. Pretty soon I’m thinking, “These views are nice, but they all kind of looks the same. I’ve got to get off this road and take a hike.” So I found a trail to walk with the intent and expectation of seeing a waterfall. I mean, that’s why they blazed the trail. People wanted other people to see this amazing sight for themselves.

So I’m walking this trail and I start to think, “This trail is nice, but it all kind of looks the same. And where’s the waterfall? I’ve been walking forever.” So I decided to stop and sit.

Well I stopped moving and I tried to stop thinking. I sat down without expectation and I slowly began to notice things. Things I hadn’t paid any attention to before. Sounds. Smells. Flowers. Mosses. Ferns. Vines. Several species of fish in the water (including a brook trout about eight inches long). And a crawfish that emerged for just a second, peeking from his rock shelter. I notice many insects flying about. Butterflies. Fishflies. Dragonflies. And birds. I saw the coolest little yellow and gray bird chasing and flirting with each other. I sat here for several minutes. Just letting life exist. Just watching.

Finally I stood up and continued on to the waterfall feeling refreshed and renewed. I knew when I was nearing the waterfall because the sounds changed. There was of course the sound of heavily flowing water. But also the sound of people. When I got to the falls, there must have been twenty people. Teenagers. Old folks. People speaking foreign tongues. Most were waiting in line for a photo opportunity. But there was also a couple downstream loudly playing in the water. The smell of cigarette smoke was also overwhelmingly present.

So I climbed up on a nearby rock and watched. Most people took their photo and left. A few took off a shoe and cautiously dipped a toe into the cold water at the base of the waterfall. I sat and watched the people and the wildlife, realizing the differences between the two.

Soon my attention was drawn to something else. I noticed a scene where a red-spotted purple butterfly had landed on a rock a mere foot away from a brook trout in an adjacent pool. I thought, “What a sight this is to witness two amazing creatures right next to each other.” I started to wonder if the were even aware of each other. Then I wondered if any of these people would become aware of the scene if I kept intensely focused on it. So I stared at this fish and this butterfly as they did their respective mostly-motionless things, oblivious to each other. No one noticed what I was noticing right in front of us all.

Then I wondered, “Well, am I obligated to show anyone what I have noticed? Or is this serendipitous scene meant just for me?” Then I thought about the people who built the highway and the people that blazed the trail so I could have this moment. Shouldn’t I, in turn, show someone else?

And I did. I walk up to this Hispanic couple and their little girl nearest me. I say, “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t leave here without noticing something.” And I pointed toward the fish and the butterfly (that was now flying about, but still in the area). They showed their daughter who was delighted. They thanked me for pointing out the wildlife. I decided to start heading back up the hill.

As I had just started hiking up, I turned for one last look. Beautiful. Nature is truly wonderful and wondrous. I glance downward just in time to see this couple showing the trout and the butterfly to someone else. Good times. Love life.

Also, from the “Shenandoah Overlook” promotional paper, discovered after my experience:

“When the strongest force of water we experience in our daily lives is from the shower head or the garden hose, the power of unrestrained, wild water is thrilling. Millions of gallons of water coursing over a rocky edge, tumbling down, crashing into rocks and pools and bouncing sprays delight our senses."

“The power and grace of unfettered nature can be awe inspiring. At the base of any waterfall you can find people simply gazing, lost in contemplation. Some find the waterfall a symbol of self-renewal. Some are soothed by the rushing sound of water against rock.”


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