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Our feet, coated in grime and mountain mud, tread a path over the unsteady ground. The trail we hiked was one of indeterminable quality: it was, in essence, the very perfection of hiking. Only vaguely considered a trail, it carried us straight to the mountain’s heart in the way of large boulders, cold caves and pines that embraced sky. At times bathed in early morning rays and other times coated in the unearthly stillness of fog, we were privy to many forest secrets that tend to go unnoticed.
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We began our trek early, just six young women and a map. The trail began with a dew-slicked rope bridge that dangled us amidst the fog and tree tops. This led to a swaying bridge and a winding, steep dirt path lined with burgeoning mushrooms of festive colors. This began our modest hike to the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States: Fall Creek Falls.
It was a long and arduous hike, but not without its perks. Roots entwined the path in a maze of age and magic, and one could swear that fairies flitted above them if they looked hard enough. The entire forest spoke of wisdom, filling one with a nostalgic want of simpler days. Arriving at the Falls was not entirely a surprising event, as the brisk wind of cold water brushed past us constantly. By the time we actually came within sight of it, the viscidness of water was already coating our skin in a thin sheen.
The Falls were magnificent, its great mass racing towards earth in an everlasting rush of exhilaration. Wind whipped around us, spraying us with icy droplets of fresh water and filling our mouths with the spice of true cleanliness. Even standing on the water’s bank, a cold fog would fill your lungs and soak your clothing straight through. I struggled to the edge, feet slipping on wind-worn stones and mud. After comically losing direction, thanks to my dripping eyeglasses, I finally managed to dip a jar into the water to fill it with the coldest water I’ve ever felt.
It was hard to walk away from that haven, so full of wild energy and life yet uncontrolled by man. But a return hike had to be made, so we tread wearily back with a severe longing in each step. And in the way of stalling travelers, we stopped at the Indian Village Trading Post that hovered just outside the wood line, as if the town had grown up around it. The wooden, squat exterior seemed untouched by modernity. Warm wooden shelves lined the entire store, with randomly placed booths akin to a marketplace. We walked through a maze of products, all handmade and all smelling of wood smoke and tobacco. Hand carved bows, deep bellied drums, sculptures and jewelry all lay at eye level, all with the nostalgia of gifts made with love and experience. The elderly man that worked there was clearly of Indian descent, with wise eyes, gentle voice, and deep, crinkled crow’s feet that deepened when he laughed.
I left that place with the history-laden pipe, and a wonderfully forged knife as gifts for my family. But these were only my materialistic gains. I left that mountain with such a wonderful gift. Throughout that entire trip, we saw people simply stop. No one really pauses to appreciate life anymore, and there, in this special place, people…slowed.
I want to go back to that. To that simple existence of wind and pine. I want time to stop.
And I never want it start again.
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