He continues along the south fork of Silver Creek, then climbs a low rise into the woods. He begins to hear the rush of water again, and finds a series of large stone steps heading downhill, equipped with a handrail made of pipes. A middle-aged Hispanic woman stops to rest, wiping her brow and smiling.
“I knew I would pay for all those downhills.”
“You’re almost there,” he says.
The steps take a rightward switchback and head toward a waterfall with a stately air, a massive block of black stone. This is Lower South Falls. A curtain of water slips from the straight-line top, 30 feet across, falls 93 feet and strikes a zig-zag rockface below, creating a web of white ribbons. Skye snaps a shot of this landing spot and walks behind the water, enjoying the feel of the mist on his face. He continues up the far side.
Skye passes a family with two young boys, happy to run rings around a Douglas fir. The adults give Skye weary smiles. He rises into the forest, away from the water, then enters a straight-shot tunnel through the undergrowth. He stops to take a close-up of the lush clover at the side of the trail.
As near as the map can tell him, he has just gone from walking down the south fork to walking up the north fork. The rise is subtle, but he begins to feel all the weeks of work at Joe’s in his legs and feet.
Drake Falls is a thirty-foot waterslide over a smooth bank of rock, Middle North Falls a slim, 106-foot sister to South Falls. Its trail cuts behind and far past the water, offering 180 degrees of photo angles, and also comes breathlessly close to the landing spot, giving a sense of the water’s power as it gathers speed and pounds onto its basalt anvil.
Twin Falls is roped off with thick metal cables, and Skye can’t even get within sight of it. The trail begins to steepen, and he decides it’s time to break into his water bottle. He mentally whips his legs forward, ever uphill, with nary a glimpse of a sexy ranger. He does, however, come upon a step in the stream that affords a trio of charming three-foot funnels. Even at the risk of forestalling his reunion, he ventures out on a ring of stones to get just the right angle.
He takes a deep breath and keeps pushing upward (reminding himself of the now-historic trek at Lake Tahoe), evergreens rising steeply to either side. A mile on, he’s about to give up on further waterfalls when he turns a corner and sees a large stripe of water dropping right out of the forest like a fairy spigot.
The vision becomes even more unlikely as he draws near. The spout pours over the lip of an overhang and drops 136 feet, landing in a small pool. What makes the falls (the North Falls) even more astonishing is the cave behind it, perhaps fifty feet deep. Skye follows a trail along the back wall – marked, again, with CCC notches – and settles on a bench directly behind the falls. It seems like the work of an illusionist, a thick column of water floating there between the actions of dropping and landing.
This would be the magic place, the place to catch up with Lindsy, a mystical cave echoing with water-rush, the air sparkling with vapor. But there isn’t a human in sight. He gets up, ignores the fatigue in his legs and continues to the far side. The ceiling of the cave carries the shape of a boomerang, the falls carving a notch at the elbow.
After an upward switchback, Skye spots the stream leading to the falls, and the spot where it disappears. He wonders how many foolish people have ventured out to take a look. A few minutes later, he hears the swoosh of a passing car and sees the North Falls parking lot, the one he drove past earlier. The rest of the loop trail is an overland return, devoid of waterfalls.
He’s disappointed, but he’s also tremendously thirsty, and delighted when he climbs the steps to the lot and spots a water fountain. After taking a long draught and filling his bottle, he returns to the trail. He’s about to head back toward the lodge when he spots a sign: Upper North Falls .6 mi. This brings two thoughts: one, that early Oregonians were not very imaginative when it came to naming waterfalls, and two, that if there was one more fall, a half-mile was a small price to see it. He follows the sign and crosses under the roadway to a level, well-tended path that follows the creek.
A few minutes on, he catches a glimpse of the falls in the far distance, and is intrigued by what he sees. He seems to have developed a waterfall aesthetic, just today, and this one matches up nicely. One long bend later, he gets the picture. The Upper North is a modest 65 feet in height. The stream is twenty feet wide, and freefalls over a table-like lip before splashing onto a jumble of basalt Buddha bellies. The water continues in a quartet of white stripes and drops into a surprisingly broad and dark pool. It reminds Skye of those waterfalls in commercials about Hawaii, and the connection is far from random – the darkness of the pool undoubtedly comes from the black volcanic rocks below. Adding to the charm is a higher ring of those same rocks, rising just above the water to create a sort of poolside patio. The ring begins at the center of the exiting stream and continues to a wall of rock at the right, next to the naked woman.
Spooked, Skye ducks behind a moss-covered log. When he peeks through an adjoining bush and discovers that he was not hallucinating, he reaches for his camera and ramps up the zoom lens. (He can’t recall if the shutter makes a noise, but at least he’ll get one shot before he’s found out.) The woman wades knee-deep into the pool (quite a feat, considering it’s basically snowmelt), scoops a double handful of water and splashes it over her blonde hair. Rivulets run the white skin of her back and over her generous buttocks. She webs her fingers together and stretches her hands over her head in a yoga-like maneuver. Skye clicks away as quickly as the camera allows, elated that he has gone undetected.
The woman turns to reveal a generous pair of breasts, bobbing with her movements. Skye zooms closer. When he finally moves up to her face, he finds a pair of eyes the color of the water at Hapuna Beach.
“Are you going to join me or what?”
He laughs and stands up. “I’m not done!” He keeps clicking, two feet closer with each shot, until she meets him at the edge of the basalt patio. He takes her wet body in his arms and does his best to warm her up. He kisses her for a full minute, then he breaks into laughter.
“You set me up.”
“Damn right I did. Kathy texted me that you were coming. I’ve been looking over my shoulder all afternoon, so if there’s trash on the trail it’s your fault.”
“You definitely know how to make an impression.”
“More of this,” she says, and kisses him. “More.”
After a few more minutes of reunion, Lindsy dons her olive drab uniform, slings a canvas garbage sack over her shoulder and leads him to the rim trail. For the first half hour, Skye is too overwhelmed by sensations to talk: Lindsy’s hand in his, the sharp smell of cedar, the lowering sun silhouetting a criss-cross of mossy branches. After a while, he recalls an important piece of information.
“Your ex-husband says hello.”
Lindsy’s cartoon eyes grow even rounder. “You met Thad?”
“And his lover.”
She shoves his shoulder, nearly knocking him over. “No!”
“I was speaking at an art opening in Boulder.”
Skye considers the significance of this question. She doesn’t know. These two words comprise a thing of such beauty that he decides to preserve it a little bit longer.
“I was on a panel of art critics.”
“Oh. I didn’t know you wrote about art. I mean, visual.”
“Just enough to not really know what I’m doing. Anyway, Thad’s boyfriend, Charlie, is a remarkably understanding man, and very caring.”
“Good. That’s very good.”
He hears a note of sadness and gets her to stop, on a wide spread of trail.
“What’s the matter?”
She wipes at a tear and drops her bag. “I didn’t… do as well as Thad. Typical mistake, walking fucking cliché, actually. I overcompensated for the effeminate Thad by finding a macho douchebag named Eli. Jealous type. Actually punched out a guy at a restaurant for looking at me. Forbade me from leaving the house without him. It was getting a little scary. I was telling Kathy about it one night, and she invited me to live with her. Eli went to work the next day, and I left. I would have loved to see the look on his face when he got home.”
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Don’t be. Look where it led me.”
“You make a good point.” He picks up her sack, and they continue their walk. The path comes to a paved walkway near the road. A pair of bicyclists churn past, looking winded.
“So I guess you’ve had some adventures,” she says.
Skye laughs. “I could write a book. In fact, I am.”
“That’s great! I will be your first reader.”
She reads the hesitation in his answer. “Were some of those adventures… romantic?”
“Oh, well, I…”
“It’s okay, Skye. How could I hold it against you? What with all my nonsense.”
“Yes, romance. One, especially.”
“She left me.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, then laughs. “But not too sorry.”
He squeezes her hand. They walk another hundred feet.
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what brought you… here?”
He stops, takes her hand and places it at the bottom of his ribcage.
“Your stomach? You were hungry?”
“No,” he laughs. “Solar plexus. The very center. It’s actually a network of nerves that shoot out like rays. That’s why they call it solar. The way that people usually pursue lovers is to list all of their qualities, like an inventory sheet, to see if they add up to a winning lottery ticket. I could do that with you. Quirky sense of humor, amazing knockers, killer smile, sharp as a tack, eyes the color of the water at Hapuna Beach.”
She winces, as if this last one has pierced her.
“But that’s not what happened. I came here because my solar plexus led me here, because I’m the moon and you’re the Earth. Not ‘Lindsy’s cute’ or ‘Lindsy cries at movies’ or ‘Lindsy’s a demon in the sack,’ but for no particular reason at all or because, behind all the mathematics lies the base axiom that I seem to love Lindsy Charrish.”
This last phrase surprises them both. He stops, she stops, and they stare at each other.
“I’m sorry, I…”
“I love you, too,” she says, and smiles.
That shuts them up for a long time. They walk slowly. A trio of cars swoops past in a tight convoy. The sun disappears over the western hills. Skye hums a few bars of “Nature Boy.” They reach the long parking lots and work their way to the gift shop. Everything’s dark and closed up, but Lindsy discovers a key taped to the door.
“What is it?”
She holds it to her lips and smiles. “Francis left me the key to the honeymoon cabin. Running water and everything! Come on.”
They cross a wide lawn lorded over by a Douglas fir. The topmost branches form a spiked silhouette against the sky, a blanket of clouds painted white by a hidden moon.
“I’m flattered that your friends seem to know so much about me.”
She stops, looks into his face and starts to cry. Skye draws her in, looking past her to see a cloaked figure on a low branch. The figure sprouts wings and sails away toward the lodge. A great horned owl.
“Lindsy? What’s the matter?”
She pulls back, her eyes brimming. “I thought you would never get here.”
She buries her face against his chest and goes on weeping. Her song climbs his ribcage and brings a smile to his lips.eyHey
Photo by MJV (Upper North Falls)