Today Mom and I went to a place in the low-mountains called Arnold. I think it’s funny when people give human names to non-humans, like naming their dog Dave, or their town Arnold. But Arnold is what the town was called, and so the trail was called the Arnold Rim Trail. A “rim” usually means that there are cliffs, but this trail hardly had any cliffs at all. Instead, the trail rolled through woods that were nearly-flat. Arnold is famous for its Big Trees (“Big Trees” is the name of the park just outside of town), but the trees that we were hiking through were just regular-sized redwood trees. Redwoods like to keep their distance from each other, so there is plenty of room between them for a bowling-ball-like missile to chase chipmunks, and bunnies, and squirrels at full speed. So that’s what I did, leaping over logs and prancing robustly through the deep piles of leaves between the redwood trunks, only using the trail to thunder back to Mom from time to time to let her know that I was safe and that she could quit shouting.
The best trails play out like a story. Some trails are like chapter books with sections of different scenery that each tell a little tale. Other hikes center around one big feature, and follow a story arc up a mountain or around something impressive-looking. But in Arnold we hiked for miles through forests that went into too much detail without moving forward, like a story that you didn’t realize was dull until you’d already started telling it. (Mom tells those kinds of stories all the time.) We weren’t bored —how could you be bored if there’s always a critter to chase?— but the trail seemed to be stuck in a warm-up, like an orchestra without a conductor. Every so often we would see a sign telling us that we were headed to the “Falls Viewing Area,” and that sounded cool. Waterfalls always involve exciting action stars like mountains, and river rapids, and big cliffs. So we kept waiting for the redwoods to open up, and the cliffs to appear, and the drama of a big waterfall to begin.
Finally, after four miles of stream of consciousness hiking, the trees opened up and Mom and I found ourselves standing on some rocks that walked out into the open air like the plank on a pirate ship. To one side the mountain ended in a giant wall of rock, and to the other the rocks we were standing on fell away into nothing but open air and then a bowl of redwoods far below us. “This must be the Falls Viewing Area,” Mom said, crouching down onto her haunches so that she could put all four paws on the ground and crawl like a lizard onto the gangplank of rock.
“Where’s the waterfall?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe there isn’t one,” Mom said. Then she patted a rock at the end of the plank and asked me to get up-up so she could take a picture of me standing in the spot where the world ended.
“No way, José,” I said, sniffing the treats she’d left on top of the rock for me, and then backing up until I was standing behind her. “I bet that the ‘Falls’ aren’t water, they’re dumb hikers who try to take dangerous pictures.”
Since neither Mom nor I were brav… foolish enough to go all the way to the end of the rocks, there was nothing for us to do but go back into the trees without a climax to our story. After about a mile, a sign at a fork in the trail said that if we went thaddaway then we’d see the a creek. I was thirsty and Mom wasn’t tired yet, so we decided to check it out.
After about a mile of hiking, we again found ourselves standing on bare rock, but this time we were still in the shade of the redwoods and next to a peaceful stream. It was hard to tell if we were still on a trail, or if we were just walking on rocks next to the river, but I was curious what was around the next bend, and Mom wanted to find a spot where the shy river would show itself in a picture with me. The further we went, the louder the river became until all of a sudden it let out a roar, broke into a sprint, and jumped headlong out of the trees and into thin air.
Mom kept her back close to the rocks and scooched around a bend until she could peek over the edge into where the water was jumping. “Whoa, buddy,” she said, holding out her arm like she does in the car when we stop hard and everything jumps to the front seat. “That is a big waterfall!”
Since the river was taking up all of the places where you could see through the rocks, we decided to climb the rocks and look for a better spot to see the waterfall. I showed Mom how to zigzag so she wouldn’t need to climb with all four paws like a lizard and leave me behind. We zigzagged until we were above the trees and we could climb to where the rocks poked out over the waterfall. I stayed back and watched Mom creep toward the edge so that she could steal a glance down to the bottom. When she had gotten as close to the edge as she dared and still couldn’t see the bottom, Mom turned to the next layer of rocks that was just a little bit higher. Before climbing it, Mom poked her head over the top to see where it went. “I think that this is the same pile of rocks as we were on before,” she called over her shoulder. “I’m pretty sure we were standing right over here like an hour ago. We were just looking for the waterfall on the wrong side!”
Neither Mom nor I were tired, so we could have kept following trails until we found one that bumped against the end of the world far enough away that we could see the waterfall from a distance. But it was getting late and we had hiked a long way already, so we hiked back out to the car without a story to tell. Sometimes life is just like that: you spend the funnest morning that you’ve had since last week, and you come out of the woods breathless to tell everyone about how much fun you had and how beautiful it was, only to realize that it was the kind of fun that doesn’t have words, and you just had to be there.
Oscar the Pooch