Whispers On a Stream

Whispers On a Stream

I recently headed out on a quest to find a secluded waterfall in the North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains. Finding the unmarked trailhead to the fall was tricky. Even with clear directions from a local expert, I still missed it twice. Looking down behind a guardrail, I could make out what appeared to be a trail. I could see that it was steep. It was starting to rain, so I put on my rain jacket, covered my camera backpack and proceeded to the unmarked trailhead.

My first sign, and possibly an omen, was that someone had left a walking stick propped up against a tree for others to use. I decided to heed that sign and took the walking stick in hand. When the steep decent bottomed out, I came to a creek that I’d have to cross. Using the walking stick, I gauged the water level and the strength of the flow resulting from the increasing rains. The water was too deep to cross and still maintain dry feet, even with waterproof boots. I’ll be honest, at this point, I was questioning if really wanted to continue. But, with walking stick in hand, which proved invaluable for the crossing and maintaining balance, I decided to cross and continue along the trail.

Picking back up the faint trail on the other side of the creek proved tricky and took a leap of faith that I was actually headed down a trail. Tall vegetation and Rhododendron thickets requiring me to duck and scramble through on my knees in order to move forward added to the vagueness of the trail. From descriptions I had read, I knew I still had two creek crossings to go. The second crossing was deeper, but with fewer lose rocks, making it a wetter crossing, but a more stable one. The third crossing was much like the first.

Finally, I came to the scene pictured here. I knew this couldn’t be the falls I was looking for, but something beckoned me to stop and spend time here. Listening to its call, I ventured away from the trail and into the shallows of the stream bed. The view was unique with its fallen log and the small waterfall on the side coming out of the rocks. Being a composition that interested me, I decided that I’d stop here, setup my camera gear in the shallows and photograph this beautiful little spot. Being underneath a thicket of tree limbs and Rhododendron, I was somewhat sheltered from the rain, which was beginning to subside. Not long into photographing the scene, I started hearing faint voices – almost whispers. I knew there were no houses anywhere nearby and I hadn’t seen boot prints anywhere along the muddy trail. So, hearing those voices was starting to mess with my head and creep me out just a bit – much like the feeling one gets from a scary movie in which you know something bad is about to happen to those kids in the parked car who just heard a noise they couldn’t identify.

I stopped photographing, stood up, and walked back up to the trail to give it a closer listen. Listening intently, the voices faded and went silent. Perhaps, there was a lull in the conversation – perhaps they had stopped to avoid giving themselves away -- I couldn’t figure it out. Had the talking stopped, was I imaging this or was there some force of nature that was creating these sounds that manifested into voices in my head. Not being able to resolve the source of the sounds, I dismissed them, much like those kids in the parked car had done when they heard a startling sound – then I allowed myself to remember how that turned out for them. My imagination was starting to spiral.

Not long after returning to my tripod and camera, the voices began again. I felt a tingle down my spine, and I started to feel that I wasn’t alone. I felt as if there was a presence watching me – a presence that was starting to draw nearer. I could feel it in my bones. I stopped photographing again, stood up, listened and looked around. Nothing. I couldn’t see anything moving anywhere, I listened for the crack of a tree branch being broken underfoot or the rustling of limbs in the thickets – no sounds or movement gave away the presence of anyone or anything. Even still, the voices continued, never getting louder or softer, but remaining a rhythmic whisper. At this point, I realize that what I must be hearing, was the soft whispers from the stream. It was if the stream was speaking to me. Perhaps, it was those gentle whispers that had beckoned me to stop here, short of the falls, to spend time and admire the stream’s beauty. I started to ease into the feeling, becoming comforted, and the uneasy feelings I had allowed to wash over me earlier flowed away. I had come to an understanding of what I was experiencing.

Packing up my camera gear, I noted that I had been at this spot for quite some time, lost in my photography and the distraction of alarm that had transformed into comforting Whispers on a Stream. Instead of heading further down the trail, I decided that I’d head back to the car, saving the falls I had started out to see for another day.

On the journey back, I had time to think about my experience. It made me think about all the things in life that we can’t quite make sense of. The things we can’t quite put into context and the unsettling feelings that can accompany the unknown. The truths, the lies, and in-between that cause doubts and uncertainty -- that when unchecked and allowed to spiral, can evolve into fear. A fear whose power can keep us from moving forward, trying something new, trusting others and erecting walls that block understanding and empathy for others. In a time of uncertainties and unknowns, if I stop to listen, try to make sense of things, develop a context for understanding, I stand a chance of keeping fears and the power it yields in check. Perhaps, that is what the whispers on the stream was saying when it beckoned me by its side.

At the end of the trail, I turned around to look back on where I had come. I carefully leaned the walking stick I had been gifted back against the tree where I had found it to support the next traveler who ventures this way. If you find yourself in a time of doubt and starting to have fears wash over you, I hope you can reflect on this story, and in doing so, it gives you a walking stick to steady your way.

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