Before we left our cat-sitting vacation at Deep Creek Lake, Becca and I hiked the short loop of Tolliver Falls. No one manned the entrance and our car was one of three parked in the lot that would be clogged with hikers later in the day. The crisp air touched my bare arms as Becca shrugged on a sweatshirt and we set off on a trail that bypassed Swallow Falls where we had waded into the rushing water with my two grandsons two days earlier. Someone told us it was seventy plus steps, another said one hundred and fifty—anything over ten creates pain without an intact meniscus in one knee and arthritis in the other. She bounded down them looking back every now and again to judge how far ahead she might be. When the trail flattened out into gentle curves and dips to the understated beauty of the less traveled Tolliver loop, her distance both guided me and gave me a new perspective. I paused a few times to capture her likeness in this pose of looking back.
Becca at sixteen could be any age—beautiful face and hair, shapely with long legs, kind to children and old folks yet capable of a rude belch or inappropriate laughter. She is tough and athletic without the muscle-bound stance of someone trying too hard. Her stance, as she peers back up the trail at me, is both withering and worried. My inability to keep up bothers her.
But I have no desire to pretend that I am not overweight and out of practice with being an invincible teenager. I have earned the right to hang back, step carefully and look about myself as the trail becomes more challenging. Becca is a wild deer crashing through the underbrush. She is skittish and sometimes angry. She is compassionate at the oddest times and on fire at the least provocation.
We marvel at the gentle waterfall once we reach it. We promise to bring the boys back here first. It would be much more likely for floating boats and actual swimming instead of the hazardous slippery rocks, the swift current and deep water of Swallow Falls which is a brief five minute hike further downstream.
We returned that way and I notice another young woman perched on a rock above us. She is staring out at the rush of water toward the larger falls and does not meet my eye when we are in her periphery. I want to take her picture because she reminds me of a muted version of a Maxfield Parrish painting. Becca yelps out an astonished cry when the same young woman bursts through the underbrush onto the trail in front of us with a nervous giggle a few minutes later. Becca says, “I didn’t know anyone else was down here.” I nod but I had noticed the young woman, a couple with a large backpack and a fleeing deer on our hike. Perspective given to me from age? Wariness of a mother accompanying her girl-woman child in a strange place? Or just the gift of the observer?
That was our morning hike to Tolliver Falls before leaving Deep Creek this August.
J D Cooper
Author of the Lilac Hill series, The Portia Journal, other novels and countless short stories