...and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur....
From "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," William Wordsworth
The inspiration for Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” poem was his return home to England after five years in France. I love that one of the first things he did upon his return home was to go hiking. Of course. One always yearns to know if the music of the stream still sounds the same as it tumbles over the stones it has been smoothing for generations, or if that one large boulder still hangs out over the ridgeline, untumbled as of yet, or if the centuries-old oak is still standing strong against every storm. I can relate.
Some weeks ago I needed to take a run up to Forest Falls (a small mountain community about a half hour’s drive from me) as I needed to purchase an annual Adventure Pass. (It’s a parking pass required for many mountain areas.) I also needed a gift for someone, so I went the long way, driving first to the little town of Oak Glen where apples grow. I bought some lovely jam and a cup of coffee, then climbed back into Sky (the Subaru) to head for the mountains. As I left Oak Glen, however, I was surprised to see an entire herd of deer lounging about in one of the apple orchards. Mind you, I’m in Southern California. Most folks don’t see deer very often. When I see them, it’s only when I’m wandering the hills. The most I’ve seen is five. I counted a baker’s dozen in this group. Sorry the photo below is dark and grainy, but it’s the best I could do while pulled over on the opposite side of the road trying desperately not to get hit by other drivers flying past me at breakneck speeds.
And then it was on to Forest Falls… where there are so many memories for me….
I made my first journey to the falls as a high school student with a group of kids I used to hang with at a Christian coffee house. My high school sweetheart was with me that day. (Tarry with me here while I heave a sigh for those days of young innocence.)
A few short years later, I was married—and already a writer. I won a national writing contest and was awarded free tuition to a writers conference at Forest Home, the conference center in Forest Falls. For four days, I immersed myself in all things related to publishing, and I loved every second of it. I learned how to write a book proposal, and I went home and wrote one. By the next year (because I couldn’t wait to attend again), I was seeking a publisher for my first book. By the third year, I’d become a published author. I attended seven years in a row. In those early years of my marriage, when my life revolved around cleaning and child care and trying to placate a chronically irascible husband, those four days I spent away were my annual retreat and re-focus time. All of it was magical—chatting at dinner with other writers, sitting in lectures taking copious notes about what publishers wanted, meeting kind and encouraging people… and roaming about the grounds of Forest Home, with its pond and squirrels and everywhere the scent of pines lingering in the fresh air. (May I please pause here for another sigh in remembrance of all those special times?)
Many years later, after my children were having children of their own (and I had happily disassociated myself from both my former husbands), on a beautiful early spring day, I picked up three of my grandchildren for a day’s outing. Ben, Ellie and Reese were ten, six and four at the time—the perfect age to wander around in oak duff, get dirty, freeze their fingers in the stream, find rocks and sticks that are “pretty,” and marvel at the height of trees. Of course I took them to Forest Falls. They were so young, I doubt they remember the trip. I will never forget it. In less than two years from that day I would be living in a cabin on a mountain myself, and they would come to Nana’s house to do all those same activities (including feeding the bluejays and woodpeckers), but that first time in the mountains with them was priceless.
These are all the memories that bring a tidal flood to my heart when I drive up good old Highway 38—the same route I drove at 16 (1970, if you must know) the first time I went—and follow the narrow winding road that leads into that beautiful canyon.
Each time I do, I am surprised and blessed to find that yes, just as Wordsworth found, “these beauteous forms” and “the sounding cataract" are still the same as they were all those years ago.
I have an old faded photo of the waterfall in Forest Falls from 1970. I could not copy it here as my then boyfriend is in the photo, standing above the falls with his arms outstretched. I have his number… I suppose I could have called him to ask his permission to use the photo… but look, I took a new one! And trust me on this: The waterfall is the same now as it was when I was sixteen.
Oh, the memories are still ruminating! But what Wordsworth was getting at in his poem was that, while the world around us can be fraught with chaos and upheaval, Nature remains immutable (unless Man mutates her), quietly, steadfastly continuing, going about the day to day business of completing, over and over, the cycle of life.
Going back, sitting by that same stream, listening to the sound of the water falling over those same rocks, anchors me to earth again when I begin to feel unmoored.
Oh—and there was snow on the ground that day, but I couldn’t get a decent photo. Next time!