DuPont State Forest

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The day after Christmas dawned cold and clear with thin skins of ice on puddles and the grass crunchy with frost. The sky was cloud-free and unendingly blue.

A perfect day for hiking.

My brother, his wife and I decided to take a trip to DuPont State Recreational Park near Hendersonville since none of us had been there before and all of us were eager to get outdoors for a day. It was a great time to go. Traffic was light and the air so clear. The first view of those mountains in the west, thrusting their blue shadowy heads above the horizon, never fails to impress me. Unlike the majestic Rockies, these are more akin to giant hills with armies of skeletal trees marching up and over their crests. Towering evergreens add some color among the winter browns. Along the way, we saw a small herd of deer munching on the tawny grass by the side of the highway. Another group dashed across among all the traffic, safely making it to the other side.

Once at the park, we started out on a gravel path toward Triple Falls. It was cold enough to see your breath hover in the air and periodically, sheets of ice covered the path from where spring water had frozen on its trip back towards the river. On the dirt banks beside the trail, delicate filaments of frost grew in clusters, as fine as strands of hair. Once we got moving, however, I warmed up pretty quickly. I love hiking in winter; the cool, fresh air is so much more pleasant than stifling heat.

The journey to the falls was mostly downhill, but there are some fairly steep uphill hikes as well. Long before we reached the river, we could hear the muted roar of a waterfall, like the distant sound of heavy traffic. A screen of evergreen trees hides the falls from view until you take the wooden steps down to the rocky shelf below the falls. It is a truly spectacular sight. The sound of the water pounding down the drop, which occurs in three stages, hence the name, is overwhelming and sends a mist of spray into the air. It was cold enough to cause the spray to freeze on surrounding trees, coating them in a fine white layer of ice. It was beautiful. 

After snapping a few pictures, we hiked back up the steps and headed to Hooker Falls, which has a more gentle grandeur than the showy Triple or High Falls. Hooker Falls is one long curtain of water falling a short drop to the river below. A man was casting his fishing line into the water with his son and a few people rested on some giant rocks that were scattered on the banks of the river. 

And, just when I thought the river had surely yielded enough lovely scenery, we arrived at High Falls, a huge waterfall with a dizzyingly long drop. It’s a pretty spectacular sight.

We probably spent about an hour or an hour and a half hiking. All three falls are a pretty short distance from each other and easily accessed. Lots of great photo opportunities!

 

In between the waterfalls, the river is mostly calm and cool and green as jade. Strands of pale green moss grow on the trees bordering the water and various hardy plants still grow in the woods. I was struck by how quiet it was in the forest, a quiet not even interrupted by birdsong. 

I’ll have to return in the spring to see the fourth and final falls – Bridal Veil Falls. There are also a few lakes on the 10,400 acres of state forest property. 

It’s definitely a sight worth seeing for the waterfalls alone. 

 

 

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An incurable disease

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“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly

November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin

warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my

hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent

me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats

off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

So said Herman Melville in Moby Dick

Some days, that’s how I feel. Grim about the mouth, my soul a dreary November day with

an unexplained urge to knock people’s hats off. I know then it is high time to get out to

sea. For me, “the sea” is any place other than home. It is a change in scenery that

hopefully involves a bookstore and small town charm. A place that will, for the moment,

slake my thirst to see and observe and find newness. I like to think that in another life,

another time, with other opportunities and choices, I would have been a hobo; a vagrant

with the insatiable need to wander. These days my wanderings don’t take me far but I

savor them nonetheless. Today, Tryon was my destination. A quaint mountain town with

a main street lined with shops, art gallery and cafés; it captured my heart. We parked and

wandered along the main street, past a small group of grey haired men sitting on a bench

in the sun. Their jovial greetings welcomed us to town, their infectious cheerfulness a

reminder that it was a beautiful, crisp, December morning and that we should enjoy each

moment of it. We poked around in a few shop. The antique store filled with old license

plates, shot glasses and black and white photos of strangers; a short wander through a

hardware store that smelled deliciously of oil and paint and tools and had dark, creaking

wood floors. I love the smell of hardware stores and the useful flotsam and jetsam of big

silver basins, jars of screws, hammers and saws. Lunch was at a small café/bakery. A

warm, cozy retreat that smelled of fresh bread. A glass display case showed off

ridiculously tall cakes and mouth-watering brownies. The coffee was perfection.

And, of course, no trip would be complete without a stop at a bookstore. The Village

Bookstore is tucked away around a corner, behind a door painted black with a bell that

rings when you open it. A sweet little shop, it begs visitors to come in and stay awhile. It

is soft twilight inside, but subtly placed lights bring pools of light to dark corners and

illuminate book titles. Neat rows of used books march across shelves with labels carefully

tacked into the wood, announcing genres that range from fiction to history to local

authors. Oh those words. Those delicious, amazing, fresh, inspiring, liberating words,

sandwiched between two covers. I lose myself among them all, sitting on the floor to scan

pages. I can tell within moments if I’ll be drawn in by the story or left bored and

untouched. I carefully collect a chosen few and then tear myself away before I spend more

than I should. By the time I purchase my three treasures, I feel as if I have taken a trip to

some far off place and have returned, restored and refreshed.

For a time, a brief time, my hobo heart is happy.

John Steinbeck wrote of this urge, this compulsion, to leave one’s home like a restless

nomad. In his book “Travels With Charley,” he talks about how people told him maturity

would cure him of this affliction, and then middle age, and finally, perhaps, senility would do the job. Yet it does not.

“Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to

tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on

pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and

the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in

further words, once a bum, always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.”

Looking back

I remember that first morning, stepping into the classroom and standing in front of the empty tables; the white board an expectant blank surface just waiting for my marker to expound on fractions and decimals and demonstrative pronouns.
But no one came.
It was an anticlimactic beginning and now, months later, the year comes to a satisfying end. My class picked up speed as we went along and over the course of the semester I had a dozen students filter through. I began with no experience, no training and shaky math skills. I ended with a lot more confidence and knowledge than when I started.
I also collected bits and pieces of my students’ stories. I have each name and face in my memory. They dropped out of high school because of social issues, because they got in with the wrong crowd, because they started to fall behind in the 7th or 8th grade and by the 9th grade had given up. During my first semester I had a born-again-Christian who preached the gospel every chance he got and narrowly escaped prison time which led to his conversion; I had a man from Mexico who worked hard to learn reading and grammar and math in his second language; I had one young student who never missed a class and several who were dropped because of their many absences. I have had some get angry and storm out of the classroom and a few who have thanked me for teaching them. Three of my students tested well enough to move on to the Adult High School Diploma Program or GED and the most gratifying moment of the semester was telling them they had passed my class. Its been an interesting experience, teaching. We’ll see what next year holds!