Chasing Waterfalls

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By: Amanda Windesheim

In the beginning of the semester, in my environmental science class, professor Mark Norris asked our class a question. He asked our class, “What do you like about nature?” and “What do you like to do outside?” Most of the class answered seriously, but then others in the class answered with, I don’t like nature or being outside because there are bugs.  My answer to his question was simple. I like nature because it is relaxing in its beauty. I grew up spending outside for most of my days until it was dark out.  The answer to the second part of Professor Norris’ question would be, that I enjoy hiking, or being on the beach. There are no semi-local beaches around me, so I like hiking. There are many local spots around here that I like, and I go hiking during all seasons. Many other students in my class had the same response as me, and enjoy similar hiking spots. Growing up, my parents took my older sister and me to this special place. It was special to me because we didn’t go there often. My parents would always say, do you want to go for a car ride? And with excitement and joy in our eyes we would shout “yes!”  We would often go when the weather was warm, and take the longest route there.  We would all get in my dad’s “fun weekend car.” This was the car that he didn’t drive every day, but rather on days that the sun would shine down and it would light up the world.  We piled into the cherry red convertible and we set out for one of our favorite destinations.   My sister was not the outdoorsy type, so going with her was always exciting, because of the fight she would put up. She would always trail behind, carefully placing each step on the sometimes muddy trail, and I would be by her side.  In the end, though, she always had a good time. The magical place of which I speak is called Cunningham Falls. It will always hold a special place in my heart because of the wonderful family memories.

As a full time-student, and working full time, my time to get out to the falls has been limited.  There is a local spot that I like to go to near my condo called Soldiers Delight. The trail is beautiful, with open fields, and sometimes wildlife peeks through the wooded areas. The trail is one loop, unlike Cunningham Falls.  The trail that I like to hike at the falls on is about a three mile round trip journey.  The trail is much more difficult than the Soldiers Delight trail, and when you are done the Soldiers Delight trail, there isn’t a waterfall at the end.

I set out on my journey to Cunningham Falls on a Thursday afternoon from Owings Mills, Maryland.  My last class of the day was canceled, so I was able to get on the road by 11 a.m. It takes about an hour to get to the falls, and by the time I got there, I was ready to stretch my legs and start hiking.  I put the address into my GPS, turn on my Spotify, and I start driving to my destination. I change my normal Spotify music from rap and hip hop to Hozier and Ellie Goulding. I drive down Route 26 for almost 30 minutes, and I start to get antsy.  As I am driving, I notice there are so many local wineries, such as Elk Winery and Boordy Winery. I take note of these wineries and decide this will be my next adventure.  As I am driving, I also notice that I have been talking to myself. There is no one in the car with me, but when I passed the winery, I said, out loud, “OOOOH, I need to go there soon.” As I am passing the little town in Frederick where the speed limit is 30 mph, I somehow miss the turn I needed to make. But I am glad I missed the turn because when I turn around in the 7-Eleven parking lot, I noticed this house that is decked out for Halloween.  The porch is filled with different colored mums, ranging from yellow to red to orange to burgundy.  The two trees at the top of the driveway have fake, delicately placed cobwebs on them.  The yard has witch’s feet sticking out of the grass, as if the witch is stuck inside the yard.  There are huge pumpkins, like you need two people to pick up these pumpkins, on the steps leading up to the front door. The wreath on the front door is filled with colors of autumn; orange, red, yellow, and green.  Finding this house is the perfect mistake. Seeing the fall colors made me even more excited to hike to the falls, as I was prepared to see the beautiful changing of the leaves.  I correct my wrong turn, and end up at the falls about 20 minutes later.  On the way there, I pass many farms getting ready for the Halloween season, preparing their fields for the corn mazes.

I reach the huge park area for Cunningham Falls, and I stop at the Visitors Center.  The parking lot is gravel, and I don’t think my little sedan liked the bumpiness of the gravel.  I park, and make my way into the building. There are two people in the Visitor Center who welcome me, and I ask them a few questions.  The person behind the desk is not as eager to help me as I hoped, but she gives me some informational brochures that have park information on them. The gentleman that is there, looks like a park ranger, and he tells me which trail I should take. I tell him I don’t want to hike for hours, but I didn’t want to not hike at all. He suggests the three-mile trail.  I am a little scared because I am by myself, but I know there would be other people on the trail and it would still be light out for a will.

I carry a light bag with me that contains a water bottle, my journal, a vest, and sunglasses, and my cell phone.  Just the essentials. It is abnormally warm for this October day, and I don’t end up needing the vest, because I started to hike, my body temperate started to rise.  I don’t pass too many people on the trail, and the trail is more difficult than I remember, or maybe I am just a little more out of shape than I think. As I am hiking, it gives me time to think about my upcoming future; and time to reflect on my goals.  By getting out, by myself, I am able to focus on me; and my objectives.  Graduation is quickly approaching, and the end of the semester stressors are on full blast. This is the perfect way to clear my head and to focus on the future and the positive things that will be happening. I didn’t focus on the scariness on graduating, and the papers that are due, but rather the fact that I am graduating, and that it is a huge important milestone in my life.  As I’m high on the excitement on graduation, I realize that I’m approaching the falls.

I walk the wooden boardwalk to the overlook of the falls, my LL. Bean boots make a lot of noise as I trek my way to the end. There is an older lady sitting at the end of the boardwalk area. There are two benches. I sit on an empty bench on the opposite side of her.  We both say hello, and I notice she has a huge camera with her. I start to make a conversation with her, and I learn that she is retired, and likes to come to Cunningham Falls about two or three times a week, weather permitting, to capture pictures of the animals and of the falls itself. We both note how low the water is, and we both sit in silence as I am fiercely writing in my journal. She leaves about five minutes later and I wish her a good day.

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There are signs all over the boardwalk stating you can’t go on the actual falls, and climb on the rocks.  As a child, this is what we did; we would go up on the rocks and climb on the top so we could see the falls.   Too many people were doing this because it was affecting the wildlife surrounding the falls.  I think to myself, can I really leave the Falls without climbing on them?

In my family’s home, there is a photograph of us on the rocks with the falls in the background. My mom set up the tripod on this steep rock; my mom doesn’t care what she has to do to get a great picture.  We still have this picture hanging in the living room.  I decided to break the rules, and go onto the falls. I think to myself: If I get in trouble, I am doing this for my class, and plus it will make a great story.  I figure out how to get to the falls because it is roped off and the boardwalk makes it hard to get to the actual falls. I almost fall into the water, even though it was low, and even though I am wearing waterproof boots, I don’t want to be wet.  I hop over the rocks, praying I don’t fall in, ducking though trees, and I only go through a handful of cobwebs, but it is worth it when I get to the base of the falls. This is why I hiked one and half miles. I climb up the first big rock, and when I mean climb, I mean I had to figure out my foot placement for a few minutes, and really use some muscle.  The first big rock is the hardest; after that it is all little rocks that don’t take much movement. My feet are still a little shaky, and my heart is still racing in full force, not only hoping I don’t fall, but hoping no one yells at me for being on top of the rocks.  No other hikers are around, expect new people on the boardwalk peering up at me. It is a younger couple, hugging and making out. I roll my eyes, sit down next to a part of the water fall and watch the water flow down the rocks.  I sit peacefully on the rocks at Cunningham Falls, taking in the warm weather, non-existent bugs, and captured the beauty of my surrounding areas. The location of the falls is hidden. You can’t see or hear the falls from the road, and you have to hike to get there. There are trees and a small body of water that surround the large rocky mountain area.  This area has always been a getaway for me because it is typically not too busy, unless it is the summer time. In the summer time, children like to play in the small body of water leading up to the rock formation. I am curious to see how the children will react this summer when they will not be able to go into the body of water and climb the rock formation. After a couple of hours sitting on the rocks, my behind goes numb and cold, and I head down the large rock formation. I have to slide down the large rocks on my backside so I don’t fall and break my neck. I hike back to my car, which is about one and half miles away.  On the way back I feel relaxed, and at ease.  I realize I am almost to my car, and I spy something out of the corner of my eye. I try to figure out what it is because I have needed glasses/contacts since I was in the seventh grade. I realize it is a deer about five yards away from me. I have never been this close to a deer before in my life. And I don’t think a deer hitting the side of my car my senior year of high school counts. The deer and I stare at each other for about five minutes. Being the social media addict I am, I pull out my iPhone and open up my Snapchat app.  There is a deer filter on the snapchat app that allows your face to filter into a deer’s face. So, you bet I took a selfie, with this deer, with the deer filter in my Snapchat app. This was so exciting to me because it was so silly, and yet it was the perfect way to end my trip. I will always remember the peacefulness of the waterfall and the changing of the leaves, but this picture, poor quality and all, I will cherish for a long time.

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The past four years I have been in college, it has been work, studying, and trying to squeeze time in with my family and friends.  During this time, I haven’t really been able to enjoy the surrounding time. To go to Cunningham Falls is like a special treat for me because it allows me to relax and escape from reality.  During my time at Cunningham Falls, it has also allowed me to practice my communication skills and be less shy.  I am typically a very shy person; this isn’t typical for being a communication major. On the boardwalk, there was a lady taking pictures, and I had nice conversation with. We had a conversation about the weather, how unusually warm it was, and what type animals she was taking pictures of. Breaking out of my shell is hard for me, but once I start talking to someone, I feel comfortable, and I become more excite

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