The first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time. On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce. There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids. It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.
Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned. It’s still flowing faithfully. The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion. The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.
The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me. My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”. She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by. Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”. My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.
On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me. Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.
Last time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves. Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current. I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?” “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly. She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.
As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head. Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window. Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.
The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow. Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica. Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging. A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.Back up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth. Then we head out down the winding dirt road. Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home.
It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.
“All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)