Rediscovering the discovered

Today the dog and I went in search of the Hidden River.

We’ve lived on this piece of land for just over 16 years, but it wasn’t until last fall that M & H and I stumbled across the Hidden River, a small, convoluted stream that rolls and twists down wooded hills until it joins the river that runs below our property. Access to the hidden stream is obscured by trees and, in mid-summer, by chest-high hay, burdock, and raspberry canes. We crossed that big hay field for years, on our way to other trails, without ever knowing the stream was there.

When we found it last year, it was like walking through a door in the house you’ve always lived in and coming into a room you never knew was there before.

Where we met the stream, it had come to a lazy, level place, but as we followed it, we found that it rose steadily up into rock-carved hills. It curved and turned, went deep in some sections and then ran shallow, along smooth rocks and under fallen tree trunks. At one point, it took a sharp left turn into a small gorge, filled with tiny waterfalls. All of it tucked quietly away under a big pine forest.

We know we’re just the most recent explorers to discover the Hidden River. Someone else has carefully laid out bridges made of rock over the most obvious crossing places. And the trail along the shore is well-worn. But still it manages to feel like its our own discovery, even as we follow the trail and cross the bridges.

Gryfe and I went hunting for it today, after Hyla decided recently that the Hidden River would make a perfect location for her birthday party. We knew where the stream was, but we weren’t sure how easy it was to hike to this time of year; and we wanted to make sure that the water was still running the way we had seen it in the fall.

So we set out in the mid-day heat. The dog in the lead, me dawdling behind, listening to Beth Orton’s Central Reservation on my iPod.

We walked easily along the shaded trail from the house. The dog’s nose was to the ground. I drifted along, marveling again at the disconnected wonder of listening to music while I’m out in the woods. (I still remember how shockingly altered my music collection seemed when I got my first Walkman and was able to listen as I walked across campus. The context suddenly shifted from bedrooms and living rooms and dorm rooms. There was a soundtrack to my wanderings.)

We crossed the river and followed the deer trail into the big hay field. And felt the full-force of the sun and the heat. We thrashed through the hay, following smaller deer trails until we reached a potential opening to cross into the territory of the Hidden River. A few times, we came to a high bank along the stream. The dog scooted easily down the bank, but I didn’t follow, and he came with me when I turned.

After a few more tries, we ducked under some branches and came to a gradually sloped bank where the stream suddenly got narrow. We skipped across the stream, helped by a large, smooth rock in the middle of the stream.

And there it was. Burbling and twisting and rolling and shimmering down from the hills, under the tall pines. Discovered.

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