Of all the animated Disney movies, I recall Sleeping Beauty most vividly. Maleficent’s terrifying briars? Yes. But what I remember best — and with most fondness — is the forest
Of all the animated Disney movies, I recall Sleeping Beauty most vividly. Maleficent’s terrifying briars? Yes. But what I remember best — and with most fondness — is the forest scene where Briar Rose unwittingly meets Prince Phillip. Because there’s a waterfall in the background. A Disney waterfall, therefore pristine and perfect, blue as the sky, falling straight as a curtain, with random sparkling diamonds of reflected sunlight. Briar Rose could have Prince Phillip; I wanted that waterfall.
The friendly gurgles and babbles of your manmade waterfall in a park, or backyard “water feature,” or imported wall of boulders at a hotel are just fine for day-to-day ambience. But real waterfalls, the waterfalls I long for, lie waiting in the wilderness. I want to come upon one suddenly, unexpectedly, laid bare like a secret gift that’s been there all along, minding its business, biding its time, waiting for my stumbled-upon discovery.
And then, when you conquer that final thicket of rhododendrons, and clear the last set of practically-vertical boulders, it’s there, the surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but nevertheless is: a gray-green-white froth of flowing water dropping into a waiting pool. Six of us are hiking together, and immediately, automatically, we fan out over the wide rock to our own views, and our own thoughts, and our own privacy. Not because the waterfall is loud — which it is — but because you need a minute, after the dense shade of the trail, and its closeness, and difficulty, to just gather yourself, and breathe, and be.
But as with every fairy tale, we love waterfalls for their darkness, too. For the delicious shiver along our spines, the possibility of lurking risk. At Babel Tower, the Linville River is tightened by a vise of high canyon walls formed a billion years ago, and forced to sluice through a stone gully. Compressed water is deep, fast, unfriendly water. Water that would take me in, and over, in a flash. Which is why, although the American Whitewater website notes that “the Linville River is hands down the most epic, beautiful, and quality stretch of whitewater to be found east of the Mississippi,” it sternly adds that “the same factors that make this run so incredible also make it a place where mistakes and misjudgments can prove to have dire consequences.”
So are we irresistibly drawn to a waterfall’s constancy — and also to the fact that, when at last we turn away and begin the scramble back up the mountainside, it will rush and tumble on, unfazed by our presence or absence. So that, in the end, a waterfall’s very ceaselessness compels us to linger. And, finally, lets us leave.