Bash Bish Falls

Of course I was on a hike in the woods, so I was already in Deep Travel mode – smelling the pungency of the evergreens, the earthy odor of mushrooms, the sweetness in the air letting me know the falls were up ahead shedding mist, even though the local bubble of the brook nearly obscured their deeper, more distant rumble. I've walked this path to Bash Bish Falls, whose 200 feet of cascades make it the highest waterfall in Massachusetts, a hundred times before, but the wildlife and seasonal flora vary enough to keep me engaged always. And it's always beautiful.

But today I was recovering from a bad cold and walking slower than usual. Every ten paces or so I had to stop to breathe, hands on my knees. I suddenly found myself noticing the rocks. And I realized that many of them didn't belong here. Or more precisely, that they didn't originate here. There were glassy-black obsidian-like fragments and others. I knew the geology of this area, and knew these didn't belong. Yet many of the stones were crushed so deeply into the path that they had obviously been here for years.

I remembered that maybe a century ago, long before I was born, there used to be a resort hotel at the falls. And an iron mill and quarry, down below, back down the road one drives to reach the falls trailhead. The glassy rocks could have been slag from the iron mill, and both those and others could have been brought in to pave an earlier path, to the hotel. As I walked I suddenly began to see signs of this ghost trail: a stone wall here, a flattened area there, more erratic stones that clearly originated elsewhere.

The ghost trail wove in and out, on and off the path I was walking, and by the time I reached the falls I was seeing the path with two sets of eyes: my own, but also those of the 19th-century painters and English and Dutch farmers and merchants who settled this area. Arriving at the falls, which I had always treasured for their natural beauty, I found myself for the first time noticing certain boulders that must have been excavated by earlier settlers. Here I was, and yet somehow here they were as well, with the clear, cold water, both unchanged and yet always changing, always renewed, cascading over it all, eternally.