Silver and Golden Christmas Falls (Part 9)

Christmas morning arrived. The sun rose, but nobody had seen it in weeks. Wayne whipped up eggs, hash browns and toast, ate his third, Chief ate his, and then Wayne carried out a plate and fork to the shed.

He knocked on the door. Jared said to come in. Wayne opened the door and Jared was reading another Elmore Leonard Western, Forty Lashes Less One.

“Merry Christmas!” said Wayne. He handed Jared the plate and fork. “Eat that quick. Let’s get rolling.”

“You expect any customers?” said Jared.

“There’s always someone on Christmas Day wandering by. Or someone alone in a motel.”

“It seems strange to put up a tree for a day when you’re the only one who ever sees it.”

“I bet it keeps some people alive.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it took effort and effort means you’re still alive.”

Jared wolfed down his breakfast and laced up his boots while Wayne warmed up the truck.

Christmas morning. It was Christmas morning in Coos Bay. There was probably more misery in it for some folks than a routine Tuesday morning in May.

Jared slid into the cab of the Sierra. Wayne had the heater and defroster blasting.

“Where we going?” said Jared.

“To your Christmas present.”

“You got me a present?”

“Sure. And it didn’t cost a nickel, the best kind.”

“I didn’t get you anything. I feel bad.”

“Forget it. It doesn’t matter. I haven’t received a Christmas present in almost half a century. Why start now?”

He laughed.

A minute later, the trio was cruising up 241 toward Wayne’s farm with Al Green crooning on cassette as rain ripped across the roadway.

Twenty minutes later the truck blew past the entrance to Wayne’s farm. They’d never passed it before.

“Where are we going?” said Jared.

“Like I said, your Christmas present.”

Two minutes after that, the road dead-ended into a small parking lot with signage, picnic tables and a pit toilet. There was no other vehicle in the lot.

“Where are we?” said Jared, as he rolled down the passenger window for a better view.

“The trail head to Silver and Golden Falls,” said Wayne. “I’m going to pick you up in two hours and load up some gear and a special mushroom stew from the freezer. We’ll get drunk tonight and sing carols around the fire.”

Wayne surprised himself with the excitement he felt at the prospect of this.

Jared said, “Why don’t you and Chief come with me. I’m kind of nervous to go alone.”

Wayne turned to him. “Nervous? It’s a waterfalls for chrissakes. Two of them! You can’t turn down a waterfalls for a Christmas present! Take a photograph and send it to your mom. She should hear from you. And you can show me what they look like, too.”

“What are your talking about?”

“I’ve never seen them.”

Jared turned to Wayne and said, “Are you kidding me?! You’ve lived your entire life a couple miles away and never saw them? You’re bullshitting me.”

“It’s true. I just never got around to it. Maybe I will one day.”

“It seems impossible you haven’t been there.”

“You know how many people who live in Paris never go up the Eiffel Tower or who live five miles from the Grand Canyon and never see it?”

“Come on!”

“I read it in National Geographic years ago.”

Jared still didn’t believe it. How could someone not explore something so monumental when that something monumental was so near and so accessible.

Many Americans do exactly the same thing with their hearts and souls. They’re the New Yorker who never visits the Empire State Building but sees hundreds of Broadway shows or the Oregonian who never visits Crater Lake but sees dozens of Oregon Duck football games.

Wayne handed Jared a water bottle. Jared took it, but didn’t budge or say anything. Then he exited the truck. Wayne turned the Sierra around and drove out of the parking lot. Chief stuck his head out the passenger window and looked back toward Jared. The sound of honking horn disappeared down the road.

Jared stared into a wall of trees: Doug Fir, hemlock, myrtlewood, maple, oaks, cedar. A creek gurgled down to his right. Everything around him was gray, green and black. Jared dug out his pill bottle. He unscrewed the cap.

A wall of wind blew across and above him. It shook loose the last of the remaining acorns hanging in the oak trees and they fell on and around Jared like so much grapeshot on a Civil War battlefield.

For a moment, Jared thought he was coming under fire. His breathing became labored. He felt a hot surge in his chest. Tinges of a headache registered. Why the hell had that crazy old man left him here? On Christmas damn morning when everything had been going so reasonably well the past month?

He dropped the bottle and pills spilled out. They landed in a mud puddle. The pills floated for a mini-second and then disappeared. The bottle took on water and went down like the Titanic.

Jared fell to his knees to salvage some pills from the puddle. It was useless. Goddammit he needed Wayne and Chief!

But they weren’t there. He stood up and started crying. He felt vaguely pathetic crying over pills drowned in a mud puddle, but at least he was crying. That was something.

If Jared had been smart enough, he might have recognized a metaphor with the pills drowned in mud puddle, because it was a pretty obvious one. But he wasn’t smart. At least not yet.

But then again, a metaphor need not exist to get someone going in a better direction in a story or reality. Sometimes, you merely need to move and keep moving. Movement means life. Movement leads to human encounters and encounters in nature. These encounters will bear fruit, but it may take time.

Jared wanted to move. So he started moving. Which falls first?

Why Silver of course! Everyone goes to Silver first. Silver before gold!

Jared laughed. Golden Falls here I come! No need to go for silver if gold is at hand. He read the info on the signage. Two routes to Golden Falls—shorter and longer. Jared chose longer, the road seldom taken by choice.

He swigged some water and stuffed the bottle into his back pocket. It started raining. Then it really opened up. So what? Seeing a waterfalls in the sunshine with its flickering rainbow colors is the cliche for Hallmark movies and New Age retreats. See a waterfalls on the Oregon Coast in the winter after seven inches of rain in seven days—that’s what you really want. The image won’t delight you like dancing rainbows. It will brace you like a shotgun spread to the face.

Jared started moving up the trail. The climb was gradual and slippery. More acorns pelted him. He caught one at random and winged it at a oak split by lightning. He passed rocks. He traversed roots, leaves and needles. Rain pummeled him all the way.

His headache vanished. He lost track of time. He kept moving. His mind moved faster.

Jared heard something, a din. He picked up his pace. The din became a roar. Then the roar became a word not yet invented to describe the sound of a waterfall blowing over a cliff with a massive and incalculable volume of water.

He began jogging and the trail narrowed until it seemingly ended at the base of jagged rocks and an impenetrable fence of maples. Jared noticed a knotted rope off to his left. He went over, gripped it, looked up to where the rope led up a steep path, and pulled to take out the slack. Then he started climbing up the path and around rocks, roots and stumps.

The rope ended. The sound of Golden Falls grew louder, but still the spectacle was hidden from Jared’s view. He clambered over rocks and secured his footing by grabbing brush and branches. He climbed his way up a tiny slope and then stood upon a flat rock and beheld Golden Falls a hundred yards away exploding over the cliffs. The water wasn’t falling. It was shooting out as if exploded from a 16-inch gun on a battleship.

He had to get closer. There seemed no discernible path to follow so he followed his own. It was muddy and slick and rocky. Jared felt the spray from the falls. He made his way out into the open toward the pool at the base of the falls. Rain mixed with spray brought down a deluge.

At last Jared stopped. There was no way over a fortification of downed trees and boulders. He stood there on Christmas morning and looked up at Golden Falls. Something was being conceived at that moment. It was both inside and outside Jared. It wasn’t therapy as quack therapists define it for simplicity and profit. It was action and action is consolatory. Consider this: what has more answers to hard questions? An expensive therapist in an office or a free waterfalls? Which language plunges you deeper into reflection?

Jared stared at Golden Falls for half an hour. He thought. He remembered. He made a forecast for himself. Perhaps it would end up like the typically wrong weather forecasts on television. But sometimes the meteorologists got it right. There were always percentages in favor of something predicted actually happening.

It was time to go. Nothing gold can stay, not even a waterfalls, although in truth, it does.

Jared snapped a couple photographs for his mom and would text them to her later. He couldn’t wait to show them to Wayne when they were drunk around the fire. He’d tell him, “There’s something about seeing a waterfalls that does a man good” and they’d bust up laughing and get even drunker.

The next morning, they’d break down the lot with hellacious hangovers, head for the farm, and take it from there.