Returning to a Waterfall in Mid-Cascade


Lagging with a quarter tank on the Taconic, I scroll back to an archive of music bereft of life—indie and alternative music confined to its inception. Still, nostalgia (even under false pretenses) thaws the distinctions between the seasons. A couple of songs in, an exiled piece crescendos. It recoils against my expectations, voiding the present. 

I return to winter.

The curled points of leaves are frozen in time, dulling the frozen earth and wetting the soles. In snow boots three sizes too big, I am leaving footprints that aren’t necessarily mine. I ball my toes to hold myself to the ground. The cold is numbing my lower calves. Maybe if I had worn longer socks, I could close my eyes and evade the melting of time. 

Out of all the frozen waterfalls in Upstate New York, the one in Sloan Gorge Preserve is the least intimidating and the least impressive. In the winter, there is no bubbling plunge—it staccatos into thick canine teeth. Yet, the falls are sizable enough to stagger onto jutted rocks to peer into pitted caverns fit only for quibbling chipmunks. With mittens saturated by the cold, I could wrap my arms against the fall’s horizontal width, frozen in mid-cascade. 

It is no match for Kaaterskill, the deep plummeting falls, each level marked by the sediment of red clay. In the winter, Kaaterskill is a tower of ice, its hazards heightened by the sleeping season. Compared to its less far-reaching and less intense cousin, the falls in the Sloan Gorge Preserve, it is a lake to a rain puddle. Regardless, I love the miniature falls, their humbleness, and natural procedures. I could scale it with my body and attempt to warm it into spring against my winter coat. 

In warmer seasons, falling waters bubble through, overlapping in its busyness. In the winter, it idles perpetually, evading day and night. I loiter in between thick trunked pine trees, its leaning branches heavy with snow. I trek through the trail, kicking up bits of slush. I imagine it is quiet, the birds nestled away in the cavities of trees. All other trampling and twitching-eared creatures coil in hibernation. Rounded in my ears is Patrick Watson’s “Lighthouse.” I shrink myself to fit into the crevices between the minutes. If music is a place to hide, then I could tuck myself in between the layers. Each piece takes its time to reach its crescendo; its gradual buildup just as essential as its apex. The dynamic is shared as its affinities swirl. 

At dusk, the snow has greyed from the overcast. The trees are swathed with shadows. Among them, there is a wendigo, its skin thick against the cold. The quiet is unsettling. I think of losing my way, huddling at the husk of a tree, my chest palpitating as snow slumps off burdened branches. I imagine, if I were small enough, I could curl in the hollowed crevices behind the frozen falls, invisible from the possibilities. 

I follow the marked trails, fixing my poor eyesight on fading blue tags. My nose raw, my mouth dry, and my ears are buzzing with the major-key polyphony of “Sit Down Beside Me.” When I make it to the parking lot, nothing is visible except the moon curved lazily in the sky. In the car, I rotate my fingers against the grated mouth of the heater, my knuckles bump against its shifting tongue. I look dangerously for the hollow path obscured by night. I lock my doors for good measure. Despite the reclusiveness and lingering fears, semblance is intact. Watson is still in my ears, I am infatuated with his textured melodies, the pretty lyrics. I cannot fully explain it; only that I am cold, and the music is good. Perhaps, Watson’s music resists explanation. I can only describe his music with the tangible—the snow and ice. I am unable, or maybe I refuse to pin down the abstract qualities of his music with language. Instead, Watson’s music calls upon its listeners, like a visitation only real when followed.

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