From the northern terminus of the Pine Creek Gorge's West Rim Trail it doesn't take long to get to the tributary stream that travels down Strap Mill Hollow. For those that enjoy an off-the-trail adventure, there are only a couple of difficult spots if you want to traverse the bank of Strap Mill Run from West Rim Trail's wooden bridge down to the point where Strap Mill Run enters Pine Creek, just about a quarter-mile downhill. This was my route today.
My saunter begins at 10:20am. Most of the hemlock and beech dominated forest is covered by about an inch of crusty snow. Flat-branched tree clubmoss as well as the regular assortment of winter ferns are present along either side of West Rim Trail. A chipmunk greets me (scolds me rather!) from his or her perch on top of a downed snag. The air is calm, 30 degrees F, with a thin cloud cover overhead.
At the wooden bridge over Strap Mill Run, Eastern hemlock's embrace the cool flowing waters on either side of its banks, a love affair that's continued since the Jurassic period roughly 150million years ago. With an affinity just as strong, centuries old lichen clings to ancient rock.
Every nook and every cranny of Strap Mill Hollow holds its own secret treasures. A new-to-me species of liverwort is here. It has a kind of leathery texture that seems typical of many liverwort species, and looks like rows of narrow green scales stacked neatly in long rows. It is dense, yet seems fragile to the touch. Bazzania trilobata is its name; a species of liverwort closely associated with coniferous forests, and here it seems to have an affinity for large exposed hemlock roots on either side of the creek. And the creek itself is a wonder to note.
Water dances down this wooded ravine in frigid winter, its spray creating the most beautiful of icy sculptures! Oh what joy to be a spectator to such wonders as these! It is the hand of God at work through this life-sustaining molecule! Carefully and cautiously I must proceed along the banks of this lively little watercourse, for the crusty snow is not more than a thin (and in places slippery) film on the steep slopes where I may revel at the creative work of the water's spray as an art connoisseur in a gallery of fine sculptures.
Not only are the shapes and the contours breathtaking, but, as I stand at the base of a waterfall here at Strap Mill Run the sun has just burst through the clouds causing the icy sculptures to sparkle like diamonds! The sun's luminous rays are transfigured before my fortunate eyes in a kaleidoscope of yellow, blue, and green shimmering points of light as if galaxies of stars were dipped in a rainbow and placed within these icy crystals. Beauty beyond comprehension fills this place in this present moment!
I think what Emerson said must be true; "To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." (Nature/Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson/Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press Books; Boston, MA, 1991. Page 15)
Breaths of fresh canyon air, a gift from our evergreen neighbors, is enjoyed by chickadee, chipmunk, and human visitor alike; all of us embraced in the same glorious light; all sense of self is lost within these ancient rock walls and the rush of cascading waters.
This is the paradoxical nature of self-discovery in wild spaces such as these, at least in my own experience which may or may not resonate with yours: My most profound experiences of self-discovery are these moments when (I often least expect it!) all sense of self is lost in the fullness of community with wildlife and wild spaces. Here the Spirit of God is at work in a way that is deeply transformational.
Today's experience at Strap Mill Hollow was without a doubt one of these, and I feel as Muir did in his Sierras, "part and parcel of nature." (A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. John Muir. Houghton Mifflin Company; New York, NY, 1916. Page 116)
I hope that you may experience the fullness of the gift of wild spaces as I have. There is no telling what priceless treasures await. I'm sure of this; wild spaces call to us; wild spaces have something to teach us about God, about ourselves, and about community; wild spaces welcome us home.
More of the ice sculptures in Strap Mill Hollow today: