We pulled off the Blue Ridge Parkway while our boy slept in the back seat, just the three of us in the car the way it was almost 18 years ago, after our firstborn child turned us into a family.
And now we were driving him home from what will likely be his last college visit before pulling the trigger, a decision between the mountains and the coast that I don’t envy.
At the overlook, we left him there, sleeping in the back seat under his heavy coat, and started down the Cascade Trail.
It’s a one-mile loop with a trailhead right there off the parkway: a short, gravel path leading to rough-hewn wooden bridges over an active creek, and then an ancient set of stone stairs wedged into the face of the mountain.
We can hear the waterfall well before we see it, a susurrus in the distance that rises to a soft growl as we get close. From a stone landing with an inch of rich mud settled on the bottom, we bear witness to the promise of the plaque at the trailhead: “Water plunges like liquid lace from overhead and dashes past to swirl and slide downward in an abandon of spray and foam-lipped ripples.” It’s the best writing I have ever seen posted on a trail.
The water falls in a rush from the rock precipice above, crashes on a hard slope and makes this leg of its inevitable journey in a fast, mad froth, slowly, imperceptibly changing the stone with every drop. Here it makes a cupped roar as it lands on a deep pit in the rock, there it wanders into an eddy, swirling momentarily to the side before joining the current. Eventually it all gets to the bottom, and then to the river, and then to the sea.
It’s a short trail, barely a mile, but with enough of an incline to give us a workout and enough metaphorical subtext to keep us quiet on the return.
Sooner or later it all runs into the sea.
The kid slept the rest of the ride back home, just like he did when he was a baby.