Field Notes: Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
When Jessie says Silver Falls State Park is one of her favourite places on the planet, I believe her. It’s almost April and the countryside is embroidered with flowers in a multitude of shapes and colours. We are standing behind the majestic South Falls— my first experience of standing behind a dancing veil of smokey water— silently, spraying cooling our faces. The rocks are damp with velvety pockets of atrociously green moss. Shards of sunlight sparkle like diamantes on the pool below the cascade. I do not jump in ecstasy. Instead, I stand close to Jessie, perhaps for assurance from a fellow human being, and stare in awe at the abundance that envelopes our insignificant selves.
On the wooden bridge facing South Falls, we decide to hike half of The Trail of Ten Falls and return to Silver Falls State Park to hike the remaining miles another time. Impatient to capture the immaculate beauty of the waterfall, I forget to look at it without the curtain of my camera lenses. I know I seek an escape from the modern world but I lack the determination. I have Instagram on my mind as we hike through the woods, green and brown and dappled with sunlight, to Lower South Falls. On the steep staircase hewn along the hillside, my heart skips a beat as a child attempts to slide its slender body through the railings. We navigate the slippery trail, tiptoe across puddles to reach the chiaroscuro of geometric rock formations behind the watery veil. The sound of water hitting the creek below creates an echo chamber.
Also read: Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) Hike, Oregon
“A Steller’s Jay!” Jessie exclaims. The handsome blue bird is sitting on a low branch. The trail bifurcates here and we continue along the fork that goes towards Lower North Falls. Below the trail, Silver Creek flows unhurriedly through the canyon. We talk about our favourite books for a while, a conversation I usually find taxing and too intimate. When I tell Jessie that my favourite book is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, it sounds like an indulgent confession. I do not know when this fear drilled roots into my ribcage but in my program, everyone seems unimpressed by the works of “dead, white writers,” especially if they are men. I haven’t read a lot of contemporary literature, I am ashamed of confessing. I return to the British Romantic poets for solace, I am afraid of confessing. But Jessie loves the novel too. We talk at some length about elitism and how a well-known contemporary American poet talked about her superior tastes in words that included phrases like “will never read Dickens” and “don’t expect me to read Hardy.” We settle down on a fallen log facing the graceful waterfall and eat soggy sandwiches. The pool below is uncharacteristically teal. “Fancy a swim?” I ask Jessie though I know it is prohibited.
“The breeze creates an awesome 3D effect! The rainbow appears to be approaching the viewer,” a visitor remarks on his way back from Double Falls. We press closer and let the rainbow serenade us. Why are we drawn to illusions, I wonder? Is it the knowledge that we cannot reach them, cannot touch them? Jessie has been one of my pillars of support in this foreign land, encouraging me and inspiring me every single day. In the photo I click, the sunlight does not illuminate her; she is the sun.
When I return to Silver Falls State Park with Emmanuel in the middle of May, there are flowers everywhere. Last time, we had seen four of the ten falls on the Canyon Trail before huffing and puffing to the parking lot along the steep switchbacks of the Maple Ridge Trail, past Frenchie Falls. This time we start at the other end and after circling the parking lot for some fifteen minutes in search of an empty spot, we begin our hike, past clumps of bluebells and buttercups, to Upper North Falls. I realize I have forgotten to insert the battery in my camera but it’s good to be back in the woods again. The hillside is deliriously bronze in the bright sunshine. There is nobody around and we spend long minutes watching the stream of water leap elegantly from the cliff and into the luminous blue pool at its base. The temptation to take off my clothes and dive into the pool is strong.
Emmanuel finds it hilarious that I lugged a heavy camera without its battery pack all the way. He is clicking photos of humongous mushrooms and narrow streams chuckling down the hillside on his phone. We can hear the roar of North Falls from afar and I start walking faster, impatient to see the source of the sound. It doesn’t disappoint. A frothy cascade free-falls from 136 ft to embrace the Silver Creek. We gingerly make our way into the dark, cavernous area behind the falls. The difference in temperature is evident; it feels as if we are standing inside a subterranean cave, the mouth of which is curtained by a shimmering veil. The scent is unique: damp and musty, an exhalation of the earth.
Soon we have descended to the base of the canyon, walking leisurely through a tunnel of trees and shrubs, past a massive tree with gigantic roots exposed like fat veins sprawling on the hillside. We rest for a few minutes on a log at the edge of the creek and eat strawberries as the water swirls and eddies by us. The wind whistles through the canyon; above us the great breathing sky, periwinkle blue and endless. We are a little disappointed with Twin Falls because it does not match our expectations. The boundaries that we construct in our minds! I make a conscious attempt at crossing the threshold to find delight in finding something that is nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. I seek solace in the mossy articulations of the woods. Twin Falls is split in the middle by a craggy rock, thus the name. I miss Jessie. I wonder what she would have to say about this unimaginative nomenclature.
My forgetfulness has actually been a boon. I am looking around more, sensing the environment more. I am touching the wild roses, inhaling their perfume. I am kneeling to look closely at wildflowers. I am more attuned to bird calls. Instagram is not the thing taking up most of my brain space. I am more perceptive, more attuned to the self and to the abundance of joy around me. Columns of sunlight slip between branches with glossy, green leaves. The descent to Middle North Falls is muddy. We move slower, slip behind the waterfalls, and emerge with our faces wet and radiant. From a distance, the waterfall appears squarish like a flat veil of tulle. There are not many hikers in this part of the park. The solitude is a blessing.
Just 0.2 miles further down the canyon is Drake Falls. At 27 ft, it is one of shortest in the park. There is something unkempt about its beauty, something not quite graspable. A boy skips stones into the creek from the overlook. We stop for a while chitchatting about the price of rentals in Corvallis. The conversation then moves to Emmanuel’s mother’s Mexican cooking classes and the mouth-watering description of a choco-flan she makes.
We trace our steps back, pausing a while in the damp cavern behind Middle North Falls, then getting on the Winter Trail towards Winter Falls. It is loud, the water plunging from 134 ft into the rocky creek below. Emmanuel points at the striations on the hillside: bedrock, smaller particles of rock, packed soil but all the talk about food has made me hungry. We take the Rim Trail to the car park, stopping frequently to examine wildflowers and plants. A Steller’s Jay flutters ahead of us for sometime before disappearing into the wilderness.
Silver Falls State Park is undoubtedly one of Oregon’s gems. The Trail of Ten Falls hike is 8.7 miles long and takes at least 4 hrs. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on a log by the creek or on a bench behind one of the waterfalls. Check the trail map here.