Heaven is Under Our Feet
Updated: Feb 5, 2018
by David Michael Kirby
“I took a walk in the woods and
came out taller than the trees.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Tuesday started out grey and wet, but that was fine by me since I had so much work to do. I spent most of Monday evening editing photos from Sunday, but I had a lot of writing to catch up on. I spent most of the day on a couple of pieces, and could have written more, but time was getting away from me.
By mid afternoon, the rain had stopped, and blue patches of sky were fleetingly visible. I felt much better than the day before, sure that fresh air would encourage my recovery. I was determined to hike and decided today was the day to hike Jamaica State Park to the Hamilton Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Vermont at 125 feet.
I arrived around 3:45 p.m., checked in with the ranger, Teri, and paid my day fee of $4.00. She directed me to parking and how to get to the start of the West River Trail. Running alongside the West River (funnily enough) the trail was once an old railroad bed. As such, it is flat, broad and an easy hike. My plan was to follow a loop up the Overlook Trail, take in the view, then rejoin the West River to the Hamilton Falls path. Teri remarked on my ambition and wished me well.
By now, the afternoon was a mix of sun and clouds, dappled light racing through steep forests and glittering in puddles from the recent rain. I found the Overlook trail easily enough, though this path was a moderate hike, ascending over roots and rocks and mud. (Not as challenging as Haystack, but I was careful.) The smell of the damp forest was intoxicating. There were mushrooms everywhere. At one point, as a came over a small rise, I saw before me a large clearing, carpeted with ferns, glowing green in the light. It reminded me of a chapel, slightly Gothic in shape, created by the phalanx of trees lining three of its four sides.
I continued climbing, reaching the vista after about 20 minutes. I rested, drinking water and eating almonds, enjoying the view. The village of Jamaica was plainly visible; I could see roads I traveled on only a couple of days before. When it was time to move on, I continued in a way I thought was the loop, following trees with very faint blue blazes, completely unlike the deep, bright blue blazes I followed on the way up.
There was a faint trail, but it quickly petered out and after a moment of not quite knowing where I was, I reconnected with the trail I had just used to reach the Overlook. (A boulder that reminded of Morla’s shell in “The Neverending Story” proved to be a useful landmark.) I started down, thinking I must have missed the loop, but turned back to the top, just to make sure. I found a fellow hiker there, and following our conversation I discovered a fork in the trail, one leading back the way I climbed to the West River, and the other heading back to the campground. By missing the campground end of the Overlook trail, I had missed the loop completely.
I descended to the West River trail, grateful for the flat and easy walk. I soon reached the entrance to the Hamilton Falls trail, complete with its warning that over ten lives had been lost there. Duly noted, I began to climb once more, high above and parallel to the Cobb Brook rushing below, on its way to meet the West River. By now, thick clouds had darkened the trail and I was sure more rain was on the way. After climbing for a mile, the path to the falls on the left led down the steep mountainside into a stony glade revealing the spectacular falls themselves.
I shot numerous photos and a few videos, before resting and taking it all in. I kept my eye on my watch the entire time since sunset was only two hours away. When I finally tore myself away, the sun had broken through the clouds once more, suffusing the forest with brilliant golden light. It was heavenly. Once back on the main trail, I debated whether or not to continue hiking to see the top of the falls. I decided to go for it, since I had no idea when I would be back, and I was previously told the trek to the top of the falls was worth it.
I’m glad I did. The top of Hamilton Falls flows through a stretch of pine forest, carpeted with long red needles. I discovered multiple stone cairns stacked along the creekbed. I met a woman from Cape Cod, there with some family and an ancient Weimaraner named “Buffet”. We chatted a bit, but I was soon on my way. It was less than 90 minutes till sunset, and I had over three miles to cover between here and my car.
The mystical light filling the forest only grew more lovely and intense as I made my way back down to the West River. (It was about this time my joints let me know they were ready to conclude this jaunt.) Once I reached the West River, though, I went right instead of left, toward the Cobb Brook Bridge. I wanted to see where the water from Hamilton Falls joins the West River. Another detour that was worth the time.
I walked back two miles along the river, reveling in the natural beauty surrounding me. I felt lucky and blessed and extremely grateful: for this place, for my health, for my ability to recognize such beauty. After four-and-a-half hours and over eight miles, I reached my car, my knees ready for me to sit. Yet I still felt “taller than the trees” and realized how right Thoreau was when he wrote, “Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads.”
It’s certainly an apt description for Vermontime.