I came across this quote a year or so ago and being the ‘word person’ that I am, it jumped off the screen and stuck in my spirit. It provoked me to ask these questions:
The free soul – Lord, what does it feel like to be free?
Is rare – Lord, is this even attainable for me?
You feel good when you are with them – Lord, How do I make people feel?
I pondered these words over and over and came to the conclusion that indeed I wanted to be one of these free souls! God and I (with a little help from Elvis Presley 😉 ) had been tenaciously working for months to strip off some chains – mindsets – strongholds – call them what you will – that had shackled my innermost being from birth. I had cried out to God countless times over the years for relief, but in the winter of 2012 I was desperate. I needed a change! I was frustrated with life, weary of the responsibilities that weighed upon me, exhausted of repeating the same ole things over and over again, depleted spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I cried out and His answer to me was the same as it was over 2000 years ago to the lame man who had sat by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years (John 5) “Would you like to get well?’ well…Yes! YES! I was ready to do whatever it took for the much needed change I so desperately needed. Thus began a journey of surrendering my ways, of trusting completely, praying relentlessly, of total commitment and tenacious blind faith. I wasn’t sure what all would be required of me but I knew I was ready and willing for anything and after reading this quote, I was convinced of what I wanted the conclusion to be. I wanted to be free – in my soul – so free that even those around me would feel it and long for the same liberation!
In May of 2014 I was given the opportunity to visit Dick’s Creek Falls located in the Cherokee National Forest in Erwin Tennessee. This is a beautiful area that possesses incredible landscapes, fabulous fungi, rocks and boulders that demand climbing and magnificent waterfalls. On this day my we hiked in by way of Rattlesnake Ridge and took in two falls, Lower Dick’s Creek and Upper Dick’s Creek Falls. Both, very different in appearance, were captivating. Lower Dick’s Creek was tucked away in a rocky cove as a single fall flowing down into a gorgeous pool of shiny green water. For the avid cliff jumper and swimmer, this is an enticing place to take a dip! Upper Dick’s Creek Fall possesses 4 different plumes that shoot off from a huge wall made of rocks and boulders. At any angle this fall is superb! You can explore the fall from all sides, climbing on the moss covered ledges, wading out into the pool of water at the base and even climb around to the top of the fall and gaze downward as is rushes over the edge.
First Visit to Upper Dick’s Creek Falls
It was at Upper Dick’s Creek that the tradition of the Hillbilly Baptism began. If you are facing the fall, the far left plume is perfect for standing under and letting the water wash over you. A fellow hiker decided on this particular day that he would do just that! Watching him, with camera ready as he made his way to the edge of the flow and capturing the moment where he completely emerged himself under the water was downright exciting! Although I was apprehensive about getting wet, I wanted a turn! So off I went, under the fall, just enough to where the water would hit the back of my neck and spill over me and WOW! What an exhilarating feeling! The Hillbilly Baptism! Refreshing! Good for the spirit and cleansing to the soul. It was amazing and it would be a moment that I would long to experience again for over a year.
Fast forward exactly 14 months. Awake on a hot humid summer day in July. Gather a crew of some Fine hiker-trash souls (we don’t mind being called that, we all share the same flaming passion for the outdoors!), insert a four wheel drive path and some heavy duty vehicles and prepare yourself for a grand adventure back to Dick’s Creek Falls. This time our journey would include 2 more falls that my trail mates had discovered on previous hikes. I and a couple of others in our group hadn’t had the opportunity to see them yet so we were stoked. Many in our group share the same love for fungi as I do and from the get go we knew it was going to be a superb day as we encountered mammoth size mushrooms along the access road. Moments after stepping foot on the trail we were greeted by numerous varieties of fungus in all shapes, colors and sizes. Although our quest was to see at least 4 waterfalls, I believe we could have spent an entire day photographing mushrooms and been completely satisfied with the trip!
The variety of Fungus was fantabulous!
The first fall we would come to would be Upper Dick’s Creek Falls. Seeing her for the second time was just as grand as it had been on the first trip. This is one of my favorite falls that I have encountered since I traded my flip-flops for hiking boots a couple of years ago. We lingered and played there for a while before climbing up to the top to see the gorgeous pool made out of gold – not really, but when the sun hits it just right the color of the rock underneath the water glistens prettier than any gold you could lay your eyes on!
We finally managed to peel ourselves away from the first falls and climbed on up and over to trek about a hundred yards (maybe – I suck at measuring distance!) to the next fall, Upper Upper Dicks Creek Falls. My, oh my! Wasn’t she a sight to behold! Nestled in a cove of rock surrounded by laurel, this 50 or so foot fall was gorgeous! Shooting down the cliff and spilling over a huge tree that had wedged itself down the fall, she displayed power, prowess and pride! We all scrambled to take photos and do our best to capture her beauty and then we sat for a spell enjoying each other’s company while being serenaded by her melody. To the right of the fall stood Totem Pole rock. I had heard stories of this particular rock and I admit I salivated a little while listening. It was unique in its make-up, possessing faces at almost every angle you could study and it seemed to call out to my soul to come and climb. I succumbed to the wooing and a few of us ventured to its top and took in the view, snapped some photos and then we all proceeded to another uphill climb in search of yet another fall.
The climb to the last upper fall was a little tricky, having to scale up a very slick crevice. One false slip and you became the human bowling ball plummeting down, taking out anyone or anything in your path. The good news is that we all made it without what we call ‘badger error’ and was able to arrive safely at Upper, Upper, Upper Dicks Creek Falls. I find it interesting how each of the falls on Dick’s Creek are completely different from each other, and this one cascading down a wall of emerald green moss and falling into a golden pool of bliss, fell nothing short of triggering enchanting gasps as my eyes gazed upon her. We took our turn climbing over to the base of the fall for our infamous gnome pose photo op. Eventually it was time to head out and venture down to the last fall of the day, Lower Dick’s Creek Falls.
On our way back down we made one last stop at Upper Dick’s Creek to perform the ‘Hillbilly Baptism’. We had talked all morning about doing the baptism and for over a year I had waited to come back to this particular fall and once again experience the rush of the cold water plummeting down my body. For some reason though, I lingered at the top with the rest of the crew who were going to observe and take photos. I watched as two trail mates both stood underneath the plume of water and their gasps as the cold water spilling over them resonated in my ears. When The next one stepped up to take his turn, I felt this gnawing ache in my gut and a still small voice in my spirit and I knew that I couldn’t just watch, I had to participate. My soul needed the cleansing I had waited so long to experience so the hiking boots came off, water shoes on and down I went to the base of the fall to take my turn.
Michael Taylor, friend, trail mate and photographer would be capturing our baptism on film. He had explained to me that I needed to stand still under the fall for 5 seconds – that’s FIVE seconds under a plume of rushing ice cold water – standing STILL – not moving – to get the perfect shot. Lawd have mercy! On the first attempt, I closed my eyes, held my breath, stepped under the fall and counted the slowest count to five that I have ever experienced! I was proud of myself that I had stayed under for the required time, but as I came out and looked up, he motioned for me to do it again, this time standing up a little closer to the front with my arms straight and even. Hello Fuzzy! Again? I thought the second attempt went much better than the first but once again, as I came out from under the water, Big Mike’s instructions were to do it ONE MORE TIME! I guess to someone who has never experienced it before, the matter sounds a little trivial, but when you have ice cold water pounding your head and running down your face it’s a little hard to breathe and stand still. And…you may be asking why on earth do it to start with? Well, (1) it’s a hiker-trash tradition! (2) its exhilarating to stand under a waterfall and let it wash over you, and (3) you only live once! And for me it is as important to ‘capture’ the moment as it is to ‘experience’ the moment so off I went for the third time under the fall. But this time was different. I borrowed someone’s ball cap! I noticed when they were under the fall that the cap seemed to deflect some of the water off his face so I wanted to see if it made it easier, and boy did it ever! Standing under the fall as the water spilled over the ball cap away from my face, yet soaking my entire body, well I don’t really know if I have the proper words to express what happened inside of me but I will try.
The Hillbilly Baptism! (photo credit to trail mate, friend and photographer Michael D Taylor)
As a young child I developed a horrible fear of water. I almost drowned once while trying to learn to swim and from that moment on I doubt my head had been under water more than 10 times in 40 years, except for showering of course 😉 The first time I attempted the baptism over a year ago, I didn’t stand completely under the water. The plume hit right on the back of my neck and spilled down over my shoulders. The second baptism I had experienced had taken place at Grotto Falls in Elizabethton (the fall above Blue Hole) and I braved the fall like a scared cat, standing completely under it for a few short seconds, so it was progress! This time however, I completely got lost in the moment. My focus wasn’t on trying to hold my breath, or keeping water from shooting in my eyes, nose and mouth. Instead I stood, under the rushing water, eyes wide open, taking in the scenery around me from behind the veil. I stood for what wasn’t more than 10 seconds I’m sure, but it felt like an eternity. I stood and I thought about all the things God had been doing in my life in the past two years and I felt grateful. I thought about the undeniable peace He had placed in my spirit from the first moment my boots hit the dirt and I felt content. I thought about the life lessons He had taught me while we explored in His natural sanctuary and I felt enlightened. I thought about all the new friends I had made because of the trail who share a kindred passion and I felt connected. Just like the ball cap was deflecting the water from my face, I thought about the constant divine presence and protection I felt daily and I felt secure. I thought about the many times in life that I had stumbled and fell but got back up to give it another shot and I felt accomplished. I thought about the many fears that the trail had helped me overcome over the past two years and I felt unchained. Perhaps time had frozen for a bit as those few seconds under the water allowed me to reflect upon a lifetime of events and changes. As I stepped out from underneath the fall for the 3rd and last time I was beyond thankful that I had succumbed to the still small voice that had urged me to participate. My body was drenched, my spirit was refreshed and my mind was clear.
Our crew regrouped and traveled down to Lower Dick’s Creek, the final stop for the day. Again, she was as fine as she was the first time I laid eyes on her! Someone had cut a tree down and had desecrated her view but trail mates Jeff Dean and Kenneth Woody worked to remove the tree and once again display her glory. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed but as I sat and gazed into the emerald waters of the pool I saw my own reflection. So many changes had taken place in me, changes I had prayed for, pleaded for and worked for. I smiled as I glanced for a moment deep down inside my soul …and I felt free.
It was yet another fine day on the trail!
My hiker trash crew for the day: A fine collection of free souls!