I was hiking on a beautiful trail last spring when this story came into my mind. I was struck by the audacity of the natural world, particularly when we allow it to permeate into our souls, and I was moved in my spirit in a way that I never have been before. Perhaps it was just the brief escape from reality. Maybe it was the trail surrounded by thousands upon thousands of wildflowers, culminating with a beautiful waterfall at the end. Whatever it was, I knew I had to write about it in a way that reflected the raw emotion I was feeling as part of the experience. Sirens are mythological creatures who were known to sing so beautifully that sailors who heeded their call were led to their deaths. This story doesn’t end that way, but I feel it is somewhat synonymous. The siren here is the trail, or perhaps Nature itself. However you choose to interpret it, I hope you enjoy the story.
I stand in the bright spring sun, in awe of the sights and sounds around me. Birds sing. The river in the gorge roars, drowning out the noise of automobiles and motorcycles. Steep rocks line the gorge walls, creating an impenetrable fortress for all but the inhabitants of the nooks and crannies scattered across the rock faces. As I take in the sights and sounds around me, I hear a whisper. The sound of the wind perhaps, but yet the yearning in my soul tells me it is the sound of something else; a familiar voice. A voice that has called out to me many times.
I find myself moving, almost blindly, in the direction of the sound, knowing that once again, I am falling under a spell. Her perfume carries along on the breeze, drawing me closer. She moves among the trees, gently brushing each one with her hands. Her voice is as gentle as the falling water of a mountain stream. She knows my name and she calls out to me in a voice so soft, yet so loud that my brain throbs. I must follow. I step through an open door into a world that is so familiar, yet I feel as though I don’t belong here and that I am partaking of forbidden fruit.
I see her now, but only briefly, as she moves just beyond my sight; her long, dark fingers beckoning me forward. I hesitate. I question my sanity. She senses my hesitance and reappears, making sure that I see her, and she calls again. My mind is tormented as I try to resist her siren’s song. Whatever shall I do? I know I shouldn’t follow, but if I don’t, I am quite convinced that my disappointment will be unbearable. To follow is to leave the real world behind; to enter a reality upon which dreams are made but has no permanence. Knowing that I must return to the real world makes the decision to follow even more difficult.
She stands before me now, her long black hair blowing in the breeze that seems to surround her. Her hair is adorned in the flowers of the wood: trillium, trout lily, foamflower, phacelia. Her beauty is beyond imagination. She lays down in a bed of wildflowers, the dew of the forest glistening on her brown skin. Sun beams shining through the canopy form a halo around her sinuous form. The flowers accent the curving lines of her body. She reaches towards me with her hand outstretched, begging me to take it. Oh, you evil temptress! What shall I do? Her black eyes flash as I withdraw, afraid to give in to what I know to be folly. Once again, she reaches for my hand. This time I allow her to take it, knowing that if I don’t, I will surely not be able to live with myself.
No longer able to resist, I throw caution to the wind. She leads me along, to where I don’t know, for I have never been here before. The songs of birds join with the magical sound of her voice as she sings her song of Spring. Hand in hand, we stroll, leaving the stresses of the world behind. We come to a gentle stream. She enters the water with a giggle as the stream playfully splashes over rocks. She views her realm with a child-like innocence and simplicity, uncorrupted by the wants and desires of the reality she has become so far removed from; a reality that still holds me in its grasp as I contemplate all the demands of the world in which I choose to live. Sensing my thoughts, she pulls me close, beckoning me to continue ever deeper into her world.
She brings me to a waterfall; cascades of water falling from an unknown height. Like a cat she walks beneath the falls, bathing in the white water as the cataract descends off the rocky ledge from which it hangs. Rivulets of water run down her body from her head to her toes, as she drinks from the life-giving stream. As she playfully looks my way, she senses my sadness. I know that I must return to my world and the pain is almost more than I can bear. She begs me to stay as she sings gently in my ears; a song that permeates to the depths of my soul. Alas, I cannot stay, so hand-in-hand we stroll back to the door to my world. With each step, I feel my shoulders slump under the weight of knowing what lies ahead.
We reach the end of our journey. I step back through the door into my own reality. I look back and see her standing there all alone. She sadly smiles, knowing that we must part once again, but she knows that I will return because I simply cannot live without her. She quietly turns, her long, dark hair pouring down her back, flowers gently raining down to the forest floor. Her song is one of “Until we meet again,” and it is the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. I turn away and walk to my car, knowing that she will be waiting for my return.
Until Next Time!
Clint Calhoun teaches high school science and outdoor education classes at Lake Lure Classical Academy and has worked as a naturalist and biologist in Hickory Nut Gorge for over 25 years.