You know all about motherhood, right? Maybe you have sweet daughters of your own who ask very little of you ... until they ask for something big. This weekend my daughter (new name) Gumby and I went on a waterfall crawl in the Poconos.
Oh, I had the thing all planned out. I researched it, printed out trail maps and gentle walks through leafy glens, leading to brilliant, swishing cascades. Because, you know, I'm a woman of a certain age and getting a little creaky, it's best to adhere to hiking trails described as "moderate." Being a planner, I had both days scheduled. First some bucolic walks in a New Jersey state forest, then -- the next day -- a gambol called Tumbling Waters across the Delaware in Pennsylvania.
It was getting late on our first day when Gumby and I pulled up at beautiful Buttermilk Falls, New Jersey's tallest waterfall. Take a look. Isn't it fabulous?
EXHIBIT A: BUTTERMILK FALLS, DELAWARE WATER GAP, NEW JERSEY
Now, you say to yourself, "Anne, prove to me that this is really New Jersey!
EXHIBIT B: REALLY NEW JERSEY
Gumby liked Buttermilk Falls all right, but when she looked at the trail map at the base of the falls, her eyes glazed over and a little bit of foam appeared at the rim of her mouth.
Buttermilk Falls, you see, is touristy. It's right by the road, and anyone can drive right up to it and cackle with pleasure. But above Buttermilk Falls is a hiking trail that leads to the Appalachian Trail. Once on the AT, an intrepid hiker can stroll to one of several crater lakes, high and lonesome and picturesque in that oh-so-not-a-waterfall way.
Gumby lost enthusiasm for Tumbling Waters Trail (my planned Sunday outing) and instead expressed interest in an amble along the Appalachian Trail, beginning and ending at Buttermilk Falls. Where even the steps to the observation deck will tire a mortal out.
I had done my research. The Buttermilk Falls Trail was rated "difficult," and most of the hikers who chimed in on it using various hiking sites pretty much confirmed that assessment. Of course, it's the hikers who don't use social media who can be the most arresting:
EXHIBIT C: SOUND ADVICE
Trouble was, this sage advisory was at the top of the trail, not the bottom! And in case you're wondering what a difficult trail looks like in our mild Eastern mountains, here's a little photo I captured of part of the one and a half mile straight up trek.
EXHIBIT D: WHERE'S THE TRAIL?
Gumby can leap up these rocks like a gazelle. Who am I to say her nay? Gamely I followed. And followed. And followed. Eureka! We made it to the Appalachian Trail!
EXHIBIT E: YOURS TRULY, TRANSFORMED BY 6 WEEKS OF PAINT CREW
This is where the mutt named Flip Flop enters the narrative.
Gumby and I were tooling along the AT like old hands, when we spotted a spry, mid-sized mutt sort of standing on the path, looking lost. The pooch had no collar. He started to trot towards us, but when he got close, he changed his mind about making our acquaintance and tore off down the trail. He was a sturdy specimen as are most mutts, and his ribs weren't showing, which meant he probably recently got lost.
EXHIBIT F: REASONABLE FACSIMILE OF THE MUTT FLIP FLOP
On a Sunday in August, the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey is not as busy as a shore town, but there are still a fair number of able-bodied folks. Gumby and I started asking everyone that passed us whether or not they had lost a dog. Other hikers reported seeing the pooch, but no one could get close enough to pet him. What would we do if we did? Take him home and keep him forever? By that time Gumby and I were a good three miles from even the most basic form of civilization.
Gumby and I discussed this as we walked. What do you do when you see a stray dog where no reasonable stray dog would ever stray? And what if the dog didn't want to see things your way and tag along until you could find his person? Long story short, this conversation ended when we followed the Appalachian Trail to a portion that looked like this:
EXHIBIT G: NOT GREATLY EXAGGERATING
Yes, the infamous Appalachian Trail just disappeared down a cliff, and you only knew you were supposed to go that way because one of the rocks way below had a white blaze on it.
Scrabbling up this genuine cliff was a scruffy young bro. He asked us if we had seen a loose dog. We confirmed the sighting and pointed in the direction the canine had sprinted. The bro said the mutt slipped his leash when he got threatened by a German shepherd.
Then, as if it wasn't already bad enough that a little doggy was running lost and scared through the nearly trackless wilderness, the bro added: "I'm dog-sitting him."
Truth, dear reader, is always more compelling than fiction.
Gumby and I continued on our way. We descended the perilous cliff (self reminding self of self's age and status as a provider throughout), and at the bottom was a charming little cliff-free path that led to the crater lake.
Boy, it was a really pretty lake!
EXHIBIT I HAVE LOST COUNT: CRATER LAKE
It doesn't look like something you'd find on a mountaintop, after a death-defying hike, does it? Rather put me in mind of Walden Pond, which can of course be reached by either automobile or on foot from a commuter train station.
While Gumby and I took a load off and munched our granola bars, we heard a great to-do from the cliffs above the lake.
"FLIP FLOP! HERE, FLIP FLOP! FLIP FLOP!"
It was the shaggy bro, calling his dog.
This went on for about five minutes and then stopped abruptly. Gumby and I assumed that a happy reunion had occurred.
I don't know if you have ever been hiking on the Appalachian Trail or one of its link trails. It's not for the faint of heart, especially if you have to go down the same way you came up. Because when it comes to hiking, the only thing worse than climbing rocks straight up for more than a mile is going down rocks for more than a mile. Gravity seems to be saying, "Aha! Another aging Baby Boomer, daring to defy me! I'll push and shove and make these rocks really loose and wobbly!"
It took us about 90 minutes to edge back down the Buttermilk Falls Trail, and I for one was never so happy to see a cheesy observation deck in my life as when that graffiti-laced structure loomed below me like a welcoming beacon. Then it was a mere 100 steps (straight down, of course) to the bottom of the falls, where self quickly shed her beloved and ancient hiking boots and shoved her tootsies in the water ... photograph-snapping tourists be damned.
It was during this blissful toe-bath that I heard another ruckus. Something was happening in the parking lot.
Gumby came running over and said the stray dog Flip Flop was in the parking lot, looking just as spooked as he had up on the trail. I quickly re-donned the footwear and pulled out the smart phone to make an emergency call to the Park Service. But the battery on said smart phone had had enough, and I couldn't make the call. So I went to the parking lot, where other baffled tourists were staring at a car.
The lady tourist said, "The windows are open, and the key is in the ignition, and the guy's backpack is just sitting there! And look! This dog just jumped through the window!"
I looked in the open car window, and there sat the dog Flip Flop, looking like he'd just seen 10,000 ghosts.
Now, if I had somehow managed to drive to the Poconos in my 2001 Saturn, I would most certainly have seen an opportunity not only to care for a dog that deserved better, but also to own a nice, newer car. But I had my 2015 Subaru (which, by the way, absolutely lives for such adventures). No contest. Subaru victorious.
Just at this moment, the distraught bro emerged from the woods. He spied Flip Flop sitting in the driver's seat (no irony there) and heaved a sigh of relief.
"Well, I'm glad I was here to see how this little story played out!" I told the bro affably.
He muttered something incoherent, then something half understandable about dog-sitting, and Gumby and I decided we'd seen enough. We parted ways with possibly one of the most misguided and irresponsible humans I have ever encountered and a city dog with enough smarts to smell his way back down one damned difficult trail to his keys-in-the-ignition-windows-open car.
You gotta love mutts. Even when they're scared, they're smart.
I'm not going to state the moral of this sermon explicitly. Suffice it to say, if you have a beloved pet, do by all means pay a bonded pet-sitter to minister to the animal in your prolonged absence. Flip Flop's scaly saga had a happy ending, but I am not lying when I say that I saw a bear track in the one little bit of mud through which we all passed. If dear lil' Flip Flop was afraid of a German shepherd, how do you suppose he'd feel about an Eastern black bear?
If you've read this far, thank you. We all need to laugh at garden variety morons when there's a bigger-than-garden-variety moron at loose in the halls of government.