– by Gary Marks
What I see before me is a masterpiece, created by a great unseen artist. I look around trying to take in every single detail, but I am soon overwhelmed. I feel as though I am walking through a dream and will soon wake up and all of this will be gone, but it is not a dream. The temperatures hover around the 30’s and I know that within a matter of time this great piece of canvas will be wiped clean. I take this knowledge in stride, because I know this great artist will continue to put forth celebrated nature exhibits throughout the year. I silently applaud this creation and continue to push forward to the hidden gems of Cedar Creek.
Beyond the Bend
I have just left the bend behind. Cedar Creek appears to grow wider as I re-cross its watery path. This time my feet stay free of water. This section of the creek is straighter and has left the canyon-like environment behind. Within less than a mile a side stream separates from Cedar. I follow it a short ways where it splits into a classic Y intersection. I know from being here before that both streams lead to some amazing scenery, but I choose the right stream and begin a slow ascent towards a rocky boulder field. The trail is faint and in some places non-existent, because of the new ground cover. I am thankful that just two weeks ago, I scouted the area. I had been here several years ago, which at that time I was actively pursuing topographical lines on USGS maps. These squiggly lines had sent me to some very interesting places over the years and this time there was no exception.
Interview with a Dog
My mind strays from this winter wonderland and goes back to the first time that I explored this area. Dogs barked in the background almost where I was at today. I did not think much about it, they sounded far off. I continued on for several minutes, topping a bluff just off the trail. That is when I was greeted by two aggressive dogs. Barking filled the forest. I froze. My mind raced as I tried to determine what their intentions were. A brown mut no more than 25 feet away started growling. I raised my hands to make myself appear bigger and lowered my voice and in a commanding tone, demanded that they get out of here. They stopped for just a few seconds and then continued their chorus again. I had nothing to defend myself ( I have never made that mistake again) so I started moving backwards towards the trail, below the bluff. The barking continued and as I crept down the bluff and retreated the way I had come, averting disaster.
Less Bark, More Falls
I am grateful that there is no barking today. My destination soon comes into view as I top a slight hill. What a sight! A small waterfall leaps off a deeply worn creek bed down to an impressive plunge pool below. Audible reverberations fill my ears as I wrestle with my camera to put on a wide-angle lens. In my two or three times back to this area I have never been able to photograph the fall in motion, but today I would have that opportunity. I jump, perch, slip, and stumble to the right and left of the falls trying to find just that right angle. It was harder than I thought it would be. I lose track of time as 40 minutes has slipped effortlessly away. As I began to head out to my next destination, the snow that has kept me company for all of the hike has quietly slipped away.
The Revenge of the Sun
I look up through the white forest canopy and notice the clouds beginning to break. Soon the sun starts to peek its bright rays through the sparkling crystals. I continue down the trail back to the Y intersection, so that I could explore the other side. As the branches warm they shake off their winter coat, making the forest fill again with the falling of snow. I can not believe how fast this was all happening.
I slush my way up a steep hill and expectantly round a large boulder in anticipation of seeing quite possibly the only true arch in Southern Illinois. There it is. The sun makes long shadows in front the arch. It is in such a bizarre area, at least 200 feet from the stream below. Situated on top of a sandstone pedestal the arch curves with a natural sway. I position myself to take advantage of the sunlight that is occasionally popping through the fast moving clouds. I fasten the camera to my tripod and use the self-timer to take a photo of myself sitting in front of the arch. This is such a cool place.
Secret Word of the Day
As I look down at my watch, I realize that I must make the long trek to the truck, before I run out of daylight. I pack everything up tight, but leave out my camcorder. As I walk back I video tape myself and the surroundings describing what I am seeing and feeling so that I can reference it for later use. The one word I keep referring to, is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
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