On a recent lazy Sunday we did like we often do, and loaded up the Subaru with sammiches, a cooler, and a backpack full of clothes and drove. Many of our favorite days stem from not having a single plan or directive and we literally go wherever the wind may take us. (No agenda = no expectations = no disappointment). It was an unusually warm Sunday in early June and our toes began to itch for the cool flowing waters of some hidden creek nestled amongst some deep holler. Making our way down an old dirt road covered in washboards far off the beaten path, we were shocked to find over 20 vehicles parked along the roadside at one of our favorite ‘locals’ swimming holes. Now, I don’t mind sharing some of our favorite places, and Lord knows that we’re not the only folks around who know about this place, but as we strolled up the road past the cars to get to the trail, I couldn’t help but notice that out of the multitude of vehicles only one tag was remotely from around here. Somehow, our little secret swimming hole isn’t quite so secret anymore.
Following the overgrowing trail, we made our way down to the creek and were greeted by what almost looked like some sort of revival. The quietness of the forest was gone. But what perplexed my soul was that almost no one was in the water. Everyone was simply posing for pictures. But not just a snapshot…a photo would be taken, looked at, scrutinized, and then retaken…all in a quest for the perfect Instagram photo that said to the world, “I WAS HERE AND EXPERIENCED THIS.”
All of which is a lie.
There was no experiencing. There was no taking a moment to look around, to hear the sound of the eternal mountain water as it tumbled over ageless stones, to breathe in the earthy aroma of the forest floor, or feel the warmth of the random beams of sunlight as it peeked through the canopy onto the boulders in the middle of the creek.
We watched this scene and then quietly walked on up the stream for another 1/8 mile to the real destination. Here, the trail narrows even more and in many places one is forced to simply wade up the creek. But just beyond where the tourists seem to go, around a bend is the waterfall. Here, there was a small group of teenagers swimming in the cool green waters beneath the cascading falls and sunning themselves on the boulders along the creek bank. I said my hellos, offered them some drinks from my cooler, and asked them where they were from. They were the one car among the many who were from just a few miles away. Only once did I see a phone when they asked if I could take a picture of them together. Then it was put away and they lived the life others want to Instagram about.
As a society, we are quickly forgetting the beauty in the art of doing nothing. Of stillness. Of allowing the sun to warm our anxious bones. Of watching clouds come, take magical form, and then go.
We are quickly forgetting the beauty of being alone with our own thoughts without fear. Of breathing from relaxed bellies. Of the sound of the wind across a silent mountaintop. Of being okay surrounded by the vastness and stillness of nature. These things we should strive to remember…to practice frequently. Remembering to lay aside the phone and just be.