We stop for a long time on one of the wooden bridges that carries hikers over the swampy marshland near Zealand Falls and hut.
“Oh. My. God!” says Janelle. “Is that a leech?”
A huge leech, four inches at least, meanders peacefully through the mucky water below our feet. It looks like an eel. The creature is utterly revolting and completely fascinating. Just a week earlier, at a wonderful event at Ragged Mountain Fish and Game Club, Janelle and Aaron got to swim in the club’s pond where they actually collected these things. For fun. This one is a giant. Still, her interest in creatures of the natural world that repel even me has been interesting to watch.
We hang out there for a while, basking in the sun, a decent breeze keeping bugs at bay. It’s been far too long since we’ve been on the trail. A window presented itself between gigs at White Birch Books and the Littleton Library and we weren’t going to let it pass without getting our boots dirty.
It didn’t take much arm-twisting to talk her into a hike to Zealand Falls and hut, two things she loves – water and cabins.
The Zealand Trail is mellow, beautiful and wide. We hike strong and sure, our enthusiasm for being back on the trail compensating for our flabby muscles and weak trail legs. Coming in between the hard work of planning and putting on two events, our original fear was that sandwiching a hike in there would tire us out. But the opposite is true.
Hiking with Tough Cookie, as always, is a joy, an elixir that refreshes and empowers us both.
The girl powers up the final rocky climb to the hut, and just spins for a bit taking it all in. “It’s like Lonesome Lake,” she says happily. “How many are there?”
“Like this one, eight.” I pause. “Yes, we can go to them all.”
She smiles, dumps her pack on the stairs and walks in like she owns the place. We feast on lemonade and snacks made by the hut croo called “Magic Coconut Cookies.” I try one first to make sure the “magic” part is something Janelle can eat.
After having our fill, we stroll over to the falls. We slip off our boots and socks, tuck our gear and snacks away in a safe corner and just play. The rocks are hot, the water is freezing and the sky is blue. We are in our playground, back in the place that started this journey, back in the place that gives us strength. Hikers of all sizes and ages come and go, including a fair number of girls Janelle’s age.
“Maybe we’ll come back,” Tough Cookie muses, her feet dangling off a rock ledge into the cool stream. “Maybe we’ll bring our bathing suits.”
Today is a day designed for playing in a waterfall.