Memoir: The Waterfall

from Circle of Eight

I’ve come to visit the waterfall on a full moon; the waterfall that holds the South in our Circle of Eight. I move cautiously on the rocks above the falls, there is still some light though the sun set a while ago. I have a good flashlight in my pack, as well as insect repellent and drinking water. When I get to the top of the track to the river I turn, so I am climbing backwards, like going down a ladder and I go extra slowly. No-one actually knows I am here, though my car is in the parking area and eventually – tomorrow, probably – someone could find it and begin to wonder where the driver was.

The moon rose over the horizon while I was driving, full and luminous white but here among the hills it can’t be seen yet and once I am down at river-height it will take even longer to be visible. I tell myself I have a lot of time; it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get there, even an hour would be fine and I have no reason to rush. I’m glad I’m alone, that I can talk to myself and take my time, placing each foot carefully on the pathway along the water’s edge, a pathway that is mostly walking round the edges of rock pools, jumping sometimes from one to the next, or clambering along the bank between saplings and overhanging branches for a while before returning to the rocks.

Time stretches, gently. When I’m moving I use the flashlight to see where I am going but I also stop and turn it off for minutes at a time, listening; quivering with the night. I’ve been here many times during the day, dozens of times, but there’s something about this round pool that suggested to me it might be a mirror, under moonlight, a pool for scrying or just singing to the moon; a place that would be transformed from one set of realities to another, if a human were to venture down here. The waterfall comes down in the west, the water heads east towards the sea, there’s no cliffs in that direction and a general clearing of the larger trees. I’m thinking I will see the moon rise in that gap above the stream, while it’s still relatively big and low to the horizon.

I imagine that if I stayed the whole night I would see it cross overhead; at midnight one could get into the pool and have the full moon directly above, though I’m not planning to do that, this time. When I stand still there are mosquitoes, and probably ticks and leeches as well; I try not to brush against the trees. I’m wearing walking boots to protect my feet, which seems extreme since often I come here in sandals, but my ankles feel supported and I step strongly over the uneven terrain. Even though I take twice the time I normally would I feel steady and purposeful, anticipatory.

When I reach the waterfall everything is still dark. I pick my way carefully around the side of the pool, in among all those lose and sharp rocks that have tumbled down from the walls over the years. There’s a grass snake that lives here, I’ve seen it three times; or possibly there’s more than one. It’s longer than my arm, slender and greeny with a narrow head and yellowish belly. They’re not dangerous and either it’s not afraid or else the vibrations of the waterfall throw it off balance; I’ve got close enough to touch it every time I’ve seen it. It ribbons itself over rocks and once I saw it flowing down the bark of a tree to the ground, as if it were coming to check me out. I think of it as the guardian here, the one left on watch when the humans – water catchment authorities or bush regenerators or just visitors like me – aren’t here.

In the Circle of Eight this is the direction I associate with element of earth, so I love that there’s a snake here. There’s also a cave big enough to camp in, in the rock wall behind and beyond the waterfall, and often there are one or two fish jumping in the pool. They jump completely out of the water, you can sit and watch them doing it and I always think it can’t be for oxygen, since the waterfall is pounding down, surely aerating the whole pool. The stream of water that leaves the pool is quite shallow, this must be the end of the line for fish that size, so perhaps they are hunting insects that come down to hover over the pool.

I wait for a while, with the mosquitoes and the night and the water that never ceases to pour in two uneven streams off the top of its bed and down through sudden nothingness to arrive plunging into the pool. The sky in the east lightens before I see the moon and it always enspells me, watching this endless dance of water, how it flies off the cliff and tumbles downwards, of a sudden ungrounded and turned almost to another substance, a stream vertical through air, rather than horizontal over ground. The way it separates out into droplets and splashes and strands of water after having been part of the flowing whole; then it all joins up again, seamless at the bottom and heads downstream as if it had never thought of anything else. But there has been that moment of surprise when it separated, flung into air and I think our lives are like that; flung into separateness for the length of a brief journey, miraculous and guided mainly by force and gravity before being swallowed up again, at death, into the whole.

When the first rays of moonlight touch over the trees into this darkened well I see that they do not touch the surface of the pool, as I had thought, but instead strike the face of the waterfall. Part of it is picked in silver, glistening like white fire, like a doorway into something else. I move up the uneven rocky ground, not careful now, not looking for snakes or rocks that might twist sudden under my foot but my eyes only on falling silver, the waterfall transforming into the long hair of the Star Goddess herself, as she bends to wash it in the pool. I stand in wonder, in front of its glistening for ages, and then I walk behind the waterfall, so that the water is between me and the moon.

This is it. Not what I thought of, but what I have discovered. At first it is insubstantial but as the moon rises the silver sheen in front of me grows and grows, expanding until I stand before a sheet of glistening white fire. It is the gateway into the faerie realm, surely, a gateway that conceals as much as it reveals for I can see nothing through it. It is a veil, a veil drawn over the eyes of mortals; the veil that lies between us and the otherworld and usually one cannot actually see it and might not even be aware of it but I have caught it in the waterfall and moonlight and it is a real thing. I see the veil. And seeing it, knowing it, I see how everything is touched with magic and in my eyes I am holding it, this knowledge and its power shimmers and glistens through my whole being, to the ends of my fingertips and whatever I were to reach out and touch, now, would be transformed.

I stand there for minutes on end; for twenty minutes, for an hour. This is what I have always longed for, believed in, sought – the magic shimmering on the face of the world, just touching; the invitation into the divine and immortal realm. The wonder does not cease. I do become tired, though, and eventually that’s why I leave, aware of the journey back to the car and the drive home.  When I look back at the face of the waterfall, still catching the moon’s rays it’s pretty but nothing like standing behind that shimmering veil. It is a waterfall by moonlight, whereas that other was something I had always yearned for and looked for and suddenly found, the beckoning gateway into a magic far beyond my own.

Walking back is much faster, the sporadic moonlight through the trees adding to my buoyancy, my satisfaction and the awe that has filled me with this sight I had not dreamed of. My relationship with this place in the Circle of Eight has always been strong and pragmatic and although the many hours I have spent at here have softened that a little, extended it to a place of play as I’ve swum under the waterfall and wonder as I’ve talked to the snake or felt the specialness of this rounded site, cradling water within the rock, greenery all up the sides, this has added a dimension of pure, indisputable magic. I am grateful to my intuition that tempted me into coming here by night, on a full moon. I leave as if wakened in a deep place, bound into the magic of the land, the earth and pool and sky and alive to the mysteries not as something to read about but as something to gaze upon, living.