Feb 27, 2005

Multi-tiered magnificence

Many full moons had risen and fallen since my last spiritually enriching night wander. I had set out on many brief evening strolls through town, but rarely do such walks turn out to be wholesomely sensational. Everywhere are ugly street lamps, offending my sensitive vision with their characterless torrents of dingy amber light. Traffic is noisy and predictable, and I can never hope to achieve a harmonious connection with the natural environment with filthy engine by-products deluging my olfactories. The human beings seen roaming about in the dead of the night are by the most interesting vision, but it is also dismal much of the time. Downtown is usually ruled in the earliest morning hours by two or three delusional drunks who hang around the large gazebo near the bus station, claiming to have missed their plane-err-bus-err-train to "Caluhhforeignyeah."

When the wanderlust hits me, and I feel the need to break out of immediate civilisation altogether, I rely on an automobile to take me out of town. Around 1:30 this morning, I was struck with a sudden longing for an adventure. My current early morning class schedule makes a nocturnal lifestyle difficult to manage, but fortunately, this was a Sunday morning, and I had the rest of the day free. Without much forethought, I grabbed my camera and my keys and took off, allowing the road to lead me to some unknown destination. About fifteen minutes out of town, I recalled that botanical garden I had for quite some time desired to prowl around, but could not be scammed enough to pay the $8.50 admission fee to enter. A half-mile later came the left turn to the garden, and I decided on it. So as to arouse the minimal amount of suspicion, I drove past the garden and parked a quarter mile down the road, before a bridge crossing a wide rushing stream. As soon as I stepped out and closed the door, I was immersed in the rain forest. The myriad frogs greeted me with their repetitive chorus. Everywhere surrounding the desolate one-lane road were massive wild ginger, tall trees with leaves the size of umbrellas, lofty sword ferns, and a sea of lush green tinted silverblue by the naked moon. The air felt cool and heavy with moisture, and exceptionally pure. My no shoes policy was in effect as usual, and the sensation of the chilly dew-dampened grass beneath my feet was euphoria in itself.

A very brief walk brought me to a turn-off into a gulch. The concrete-paved road immediately split up into two directions, the left fork leading deeper into the gulch and the other steeply ascending up its wall. Between the two roads proudly stood this sign:


After slapping on my invisible name tag sticker upon which I had sloppily written 'GUEST,' I went against my primal left-handed nature for a change and chose the right fork. A short climb led me out of the relative darkness and into a wide moonlit clearing. The road progressed uphill, past a small cattle corral and water tank. As I approached a cluster of planted trees at a ninety degree turn, I detected the marvelous soothing fragrance of tropical wildflowers along with the sweet rotten smell of decaying fruit. A few short black shapes darted amongst the brush and across the road ahead of me; wild oinkers in search of an early morning meal. As the road began to run parallel to the rim of another gulch, I encountered at least a dozen of them at once. Some rapidly scurried down the steep gulch walls, escaping to their homes, while others lazily moved out of the way, as if they hardly feared me but did not wish to confront me either. A couple boars stood by in the brush and glared at me from behind their tusks, obviously proud of how facially well-endowed they were. The occasional screech of a bat couple circling above made me feel only more at home among these nocturnal creatures. I continued on slowly along the paved road, opting to treat my bare feet to the grassy strip that paralleled it instead, becoming absolutely attuned to the outdoors and my inner self.

Around another bend, a large, glossy sign jumped out in the moonlight, reading, "Umauma Falls."


I had been there before, only having reached it via a much more primitive route. Instead of scrambling up the slippery rocks of a stream and hacking through the jungle on the banks for a mile, I had this time taken the pampered wealthy tourist route. ...The route that is so luxuriously easy to travel, the owners actually charge visitors to view a waterfall from their lookout. When I did step up to the guard rail, peering over the edge of the gulch, I immediately decided a two-second glance would be more than worth the cost. Of course, I stared for much longer than two seconds. I was transfixed by the majesty of the scene for a good few moments. The pampered wealthy tourists' view from far above the stream was far superior to the primitive jungle-slashing, rock-hopping savage's view from stream-level. My eyes followed the multi-tiered waterfall as graceful ribbons of rapidly flowing silverblue-tinted white descending into one pool after another, eventually ending at a larger body of water. Beyond the gulch the wild rain forest could be seen rolling up the mountain to the very summit many miles away; a zenith still capped with a thinning crown of snow that shimmered brilliantly against the moonlight even at such a great distance. As I leaned and stared, I took a deep breath and wondered to myself whether tropical splendor could possibly be any more captivating. As I gazed steadily over the scene, I could not help but imagine the very best things in life, as wonderful images swirled around my head, painting rapturous masterpieces that left my soul smiling. I was probably about as 'high' as anyone could possibly get.

Eventually, perhaps five minutes or an hour later, I broke out of my euphoric little trance and glanced to my left, noticing the road continuing upward and onward. I allowed it to lead me farther up into the hills and deeper into the Garden of Eden. A sudden glance into the sky showed me a dense band of low clouds rapidly approaching, dark and bulging with moisture. The bright moonlight was quickly obscured and my shadow faded into nothingness. Moments later, the sky burst open, and I was pelted with heavy, warm raindrops. Almost instinctively, I held out the palms of my hands and embraced the random act of nature. Five minutes later, the rain ceased as quickly as it had started, leaving me and the earth and the trees a sopping mess. As I continued walking, I glanced back at the white-capped ocean far downslope and watched the dark veil of rain drift out to sea. As the moonlight touched upon my skin once again, fighting for its moments of direct contact with the beautiful landscape before the next dramatic shower, I was cold, wet, and rejuvenated.

I could not possibly reach the end of the road without exhausting myself, for it very well could have continued miles into the wilderness, ascending ever so steeply. I turned around and followed an alternate route which, by chance, took me directly back to the botanical garden's registration shack. As I wandered down the twisting path, ever taking my time, I thought about my dreams, and how dream-like this experience felt. If only I could have leaped and bounded thirty metres almost effortlessly, landing light as a feather on my feet, as I so often can in my dreams. While the gravity imposing its force on my body remained, I felt as if the pressure on my spirit had been completely released.

I decided to take a still image of the shack across the road, if only because it was so vibrantly decorated:


It was also quite interesting to observe what the waterfalls looked like by day:


Tired and thirsy as I was, I decided to roam about the immediate area for a little while, following narrow concrete paths through densely forested sections. It was all too easy to imagine myself in some elaborately-schemed maze, as the paths weaved erratically and unpredictably back and forth, past bizarre-looking garden ornaments wearing twisted grins. I expected some mystical creature to hop out of the brush and confront me, challenging me to find my way out alive before his underlings picked up my scent and preyed upon me.

The surreal only became more so when I stumbled straight into a moonlit hedge maze. The sheer unpredictability of such a discovery delighted me. The hedges were nicely trimmed, a metre or so taller than I was, their leaves drenched in that familiar gorgeous silverblue hue. They filled the air with a brisk, sweet scent that simply makes one feel at ease. At the entrance, rectangular grassy paths led in three separate directions, and I chose according to my nature this time, veering left. The path weaved about many ninety degree turns past a couple alternative routesbefore arriving at a dead end. One turn-off led to a dead end, and the other a loop, so the initial left-hand choice turned out to be entirely in the wrong. Alone with my imagination, I was enjoying myself immensely. I felt as if I had somehow landed into a maze from Starfox Adventures. I continuously imagined the possibility of a Sharpclaw lurking behind every sharp turn, waiting in silence for an unwitting soul to turn the corner. It was me against the world, after all.

The experience was incredibly video game-like. I was reminded of what a tremendous pleasure it is to use one's imagination to make a video game-esque adventure out of real life scenarios. The surrealism of the settings only made it easier to envision being in an entirely different world ... a less drab, predictable world based on such a rigid set of rules. The darkness bathes objects in shadows, leaving the interpreter's imagination to fill in the blanks. An oddly shaped object only a few metres ahead of me could be anything until I get close enough to it to examine it. My imagination quite literally goes wild, and I adore the sensation, even though it often reacts with my paranoia and leads to a few frights. The moon and the darkness paints far more intriguing, exciting landscapes than the plain, dull daylight, magically converting the ordinary into the bizarre. It's no wonder I enjoy so much wandering the night in absence of all human souls.

Only when a sudden rush of exhaustion hit me did I finally find my way out of the maze and return to my apartment, slipping into bed and quickly falling asleep as if I had just woken up from an incredible dream.

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