Snickering and making married-couple jokes, Chris and I should have expected an adventure, but I wasn’t aware just how elaborate some of the trails were at the nearby hiking ground. It had been raining all week, and I was looking forward to the fresh air, to getting some good cave shots for my cave series, some woodsy stuff, maybe even a group of tiny white flowers to add to my “flowers in the dark” series. We already knew one cave was closed–the bats are nesting–but the other was only a short walk away from where its trail began. I was planning on climbing out of the car and heading right up.

First time we went here as a family, we had no trouble at all finding the right parking lot and heading up (then again, we had no end in mind that day). This time, however, we had to pull a few u-turns before finding the right parking lot–still snickering and poking fun and marveling at the speckles of rain on the windshield.

“A little rain never hurt anyone,” I said. Goo excitedly announced from the back seat that she was going to splash in puddles. Howl licked at his closed window. Chris parked (finally) in the right lot.

We were immediately bombarded by a busload of tweens wanting to pet Howl, their song a chorus of awwws and “what kind of dog is he?” Howl, being Howl, became overexcited at the thousands of kids wanting to touch his fur, and began to yap and jump around and yank on the leash until Chris was nodding for me to follow him down a vacant path. What trail was this? I wasn’t sure, but the scenery kept me from wandering off to look for a map. We weren’t really map people anyway.

Notice I said weren’t.

The sky was lathered in clouds, and I practically zoomed around the other three with my camera, detaching and attaching lenses, exclaiming out loud that this was the best type of weather for me. I love shooting on dark, cloudy days. Especially if I’m shooting monochrome. The dark, moody atmosphere not only tones down the whites and shadows, but it also changes the way my photographic “eye” sees the world.

Bees buzzed heavily around decaying stumps and white flowers that looked like stars. Moss grew on everything, and everything grew from the moss. Algae formed on the shore of the water moving beside our trail. Eventually we began moving up and the water faded below.

Then the trail forked. As usual, we let Goo choose which direction to go. Soon we were walking through a canopy of trees budding with fresh leaves. When I realized how quiet it’d gotten, it became apparent that this was most likely one of the longer trails. We tried to find a map on our phones, but the internet was useless. We soon came upon a sign that gave us three options: Keep following the red trail markers, Merge onto the much longer yellow trail, or turn around and go back.

Turn around and go back? No way! This trail couldn’t be too much longer anyway. Right?

To avoid merging onto the yellow path, we had to leap our way across an algae caked creek that was no deeper than a few inches. We laughed as we did it, tossing our heads back and closing our eyes at sun, which had now begun to show through the clouds. Once back on dry land, we marveled again at the white flowers and the sound of bees. The trees were long poles in the ground with tufts of baby leaves at their very tops. The path curved this way and that through the foliage as if nature itself had carved it into the woods.

Then, at once, the red markers turned yellow. Looking to our left, we could see a red marker across a bubbling stream. There was no bridge here, and no shallow bank. We walked upstream a bit and found nothing, soon realizing that the only way across was to remove our shoes and socks and wade across.

Or turn back. But no way! This trail couldn’t be too much longer, right?

Besides, if I removed my shoes and socks and waded across a stream, I could tell everyone all about it. I could tilt my chin high and slant my eyes and say “hell yeah I did.”

The water got no deeper than my ankles–and it was freezing!–but the rocks were slippery and a fall would soak me through. Still, we got across with only a small mishap of Goo dropping her pink cowgirl boots. She laughed and splashed around us, kicking water at Howl. Then we all stopped with our wet, muddy feet to take a picture.

Ah, it was badass.

After putting on my shoes–and finding room in my camera bag for wet socks–we resumed our hike into the unknown. The red trail markers veered around, and we were given more forks in the road. The creek here was no more than a memory, mere shale bones where water used to run. We plucked rocks and showed them to one another. We searched for arrowheads. Howl chased butterflies and Goo picked flowers and stuffed them into my pocket.

A hundred years later, we saw some people with a map. “Just down that way,” the man pointed at a rocky path. “It meets right up with the main trail.”

Soaked, tired, filthy, and grinning, the four of us tromped down to the main trail and weaved our way up and down wooden steps until we reached the cave. The others splashed around by the waterfalls while I cranked up my ISO to take some rock shots.

Back in the car, the hiking area gave me one final surprise: a crab drawn on the wall of the cave, which I hadn’t been able to see in the dark. It was only when I scrolled through my pictures that it appeared. Now that I know it’s there, I wonder what else is drawn on the wall of that cave.

More than that, I wonder what’s down that yellow path…

Click here to see more photos from my “A Month of Monochrome” project.

All images © 2017 Lina Forrester

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