These pictures comes from a recent hike I took at Umstead State Park in Raleigh. I had some time to kill between getting off of work for the afternoon and my plans for the evening, and I had been meaning to get back to Umstead all summer. Our high school cross country team would meet here for practices over the summer, but I had only come back a few times since then.
My trek started off down the Company Mill Trail, which has changed in the few years since I last used it. The steep steps at the beginning have been replaced by a more meandering set of switchbacks. After crossing the first bridge, I veered off onto the Inspiration trail, which follows a tiny creek for a short way and has little signs pointing out different types of trees along the path. After some exploring down this trail and a smaller one that branched off of it, I returned to the main path. It was nice to be able to take my time and enjoy the scenery and surroundings; something it was difficult to do while running, and to tell the truth, something I didn’t really care that much about during high school.
Eventually the trail winds its way down to Crabtree Creek, which runs through the park. At the end of a big stone wall on one side of the trail is a place where the rocks have fallen and you can climb over them to get to the area on the other side. Making my way carefully over the rocks I found myself right down by the edge of the water on a tiny path that followed the creek downstream for a ways. Naturally, I followed it.
Seeing a large rock not too far from the shore, I splashed through the shallows, climbed up, and took a seat. This was the view I had from that perch, looking upstream.
I sat there for a long time, just taking in my surroundings. Even closing my eyes for a while, I was shocked by the tranquility of the place I had found. A slight breeze was blowing through the woods, causing the leaves in the trees to rustle softly, and alleviating the heat of the late afternoon. There was also the sound of birds chirping from the branches above. Most soothing though was the sound of the water, cascading down a short fall a little way upstream to settle into the relatively still pool at my feet. Slight ripples in the moving water marred what was otherwise a perfect reflection of the woods on the other side of the creek. There were also shafts of sunlight that filtered down through the trees to illuminate the scene.
Looking downstream, there was a really neat tree growing up out of the shallows of the creek.
I realized after sitting there for a while that I had found a very special place. I know everyone deals with stress differently, but the two things I’ve found that help me are running and finding places like this where I can just sit and think, removed from the causes of my stress, and really appreciate the beauty of the world around me. While my internship this summer is not nearly as stressful as my last semester at school, even the small things will eventually build up and need to be released. When I’m at school, there are plenty of these places that I’ve found that I can go; some that I’ve shared with others and some that I keep to myself. When I’m home on breaks though, they are a lot harder to find and to get to.
So, I sit. I close my eyes. I don’t have to worry about projects or deadlines or anything else. It gives me peace and quiet to work though some of the things that have been bothering me lately. Gradually, a feeling of calmness washes over me. The whole time I’ve been sitting here, I’ve only seen one person run past on a trail on the other bank of the creek. The solitude found in places like this is also refreshing.
I realize after a while that I’m not far from the site of my accident almost four years ago. A misplaced step during a normal group run had ended my cross country season the day before the first meet. I was able to get back to it eventually, after surgery and about ten months of recovery. I used to wonder what would be different in my life if that had never happened. I’ve still never beaten my pre-injury 5k best. Since coming to college though, I’ve learned not to dwell too much on things like that. There’s no way to change it, and I can’t really complain about the way things have ended up. Besides, it gave me a great experience to use for college admissions essays 🙂
I probably could have sat there for a very long time, watching the sun slowly set behind the trees and the deep blue sky turn dark. But I had places to be, and probably would have had trouble making my way back out of the park in the darkness. Eventually, I made myself get up. I walked around and took a few more pictures, then scrambled back across the fallen rocks to climb back up that stone wall to get back on the main trail.
My walk back to the car was rather uneventful, but I left the park with a sense of inner peace, the strength of which I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
For those of you who stuck around through my rambling, here’s another pretty picture from my time down by the creek: