“Maria!” Her mother shouted, her voice drowned out by the thunder of the waterfall. “Maria!”
Nothing. She had looked down at a trillium on the side of the trail for only a moment and when she looked up her six-year-old daughter was no where to be seen.
Maria’s mother, Amailia’s heart was beating out of her chest. Maria was a bright and curious child, just like her mother. Something had caught her eye and she had skipped off to explore it. How many times had Amailia done this to her mother as a child, exploring the deep forest of the Appalachians? Her mother would spot an insect, a flower, some unusual lichen clinging to a rock or perhaps a dead limb, and her attention would be drawn temporarily away from her equally curious child and when she looked up, Amalia would be gone.
“O.K.” Amailia thought, “she can’t be far, I only looked away a second.” Then, the roar of the waterfall down the trail interrupted her hopeful thoughts again. As she looked around hopefully, screaming Maria’s name, Amailia began running down the damp, steep path, brushing aside the ferns and saplings as she rushed towards the sound of the waterfall in the distance.
As Amalia saw the mist rising from the waterfall, her voice began to fail her. Tears ran down her cheeks, as she saw tiny tracks leaving the trail and heading towards the brush that grew by the side of the falls. At the end of this brushy area, the waterfall appeared suddenly as it thundered down the side of the mountain. Her legs were failing her, cramping as she slipped down the side trail where she had seen the foot prints.
As she neared the falls, the footprints stopped. The trail became overgrown again. Confused, Amalia looked around for Maria. It was as if her daughters footprints had just ended. Amalia stood silently, listening hopefully for the sound of her daughter as she crept through the lush green of the forest floor. She began to inch quietly down the trail towards the waterfall, all the while, her eyes searching for some sign of movement. Suddenly, she looked up and saw within the mist of the waterfall, a beautiful rainbow.
For some reason, she pushed aside the wild flowers and brush as she came towards the rainbow and the thundering falls. There, on a rock, sat a tiny form, dark curls winding around her shoulders. It was though Maria was in a trance as she watched the cascades of water hitting the pool at the bottom of the falls.
“Maria!” Amalia cried out, grabbing her daughter up in her arms. “You know better than to wander off when we are hiking,” she fussed as she wiped away a tear.
“What’s the matter, mommy?” Maria smiled. “You said we were going to Rainbow Falls.” She pointed toward the rainbow that had formed in the mist above the swirling water. “I just followed the little deer, I could hear the water from the falls and just followed her.”
Amalia sat down on the rock by the water. She spotted the tiny deer drinking from the river by it’s mother. She wondered how her daughter had chosen to follow the little deer down a safe, but rarely used trail, rather than taking the sleep trial by the edge of the falls.
“Follow the rainbow.” her mother had told her as a child. “It leads to a pot of gold!” Maybe not today, but it did leead to her daughter and that was surrey a more precious gift.