Birder's Journal: New England's Seasonal Waterfalls

Robert Winkler
for National Geographic News
September 23, 2002

Part of the charm of southern New England, where I make my home, is that distinctive features of the landscape often occur on a human scale. Subtle in their appeal and sometimes hidden, these special places may not be readily noticed.

A seasonal waterfall in Connecticut's Lower Paugussett State Forest is a perfect example. I passed within a minute's walk of it a dozen times without suspecting it existed. How could someone who likes to think of himself as observant be guilty of such an oversight? There were many distractions.

The main trail in this 1,000-acre forest follows Lake Zoar, a dammed section of the Housatonic River, and threads its way through woods dominated by hemlocks that rise straight and tall from steep riverside slopes.

In places, pure stands of hemlocks unfold into the distance, and some of the trees are giants. Walking among them on a summer day, you might hear the diaphanous song of a hermit thrush—if the motorboats buzzing up and down the river don't drown out the bird's voice.

The stately trees, the rhythm of walking, the undulations of the trail, and the periodic views of the wide, slow river set between rolling hills usually lull me into a wilderness reverie. I now realize that you can hear the waterfall as you approach Prydden Brook, a mile and a half from the trailhead, but time after time I must have thought the sound was the wind, if I heard it at all.

Then one day I came to the languid brook and stopped. Instead of crossing, I wandered along it toward the river, going around a bend. Finally, I was conscious of a low but unmistakable roar. Stepping over the thickly needled sprays of fallen hemlock branches, I found myself at the top of the waterfall.

It tumbled below me for about 50 feet over a series of broad steplike rocks. Swept into its atmosphere of excitement, I scrambled to the bottom. There, I concluded that this was about the finest little waterfall I had ever found.

No artist, I thought, could conjure up the picture that nature had hung on this riverside slope. The brook threw itself down the rocks in long frothy sheets, in splashy buckets, and in pencil-thin streams. Moss-covered rocks and a fallen timber, glistening wet, filled the spaces. Silvery green hemlocks arched above the commotion.

From a fern-fringed pool at the bottom of the waterfall, the brook resumed its winding course toward the Housatonic. A hundred yards away, it blended into the river with barely a ripple.

I returned to the top and worked my way back down, noting how abruptly the water changed character. Just above the waterfall, the brook was calm—almost stagnant—and only inches deep. When it came spilling down the rocks, not only did it flow faster; it also seemed to grow in volume, as if fed by some magical spring.

A true waterfall, I suppose, plummets from a considerable height in a great display of earth-shaking power, bathing nearby admirers in benevolent spray. This was falling water of a lesser magnitude—showy rather than awesome. Standing only yards away, I felt none of its wetness.

Continued on Next Page >>


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