Mary and I, Joan, each 23, were graduate students at the University of Georgia. We heard about an upcoming folk music jam in north Georgia, and decided to go.
Fall days are usually brisk in the mountains, but our travel Friday found the temperature warmer than expected, with most leaves crimson and gold. Since our afternoon was open, we decided to hike to Raven Cliff falls. The trailhead parking lot was empty. We looked forward to walking along a bubbling mountain stream.
It took only an hour to hike the three miles to the cliff and falls, where we found water cascading down a hundred foot tall granite bolder. The sun lit up the stream and its rock spillway through an opening in the trees. There, we dropped our daypacks and scrambled another 40 or 50 feet up to a narrow plateau where the boulder splits, and an upper part of the waterfall showers into a partly hidden eight foot wide pool. This upper pool is concealed just enough that we were comfortable stripping down to shower off inside the split rock. Maybe we were overcome by the natural beauty, or the freedom of being away from school, or that we needed to keep our clothes dry to wear that night. We wrapped our shorts and shirts into a tight bundle and I tossed it at a small rock clearing. Well, the bundle overshot its mark and rolled downhill toward our daypacks below. What the heck? We would refresh in the upper shower and pool, then walk down, dress, and head out before anyone else came.
The falling water felt so cold that it made our skin turn pink, and our nipples stood firm on our smallish breasts and not to be modest -- we looked quite fine.
Pretty soon, we heard a fiddle from somewhere below us likely the lower pool near our daypacks and clothes. We assumed the fiddler was alone as we heard only one fiddle, and no talking. We assumed he was male (most fiddlers are male), and by the third tune, we figured he was in no hurry to leave. We were getting goose bumps from the cold pool and shower and our totally wet hair and skin. Certainly he saw our stuff, probably knew we were here naked, and likely he was curious what wed do if he waited us out.
We each whispered that the other should walk down to get our clothes. But since we got into this crazy situation together, we knew we must solve it together. We agreed that at the end of his next tune, wed step out into the open and stroll down the path to our clothes, quietly smiling as if nothing was amiss. Crazy as it now seems, each of us dared the other to be the last one to dress.
The tune ended and we began our trek. As soon as the bearded fiddler saw us, he grinned broadly, and switched to playing: Beautiful girl; walk a little slower as you walk by me
. So we took nearly the next minute to walk slowly down the path that led us almost straight toward him, and over to a mid-afternoon patch of sunlight -- I almost forgot we had no clothes on. Given that we had no towels and the sun was warm, we continued to ignore our lack of clothes to let the sun dry us. Still grinning, the fiddler started into another tune while never taking his eyes off us.
We remained naked, listening, watching, and enjoying the warm sunlight as he fiddled another tune, then another. Were we his audience, or was he ours? It seemed totally natural to be unclothed in such a beautiful fall mountain setting with beautiful mountain music. And, it seemed his eyes as much as the sunlight warmed our skin. After perhaps four songs, we slipped on our shorts and continued to sit shirtless and listen as our hair finished drying. We kept our shirts close by in case someone wandered up the trail. In time, he finished playing; we donned our shirts; then we talked together a bit (names, home towns, interests, etc). As it turned out, he was to be one of the performers that night. We all hiked together back to the trailhead, and before we parted, he wrote a note to get us in the show free. We arrived in time for front row seats.
After his first song of the evening, the fiddler said, Ive walked to Raven Cliff maybe thirty or forty times and never before enjoyed the waterfall as much as today. There was a soft beauty there Id never seen before, and if I walk it another forty times, Ill always hope to see that beauty again. Mary and I also agreed that when we come this way again, well hike to the falls, and his fiddle and broad grin will be on our minds.