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Mina Sauk Falls

Missouri’s highest waterfall

By Tiffany FairfieldPublished about a month ago 5 min read
Runner-up in Travel Snaps Challenge

You know that feeling, when you’re up high and you think, I could jump right now… the call of the void. I feel that a lot.

I’ve only ever felt home in nature. Among the trees and wind, the vividness of it all. It’s peaceful. My body doesn’t vibrate and my heart isn’t chaotic. Recently, I hiked to my home state’s highest waterfall. Missouri’s Mina Sauk Falls.

I’m not a traveler. The furthest I’ve gone is Florida for summer vacation in high school. I’ve never left the country, despite how often I think about it.

My adventures are much closer to home. My anxiety prevents me from doing anything that involves a plane or more than two lanes of traffic going the same direction. This adventure… just a hour’s drive from home and a hour’s hike, was not something I expected.

This isn’t the grandest trip I’ve taken. It’s not even really some kind of crazy sight. It was spur of the moment. I’d been wanting to get out of the house more. This first quarter of the year has been hard.

I quit energy drinks.

I quit smoking.

I quit my job…

I gained weight. Developed acne. And my mental state plummeted.

Falling is so incredibly easy. Giving in. Letting gravity take over. Letting all the bad happen. Being passive. It is so easy to just be.

Since the birth of my daughter (she’s four now) I consumed energy drinks daily. Damn near lethal levels of caffeine. Over 1,000 milligrams daily. And my heart was feeling it. At the end of 2023, I cut them out entirely. It was hard. I was addicted to them. Sometimes when I went to work, I would sneak them. Which is absolutely crazy for an energy drink. But I did it. It’s been half a year since I quit drinking them.

But on February 17, 2024 I realized it wasn’t enough. I was still smoking. Sometimes more than a pack a day. I would find myself going out on my balcony to read or write and I would just light cigarette after cigarette. But on February 17, I had my first serious bout of SVT. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s essentially a very rapid heart beat. I’d had episodes before but this was the first time I had to call an ambulance. My heart rate was 242 beats per minute. It had been like that for about 20 minutes. They administered adenosine, the first time I’d ever had it. It’s like a little stop sign for your heart, and if successful, will set your heart back to a normal range.

But you feel it. God, do you feel it. When the medicine reaches your heart… How the beats slow and slow until just a few too many seconds pass without a beat. And the paramedics are telling you to breathe, but you can’t help thinking, what if I don’t? Would it stop all the way? Is this what dying feels like?

My body had gone weightless. That feeling of lightheadedness just before you pass out… but I breathed. My heart kickstarted to a manageable 120 beats per minute.

I quit smoking a week later.

A month after that, I quit my job.

My fiancé got a promotion and it made the most sense for me to quit working and stay home with our daughter. My job was a filler while I finish my degree anyway. It wasn’t exactly anything special, but I had loved it.

I wasn’t prepared.

I’ve had a job since I was 16. I’ve always supported my family. I dropped out of high school for it. Ten years of working and then… nothing. I thought I would love it. I’m a mother after all. I’d have more time with my daughter. It’d be like a vacation. But I fell hard and fast into a depression I still don’t understand.

My lack of nicotine wasn’t helping. I was gaining weight from snacking. I was breaking out badly. Everything was exploding. I felt like my control on everything was slipping.

So getting outside was my best call. The exercise, the fresh air. I loved being in nature. It helped me feel better in an odd way. The hike itself is pleasurable. The sun, the breeze, the trees and rocks, birds in the distance… it feels like stepping outside of life for a bit. Mina Sauk Falls makes it all the more worth it, especially for small town folk like myself who never go anywhere. It’s compromised of several shallow pools that run into a somewhat large waterfall.

But, if you’re brave enough you can climb down to a giant rock in front of the waterfall. There’s no path there like getting to the pools, and the rocks going down are large and smooth. There aren’t many options to hold onto. It’s a little scary, but worth it for the photos. The experience.

Sitting on that rock, in front of my states highest waterfall, nothing else existed. Staring into the clear water, feeling the coldness of it hit my cheeks, felt eerily like balancing that line. If I dive in, would I emerge somewhere else? Was that the wind, or the universe giving me a nudge? I could just… do it. All it would take is a little lean forward and it’d all be over...

We had driven up the mountain, so getting to the falls was easy. It was a hike down and falling is always easier.

Getting back was hard. No longer was I enthralled by the waterfalls mysteries. I was stuck focusing on myself. How my legs burned and ached. How my face was hot and sticky. How dry my throat was.

But, for once, my lungs ached pleasantly. I wasn’t winded. My heart was a steady, albeit fast, thump against my chest.

It felt good… and heartbreaking? I remember sitting for a rest and being dumbfounded at this surge of emotions I didn’t understand. And why does looking at vast trees make everything feel more intense? Simultaneously like you’re nothing and everything.

What had I put myself through all these years? I had been self-harming from 12-17 years old, smoking since 15, working since 16; I dropped out of school with no regard for my future…

For a long time, I think I’ve only been able to accept the love I feel I deserve. And when you don’t care much for yourself, you can’t accept much. I drank caffeine and smoked cigarettes because for a long time, I did not care where I ended up. And it took me a while to realize that. It was a painful realization.

I abused my body because I didn’t appreciate it. It’s always been a cage. I degraded myself because that’s the treatment I felt like I deserved. I lash out when my fiancé shows affection because I don’t know how to accept that kind of love… not even from myself.

Feeling my lungs work without needing to stop and wheeze or cough, felt good. It felt like I cared about myself. And then I thought, could I? What would happen if I did? If I loved myself? If I accepted the love offered to me? Would it feel the same as staring at the waterfall? At standing on a mountain overlooking just a tiny speck of the world? Would I emerge somewhere else?

Was this the start of healing?

I have no idea.

It wasn’t a grand adventure. A hour’s drive. A hour’s hike. That’s it. But amongst the trees, the rocks, and dirt… I confronted myself. And it’s kind of nice. To be alive. To want to be alive.

This isn’t technically on the trail to the falls, but it is in the same state park and it felt fitting to include.

america

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Comments (1)

  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶2 days ago

    Congratulations on placing in the competition and on confronting challenging issues. 💛 I adore nature and water in its many forms: falls, lakes oceans etc. It’s so invigorating & stress relieving.😃

Tiffany FairfieldWritten by Tiffany Fairfield

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