Accepting a challenge. Why would I ever want to do that? I think this year has proved challenging enough. Writing every day? Yes, I am being sarcastic.
Fall is here. The mountains are rapidly turning gold at the tips and leaves come down with every breeze. The temperature has dropped and will drop more tonight. The angle of the sun has changed. There is sometimes a whiff of woodsmoke in the air as those who have fireplaces opt for a fire to break the chill.
The sky is cobalt blue with a depth that makes you want to fall up.
I look towards the pinnacle rock and black rock and think of my son. Yesterday was a perfect day for a hike. I tried to picture myself hiking up the trail with my dog, without my son and I could not bring myself to do it. It is not being dramatic to say, that even though I have hiked with others, hiking will never be the same without him. Hiking will never be the same without him.
The last time we went up the pinnacle trail we took the right branch that leads to a waterfall. It had rained a lot and there were leaves down everywhere. The trail was slick and I am a big chicken when it comes to falling or turning my ankle. Unfortunately I do that quite often. “I won’t let you get hurt.” he promised. “We are almost there.”
The trail narrows considerably the higher you go. The drop off to the right is very steep and there are tree roots to step and stumble over. Some trees have come down across the trail during the recent rains, large trees that you have to climb over or scramble under to the other side.
The trail became markedly more steep requiring me to lean forward and scramble like a quadruped or cling to nearby small trees. Then I heard it, the crash and gurgle of falling water on rocks. It was surprising that sound did not carry farther, but rather you had to be right there on it before it could be heard. The view of the falls was still partially blocked by rhododendron. The path continued on to near the top of the fall, but it was wet thread weaving among water slick rocks. We chose instead to descent a less steep brushy area to the base of the fall.
Once down the embankment we found ourselves on the creek bank with an elbow of the creek separating us from the base of the falls. The air temperature there was drastically cooler. The dogs that had accompanied us on the walk, two border collies of my son’s, my australian shepherd pup and a 10 year old pomeranian snuffled and waded the creek. We stood quietly in the cool shade and watched the water as it cascaded over the rocks and down. My son explained that if we had continued up the trail it would finally intersect the Black Rock trail, and that he had used this particular trail many times while hiking down from Black Rock.
The dogs dripping and grinning, coated in beggar lice we climbed back up to the trail and began our descent. It was here with my feet slipping out from under me I began to panic.
“Plant your heels hard” my son instructed me. That worked for a while till I slipped again.
He took of his backpack, slung his Nalgene bottle on his belt, tucked up the straps and handed it to me.
“Here,” he said, “take this. If you see a steep part you don’t feel comfortable walking down, just sit down on this and slide.”
“It will ruin your backpack!” I exclaimed.
“No it won’t,” he laughed,” and if it does, it doesn’t matter. Here, take it.”
Reluctantly I took the backpack. The sound of the waterfall disappeared quickly. The place where I had had to scramble on all four was just ahead. I sat down on the pack and slid. The dogs got a big kick out this activity and ran back and forth between me and my son. Finally the trail widened so I walked again now, always planting my heels first.
My son’s older border collie began chasing the other large dogs, tucking his behind under in a comic exaggerated run and scooting down the slopes after them. Maybe he was mocking me. Our laughter was swallowed up by the mountainside like the voice of the waterfall.
I have not looked for that backpack. I still have trouble going through his things. I don’t seem to get very far before I bury my head in a shirt that still smells like him. I dread that day when the smell fades. Maybe our laughter is still echoing up there somewhere, however faint. I’ll go one day again and listen.