Stillness, like gray wool, covers his eyes. He
blinks awake, then turns. She sleeps. He would prefer
not to wake her. Gently he sits and dangles his legs over
the bedside, then stands, and stretches his arms over
his head. A crackling in the spine. In the weak light,
her hair splays gold against the pillow, her face smooth
and clear. Both his feet ache along the arch and the lower
back feels stiff as he steps gingerly away. After the
bathroom, he stands in white briefs at the open sliding-glass
door. Goosebumps rise with the chill. He yawns. A lazy
tear wets one cheek and he blots it with the back of his
hand. He considers the glistening oval, lifts the hand
to smell the salt, and stares outside. Light strengthens
from blue-gray to a faint rose, soon the sun. A newborn
breeze shivers Andrew.
He rises early for these summer mornings to walk
the foothills on well-worn paths. Two or three times a
season he climbs Mount
a cloudless sky. A strong stirring motivates him, an inarticulate
passion beyond any regular exercise regimen. On those
mornings the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass compels him
to climb. Last night rain fell hard for half-an-hour.
Now the musty smell from nearby willows evokes memories
of other damp woods. The hills are fecund. Green tumbles
At sixty-nine years old, aging puzzles Andrew.
From time to time, he takes note of his body: a slow pain
as he straightens from picking up the newspaper from the
sidewalk; a deeper tired before sleep, and now and then
a struggle to recall a familiar name. But the change is
subtle. He feels, as he always has, himself. His likes
and dislikes remain much the same: a distaste of vinegar,
mayonnaise, and ruinous texture of nuts in a candy bar.
The vibrating thrill of a sailboat burying it’s rail on
a close reach and the satisfaction of shared conversation
still thrill him. Perhaps
human development simply cycles through the familiar.
Rather than the assumed straight path of growth toward
a vagary called maturity or success, we simply revisit
the same concerns, the same desires, fears, and thoughts
that we have known throughout our lives. He surmises as
he looks westward, “Maybe I haven’t changed all that much.
I still climb mountains.” Bifocals correct his weak eye-muscles
in the same way that rapid morning walks replace the once
daily hour-long runs. Yet, the view appears the similar.
Aging is odd.
Three cumulus puffs linger near the TV towers on
Andrew stares at them unseeing. Then a flutter catches
his daydream. Below the apartment’s attached deck, a young
cottonwood trembles in the sunrise breeze. After a late
spring blizzard, the newly leafed sapling bent close to
the ground pressured with soft wet snow. Andrew predicted
that the tree would not survive. Undeterred by many such
failed forecasts, this morning he determines that the
weeklong series of afternoon thunderstorms is over. The
humidity is low; today will be perfect. Mount
and unspectacular, rises close to home, a twenty-minute
walk to the trailhead. Most summers Hayden’s desiccated
slopes fade to brown before the Fourth of July, but not
this year. The wet spring produced an abundant flourish
of wildflowers among the grasses. Peering out the right
side of the window, Andrew picks up the long northeast
ridge of the mountain. But stretching comes first.
ago he would have simply pulled on shorts and T-shirt,
laced up his shoes, and go—no tedious preliminaries. He
ran five to ten miles each day, then, and in tennis shoes.
These mornings he will wear running shoes designed by
podiatrists for street pounding or high-tech boots for
the mountain. But first, stretching accompanied by yawning.
A mindless routine touted as necessary for aging muscles
and joints, and conducive for daydreaming—a frequent pastime.
One final tear-producing yawn, then Andrew gathers to
his feet and rummages the daypack from the living room
closet. He anticipated the climb last night and pre-packed
a sweatshirt, windbreaker, extra socks, leather gloves,
and a plastic water bottle purchased his senior year of
high school. In one side pocket, he keeps a Swiss-Army
knife, matches, moleskin for blisters, and a first-aid
kit. In the other, a water bottle. He takes an apple and
banana from the refrigerator and then turns the faucet
on low to fill the water bottle, hoping not to awaken
his wife. With a red baseball hat on his head, Drew tiptoes
to the front door, but Lori calls from the bedroom, a
Oooooohhhhh. Mmmmmmm. Now where is my Drewsy? I never
got no kisses or nothing. I’m all alone. Where are you
Dreweeeee? Don’t you love me anymore? Why aren’t you in
her kissing me? Boo hoo hoo.”
“I’m getting ready to go you silly goose.”
I’m in here all alone. No kisses or nothing.
Lori and Drew
married two years ago. She is younger by years. He leans
over frizzy wisps of blond hair and nuzzles her neck.
“Don’t Drew, that tickles. I want kisses, yummy
He does too,
but he feels torn.
go walking today, Drewsy, stay here with me, please? If
you go, then I’ll be all alone.”
love you, darling-girl. I’ll be back soon. If I don’t
go now, I won’t go.”
it’s so beautiful outside and I’d like to get up Hayden.
you go up there, you’ll be gone all day.”
No, I’ll try to get back right after lunch. Okay?
over now and enjoy sleeping-in.”
handsome. Please be careful.”
will. I love you.”
love you more.”
A short run up the grassy hill that fronts the
apartment brings Andrew to a steep winding sidewalk. He
strides into a fast walk. He inhales through his nose
and a familiar richness stirs a memory. The first afternoon
at Outward Bound, after the patrol instructor had oriented
them and then dismissed them until supper, Drew had walked
with the other high school boys toward a scattering of
tents in a glen of aspens—milk white and scarred with
gray welts. Thick as three boys around, the trees mottled
the sky through a canopy of quaking leaves. When he entered
that grove, the scent of wood, leafmeal, and damp dirt
engulfed him, smells and emotions he has never forgotten.
And so it is this morning—a sensational moment. Andrew,
nearly seventy, with the boy of seventeen still vibrant
and four-story houses squat along the hillside, some partially
perched on concrete pillars. They are not so much homes
but oversized garages with attached entertainment centers.
Boats, campers, over-sized pick-up trucks, Jet Skis, jeeps,
RVs, skidoos, motorcycles, and riding lawn mowers spill
out of the toy-boxes into the driveways with visible affluence.
A careening SUV speeds the downgrade with a mother one-handing
the cell phone and back-talking to her children.
greets a wizened Chicano scrapping clotted grass from
underneath his mower.
A rusted Chevy
pickup overflows with clippings. From the truck radio,
a passionate Mexican bolero serenades; trumpets in thirds
along with an accordion sing the instrumental interlude.
“Buenos dias, senor. A beautiful day, no?”
“Very beautiful. Don’t work too hard.”
Lawns sit like putting greens, and even during
last summer’s drought, those lawns remained an unperturbed
oasis. One defensive owner posted a sign that read, “Watered
with Well Water.” The rationale of privatization, “It’s
my property, my water, I can do what I want.” Even so,
the flowerbeds bordering the green please Andrew with
the shape of summer. In one yard, five young aspens dance
their energetic leaves in the light. Beneath them, saffron
poppies give backdrop to the color flashes of blue, yellow,
white, and purple pansies.
At the hilltop, the sidewalk curves to the left
toward even larger houses, but Andrew turns right and
jogs in zigzagging fashion down the backside of the hill
toward a stand of century-old cottonwoods where the serpentine
path begins its winding through native grassy slopes that
lead to the flanks of Hayden Mountain.
Meadowlarks arrived eleven days ago—just like that.
They boast several melodies, choir composed of robins,
meadowlarks, finches, and the squawking percussion of
magpies. Between clumps of willows, three doe poke up
their heads. Ears twitch, hesitate. Andrew stops and quiets
his breath. Moist noses check, decide, and quick as that,
their muscular legs bound away. Above, on a hidden limb,
a twittering house wren warns all competitors that this
maple is her nesting spot. A nuthatch running headfirst
down an adjacent tree trunk searches for breakfast. The
jackhammer noise of a flicker pounds for a girlfriend.
The birds are back.
A thin, wiry
woman with flyaway gray hair holds the leash of an equally
graying golden retriever. Andrew crosses her shadow as
she waits along an intersecting path. He calls over his
“Have a nice day, ma’am.”
The startle surges adrenaline so that his pace
quickens; he tries to settle the pace with three deep
breaths. A quarter of a mile later the trail plunges into
a ravine where a brook clatters. Willows and cattails
tangle the pathway; beneath them coral root wave miniature
orchids—white petals flecked with purple. Swale grass
stands knee high along the creek. At the bottom, where
the spring bubbles the trail turns to muck. He attempts
to avoid the slop by stepping on the grass he wipes with
his boots. His right foot slips.
irritate him—no traction. Then dry dirt sticks to the
mud and forms platform shoes that fling pelts of dirt
up his backside. Andrew picks up a stick to pry at the
hunks of mud.
“Damn it to hell!”
The trail contours three-quarters of a mile on
a gentle rise toward the northeast shoulder of Hayden;
from there the route to the summit ridge will come into
view. Drew turns at the grunting sound of a mountain biker
not far behind him on the trail. Protected with helmet,
elbow and kneepads, and thick gloves, a young man pumps
hard up the path. Andrew dreads intrusion. He prefers
the solitude of his own company. Once engaged in a conversation,
though, he discovers that he enjoys himself. A reluctant
partygoer, he is usually the last to leave. Quickly, he
scrambles off the trail and up a steep ridge to avoid
contact. Continuing on the trail, the biker pedals around
the hill and out of sight.
attacks the steep ridge with an unrelenting pace. Never
a daredevil in the mountains, even after Outward Bound,
because he lacked the self-confident abandon that others
found inside to accomplish frightening routes. As a young
man he led rock climbs, yet never quite relinquished the
fear, never felt the natural ease that accompanies daring.
His gift was stamina; he could endure. With a means beyond
explanation, Andrew controlled fatigue, pain, hunger,
and even thirst. He would not stop or give-in to fatigue.
This gift blossomed, at times, into a noxious flower so
that, sometimes, a climbing partner cursed him for it.
So there co-existed a tandem in his climbing, fear could
hesitate him like a sudden snake at the feet, but endurance
fueled his pride hour after hour—as it did now.
Moving without pause, he locates a rock to push
off from, or a clump of turf to edge his boot, and always
the inner voice—keep moving. The arduous feels welcome.
He rarely looks ahead. His eyes rivet the ground. Not
knowing how far he has to go brings both surprise and
relief when the goal suddenly appears. Surprise now, he
crests the ridge and walks along its meandering path that
connects a series of the mountain’s shoulders. Andrew
stretches his legs on the downward sections of the ridge,
then jogs the inclines. Ahead he sees that the biker waits
at the place where the bike path intersects the ridgeline.
“Hey, man, fast pace. You really smoked that hill.”
at compliments; they embarrass him because he craves them.
“I guess I ate my Wheaties this morning.”
“Well, good going.”
“Thanks. Enjoy your ride.”
his eyes and simultaneously raises his hand in an awkward
wave. The younger man passes him with a smile. Drew follows.
Not bad for an old man; he flushes.
Off to the west, cumulus clouds congregate along
the Continental Divide like a lineup of potbellied chefs
at a cooking convention. They might congeal and elevate
into a storm cell to scour the city, and produce another
failed forecast from Andrew. He feels a stirring in his
gut; anxiety registers its own weather system. As a boy,
his mother would hide with him from thunderstorms inside
a Ford sedan safe in the dark garage. Common wisdom held
that the rubber tires of an automobile protected its occupants
from the sizzle of lightning. Besides, the windowless
garage admitted no flashes, though they both startled
at the thunderclaps. With a waning flashlight, mother
and son played Old Maid and then Fifty-Two-Card-Pickup.
The boy giggled at his mother’s fumbling to pick up the
cards he had spilled on the car floor. Sometimes he would
nap in the backseat under a blanket his grandmother knit.
Across the way on a steep part of the trail, he
notices the biker pushing his bike and slipping every
few steps. Andrew considers, “If I run fast on this part
of the ridge and then walk the steep part steady, I might
catch and pass him.” Always this competitive voice—where
did it begin? One Saturday morning early in September,
his mother drove to a field near home to register Andrew
for football. He was eight. From then fall Sunday mornings
in found him cutting out newspaper photos of a quarterback
cocked to throw, or a tailback stiffing a tackler, or
the melee of wooden goal posts shaken to the ground by
victorious fans. His scrapbook comprised colored construction
paper bound together with yarn woven through punched holes.
Soon, football articles and photographs bulged the pages
of his scrapbook. Over the years, the scrapbook grew into
four volumes. The boy played little league and then high
school football. He does not remember when he discarded
the scrapbooks or why; he would enjoy thumbing through
Among other things, including a concussion and
several fractured fingers, those years produced a hunger
for praise. Without words to articulate this desire, nonetheless,
the boy knew an insatiable need for the kind of adulation
he thought possible only through extraordinary performance.
More often than not, the outcome of all his effort and
discipline brought more disappointment than praise. The
boy, and then the man, was an average athlete, clearly
not extraordinary. And that normality still rankles Andrew.
His convictions assured him that love resulted from success,
and success would arrive only through great effort. In
the past couple of years, though, he has reconsidered.
At the top of the hill, the bicyclist hops aboard
and pedals out of sight. The urge momentarily revisits
Andrew, a compulsion to race. But then he reckons the
misery it often makes for him. There can be no rest in
winning as small successes press for larger ones, and
there is always someone over the shoulder gaining. How
does victory stay? Will enough applause make it permanent?
Knowing the answer, he slows his walk.
He stops. A fully racked buck crosses twenty yards
in front of him, turns, and considers Andrew. The deer
looks away tilting back his head, the rack, in velvet,
glowing hazel in the light. A quiver of the ears and he
peers again, then saunters. Andrew gives chase and the
buck bounds down the slope brimming with strength and
speed. He looses sight of the deer except for momentary
antler points above clumps of shrubbery. Feeling silly,
Andrew stops and climbs back up on to the ridge.
As he walks along, Andrew suddenly breaks into
a run, a fast run, as fast as he can. His eyes tear. No
competition. No self-consciousness. Just run. Legs stretching.
Arms pumping. His breath sucks in deeply. Soon enough
the tug of fatigue will come but in this moment, running
is all there is.
“Ah, ah. Ouch!”
hops on one foot, gingerly touching the other to the ground.
His left foot had slammed against a rock. A surprising
wave of nausea sweeps his throat. Cheap damnable boots,
costly, yes, but poorly made—no protection. He spies a
log beneath a few scruffy ponderosas and hobbles toward
it. Orange paintbrush bloom in a wide arc around the log.
They were the first flowers he identified from the field
manual as a Boy Scout. Their splashy spears comfort him.
He slings off his pack and sits in their glory leaning
against the log. Some wriggling fits his back into a smooth
place. Yawning, he stretches. A slender blade of wild
grass finds a groove between his teeth, a smell of sage
in the air. His breath settles, a small whistle in the
nose, hardly any breath at all.
These boots are a recent acquisition, touted
waterproof, breathable—the latest development, yet a far
cry from his old leather boots. In those boots, he could
stand with dry feet in a rushing stream. Today, synthetic
materials replace leather as well as wool in socks and
sweaters too. For all their rhetoric, Andrew has discovered
that these fashionable boots do not hold up, fail to grip
like Vibram, leak, and they’re expensive—not at all competitive
with the boots in Hans’ store.
Years ago, located east from the Capitol on Colfax
Avenue around the corner from East High School, Hans did
more than sell mountain boots. The burly Austrian stood tall, broad at the
shoulders, and narrow at the hips. His thick hair cascaded
to the collar. He spoke roughly and with a German accent.
the boots. Lace them up good and tight, yah? Now go to
the mountain. Did you lace them good? Now, try them on
the mountain to be right.”
chunk of granite lay on the shop floor. Next to the rock
was a wooden bench. On top of it sat a cardboard box filled
with socks in many sizes. Andrew shed his white tube socks
and pulled on a pair of thick wool ones. Whether the boy
came in for lightweight klettershoes
for rock climbing or a stout pair of mountaineering
boots, Hans insisted on the mountain. The boots must be
tested on that piece of rock under the master’s watchful
eye. Andrew always felt nervous at the prospect. The shop
smelled of leather and Sno-Seal, and the walls boomed
with Hans’s bass voice.
young man, what do you think? These are the best boots
from the Alps. I bring only the very best, yah? And Hans
makes them even better.”
And he did. After Andrew made his choice, Hans
stitched two additional rows of heavy thread to strengthen
the seams where the upper leather met the lower; he sewed
reinforcements along the welt to strengthen the place
where the sole fastened. One pair of boots Andrew bought
from Hans endured three resoles before the leather stiffened
to the point where he could no longer force them on his
feet—seven years and many mountain tops in those boots.
Hans was as inspiring as he was imposing. The Austrian’s
face flushed with energy and his voice was full of expertise.
In time, the boy learned to enjoy the humor in Hans’ flashing
eyes; eventually he discerned kindness beneath the bombast.
Swinging open the bell-tinkling door each season became
a favorite ritual. When Andrew left the shop, both his
heart and his feet knew pleasure.
On Andrew’s last visit, the “Open” sign hung in
the middle of the glass door, but when he tried it, the
door was locked. Dust motes flitted through the sunlight
inside when he cupped his hands against the window. Empty.
He never learned the reason, but favored the prospect
that Hans went back home to his Alps.
his rest on the mountain, two black ants vie for Andrew’s
knee as they cross back and forth several times. One crawls
on his shorts toward his belly where his T-shirt pulled
up. Dark hair curls over Drew’s belly. The ant rummages
in the labyrinth hopeful for a morsel or a home. Tickling
overcomes science and he brushes off the ant. Andrew wonders
about the whereabouts of other ant just as he feels a
tickling under his leg at the cuff of his shorts and jumps
to his feet swatting. Time to get a move-on. The toe feels
After an hour, he reaches the summit ridge.
He lingers a moment on a level outcropping of rock.
The sweep of Denver pushes north to the Wyoming border
and south toward Colorado Springs. Feeling hungry, he
looks skyward and turns to check the high mountains behind
him—heavy clouds, but no storm. Nearby, a pile of boulders
looks suitable for a lunch break. Inside the pack, he
rummages for the fruit and the water bottle. When he fumbles
beneath the sweatshirt it makes a crinkling sound. Out
comes a brown paper bag neatly folded three times at the
top. Lori delights in surprises. He discovers there a
sandwich of coarse bread, slices of cheddar cheese moistened
with mustard, and stuffed with sprouts, lettuce, and two
tomatoes. He barely manages the bundle with both hands.
There is even more at the bottom of the pack. One plastic
container holds green olives and dill pickle spears, the
other is crammed with celery, carrots, and radishes. A
giant chocolate chip cookie strains a baggie. He takes
a long drink of water and then eats.
Brushing crumbs from his lap, Andrew shifts his
rear end that had begun to numb. He draws a cheroot, smashed
in its cellophane wrapped box, from the top pocket of
the pack along with a plastic match case with a screw-on
top. He has carried that case forever. After several tries—who
knows how old they are? —a match flares and the cigar
circles white smoke from his mouth. Smoking a pipe or
cigar grew also grew into climbing ritual. Andrew and
Ronnie Joe, a frequent climbing companion, would take
their ease on a mountain peak, peruse the view, and light
up. When a climb became particularly frightful, the tobacco
(or the idea of it) emotionally steadied him; created
an interlude, a space for peace. There was a pitfall,
however. For example, in the middle of a difficult pitch
on, Hallet Peak, he smoked two cigarettes in a row at
a belay point. The tobacco brought cramps and the absolute
necessity to relieve himself then and there. This turned
out to be a complex feat considering the cramped conditions,
the need to clean with the available sparse flora, and
the courtesy of covering his doings with rocks for the
sake of his soon arriving climbing partner.
Similarly, the current cigar brings a familiar
wooziness. He hasn’t inhaled even a quarter of it before
he snuffs it under his boot. He concludes, as he has many
times before, the he enjoys the thought of cigar more
than the reality. His stomach rumbles perilously as he
folds the lunch sack and attempts to stuff it inside an
empty side pocket, but a bulge in the bottom keeps the
sack more outside than in. He draws out a squat plastic
bottle filled with grape juice. He yells.
“I love you, Lori!”
Then he stretches
his legs and rolls to his side with his head lying across
on one arm. Forgetful of storms, Andrew drifts in satisfaction.
His eyes open without a squint. No sun. Dead quiet
No breeze across his ears. The air smells wet. He sits
up rubbing his eyes and then stands to rid the stiffness
from his sitting. Toward the west, where the peaks should
clamor skyward, a sooty blob of cloud obscures them. Overhead,
a thunderhead rises like a voluptuous city. Towers compete
for grandeur; steeples vie with turrets and parapets of
sweeping curves. Spires, bridges, and balconies tumble
one atop of the other, higher and higher. Sunlight guilds
the topmost edge. In the massive center of the cloud,
the elegant detail vanishes into uniform charcoal except
where streaks of white indicate violent hail.
he flings the pack over his shoulder and plunges down
through juniper bushes and pinion pine. His boots find
their rhythm skimming on top of the scree like a skier.
The first drops are not a prelude, but golf ball-sized
hail. A flash and crack of lightening surge his flight;
Andrew leaps downward feeling both fear and pleasure.
He veers toward a clump of scrub oak surrounding a single
cottonwood. Behind the tree, a cliff rises forty feet.
At the bottom, where the rock bulges, a cave opens. He
faces outward and scoots back to find the driest place.
Hail changes to wind-driven rain. With shut lids and clasped
ears, Andrew calms himself with deep breaths. A bolt strikes
close. He starts and thumps his head against the rock
ceiling. Colorado is the lightning capital of America.
He recalls that people rarely survive a direct hit.
God feels uncertain to Andrew. As a child, his
Mom and Dad deposited him at the Presbyterian Church for
Sunday school. The building was a massive stone structure
with flecks of mica glistening in the sun. Inside, endless
varnished hallways and concrete stairs led to rooms of
various sizes. As a boy, he was, at first, confused by
the labyrinth, and then later by the words. But the Catholics
frightened him even more. A classmate in fifth-grade wore
a silver medal around his neck. Danny explained to Andrew
that St. Christopher protected him from knee-scrapping
skids when he rounded a sandy street corner on his bicycle
or from a car accident when his Dad drove too fast in
the snow. After recess, Danny produced a picture from
his back pocket, a color picture of Jesus, his heart dripping
drops of blood.
Andrew remembers how the oak doors of the cathedral
sagged on their steel hinges. He leaned back gripping
the handle and pulled with all his might. When the door
opened a boy’s width, he ducked inside. The darkness gradually
gave way to a thin light seeping through stain glass.
The marble floor squished from his sneakers. He crept
into the sanctuary. Row after row of shiny wooden benches
descended toward a high place. There a table cloaked in
white linen towered behind a short fence that had cushions
on the floor all around it. Off to the right, candles
flickered in rows that reminded him of apples in open
boxes at the market.
The immensity hushed the traffic outside the doors.
Andrew tiptoed halfway down the broad aisle. His mouth
slipped open. Jesus stood against an enormous cross on
the wall. Scarlet scratches trickled down his forehead;
his wan body twisted on the wood. A hole in Jesus’ side
dripped red just like Danny’s picture. Andrew stood transfixed.
“What can I do for you, son?”
A large bearded man—a man clad in black—walked toward
him, his shoes clicking on the marble. A ring of white
circled his neck. Andrew sprang for the doors, ricocheted
on the first try, tried again, slamming down on the metal
“Don’t be afraid.”
The voice echoed
then stopped when the door slammed shut.
Andrew smiles and listens as thunder grumbles long
and low; the storm sweeps southeast and in its wake sunlight
creates steam on the glistening rocks. Andrew scoots out
of the cave. Heading home would be the wise course of
action. Still, that may be it, no more storms today. He
crawls out of the cave and stands. With the fingers of
both hands against his lower back, he stretches and looks
toward where the summit continues to beckon—a mere twenty-minute
hike away. Weariness will fade tonight in a hot soak,
bath oil, candles, a book, and Lori. Andrew heads toward
His heart quickens on these high places, even an
unremarkable mountain like Hayden. The final strain to
gain any summit rewards the effort. With each step, a
mass of mountain falls away, and suddenly, all is horizon.
No matter how many times he has climbed, the top always
surprises him. Today is no different; his pleasure is
full as he takes the last step on to the summit. Storms
materialize with astonishing suddenness, but Drew hopes
he has time to enjoy it here. While fresh clouds scud
along the Continental Divide, nothing suggests the immediate
violence. He sits on a flat rock, unties his boots, he
tugs out one foot, and then the other. Off come the wool
socks. A breeze cools his sweaty feet; the red spot of
a corn irritates the top both big toes and each heel raises
a blister. Hans would scowl.
Looking down the vista, Andrew picks out the houses
that lead to the trail. No doubt, the old Chicano has
driven to the dump or, perhaps, crammed in one more lawn’s
clippings. After lunch, the wispy lady naps with the dog
curled on a braided rug beside her bed. And what of the
mountain biker? Probably showered by now and sprinkling
granola on his yogurt.
sun cuts flat. Andrew hears humming. The metal rings holding
the straps of his pack vibrate with static electricity;
his hair stands up. Down—get down now! He stands.
slams to the ground.
Smells mix and swirl in his nose: wet—muddy—woody,
acrid. As Andrew stirs, he senses water running under
his backside. He shivers. Slowly his eyes open to patches
of blue. Rolling on his side, he pushes up and sits. Mud
streaks his hands. Every muscle aches.
misshapen, the metal rings on the pack are fused to the
melted nylon straps. He is incredulous, empty of emotion.
He feels his arms and legs, belly and chest. No blood—would
Dusk prowls the valley lurking below toward Hayden
Mountain. Soon, city lights will prick the swelling shade.
Andrew gathers himself and begins to wobble toward the
main trail, an easy way down. His thoughts are scattered
like the white fluff from the cottonwood trees.
On the deck, Lori grips the wooden rail of the
balcony with both hands. Like an air-traffic controller,
she talks down her wayward pilot.
on now. You’re almost home. Don’t get cocky. Pay attention
to what you’re doing. Don’t be running now, just keep
moving along. I got you, so come to me.”
she flashes the porch light and then leaves it off so
she can see.
Emerging from the trees at the trailhead, Andrew
jogs painfully across the street to the sidewalk that
leads home. His weariness amazes him. She recognizes him
at once, even though his figure is a vague silhouette.
Their embrace is long.
Late in the night, the sputter of sprinklers
begins a nightly chorus. The noise recalls Andrew from
the repeated memories of the day. He inclines his head
toward Lori. She sleeps with one hand behind her head,
her breath draws quietly. A pale green sheet outlines
her hip. One bare foot wiggles free to cool in the night
Drew stretches his left leg against the tightening
muscles. In slow circles, he rotates one ankle at a time,
each crack in the same place. This exhaustion nourishes
him. He smiles gazing up at the ceiling flocked like clouds.