Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"Upward Mobility"

Woodland adventure, part 2

By the time my friend and I reached the edge of the rock pool, we’d come a fair distance across those wobbly stones and mossy boulders, and he was having a bit of trouble. I felt bad that he’d followed me out so far, but he hadn’t wanted me to climb alone. We sat for a moment on a couple of logs near the pool, trying to figure the best way to get back. The stream was in a narrow valley with steep sides. We’d come in from the far end, along a side which was nearly sheer rock. The other side was a steeply sloping hillside with plenty of trees and saplings growing. (Climbing up the waterfall was, of course, right out of the question.) It was hot and I was thirsty. I looked longingly at the waterfall. What pollutants might be in it, what nasty microorganisms would infect me if I drank of it? It was beautiful, but this is 2005 and I don’t dare trust any water I don’t know. I may be a city girl, but even I know that.

I thought it would be best to go back the way we had come in. To me, it looked the easiest, but I guess I didn’t understand fully the problems my friend had had crossing the rocks to get out to the pool in the first place. “Why don’t we climb up that hill?” he said, indicating the tree-covered slope. “Then we can cut back to the railroad tracks and get back into the park that way.”

I looked at my friend in slight disbelief. To me, the hill looked extremely steep. Not impossibly so, but very, very difficult—and I don’t even have leg problems. I looked at the hill again. “But we don’t even know there’s a path at the top,” I pointed out. As hot and humid as it was that day, and as thirsty as I already was, I didn’t even know for sure if I could make that climb. “Are you sure you can do it?” I asked.

“Oh, sure. There are trees we can grab onto,” he said. He started making his way across the few remaining rocks to the far shore. I sighed and followed, stood at the base of the hill and looked up at what we’d be facing. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked. “We can go back the other way easily enough.” But I saw the look of determination on his face. This was a personal battle, I realized. This was between him and his fear of heights and of falling.

Personal battles, the facing of fears, this I understand. When it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Maybe if I’d insisted, he’d have turned and gone the other way with me. But after seeing the look in his eyes, I did not have it in me to deny him this. I remember learning in high school literature class that one of the classic types of conflict for a story is “man vs. nature,” and I realized I was about to see a conflict of just that sort. I was there to witness and to guide.

This was a challenge facing me, as well. Even in the four years I’d lived in WV for school, I’d never climbed a hill of this steepness and height. I’m a flatlander. Michigan is flat and Florida is flatter. I did not grow up scrambling over rocks and hills—I adapted to it some, but it never became my nature. So here was my challenge, to lead the way up this hill, finding the safest path I could, that my friend might face his deeply set fear.

“All right,” I said. “It looks like it’s a little less steep over there on the other side of this tree, and we can follow that water path up. Follow me.” I stuffed my camera into the pocket of my shorts, jammed my hat down securely on my head, and stepped away from the trickling stream. I ducked under a partially fallen log, then started to climb. Up, up, and up I went, glancing frequently back. My friend was only a few steps behind me. I would call out encouragement, and tell him where I’d be heading next. Up, up, and up some more.

It’s a tough thing to climb a hill which is so steep that I couldn’t really even rest because I’d start sliding back down. About halfway up, I managed to maneuver to the far side of a sturdy oak tree and lean against it. I used my hat to wipe the sweat away from my face and tried to get my bearings. I did NOT look back down. Heights are not exactly easy for me, either.

My friend was right with me. He’d slipped a couple of times on the dried leaves covering the hillside, but he stubbornly kept going.

Up, up, and up. Near the top, my friend started climbing at a different angle than I was, but the hillside here was so steep I didn’t dare try to change my course. My head came up high enough to see that there was indeed a path along the ridge of the hill, a nice wide dirt path. My heart began to swell with pride for my friend. He had done it! He’d faced his fear and his difficulty and scrambled right up the hill!

He slipped once more, then stepped up onto the ridge. I followed, just a few steps behind, ready to congratulate him.

He did not look well. He usually has a nice pinkish tan in the summer from working outdoors, but at that moment he was paler even than I am—ghostly pale. “I need to rest,” he whispered as he lay down on the dirt.

Memories of First Aid class jumped around in my suddenly panicky mind. Heat exhaustion, I thought. I crouched down next to him, took his hand. “Talk to me, hon. Tell me what’s wrong.”

He was still conscious, which was an excellent sign. “Leave me here. Go back into the park and get water and bring it back,” he said. I sighed. This is classic First Aid training—don’t ever leave the person if you can possibly help it, but this is one of those times when you have to leave. There was no other way.

I squeezed his hand. “All right,” I told him. “I’ll be back soon.” I left, looking for water, looking for help. And leaving him lying on that path alone is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Woodland Adventure to be continued, soon!


Tirithien said...

You had to leave, and you did. That is something to be proud of. :-)

Naneth said...

...and Worry.
Hope you pick up this story again soon, Bainwen!

Bougie Black Boy said...

hmmm, your appalachian writer roots are emerging. Jean Battlo would be overly impressed

Bainwen Gilrana said...

No, in order to impress Jean Battlo, I'd have to write a truly craptastic play with 500 scenes of about 5 lines each, involving costume changes between each scene. I'm afraid my dramatic tale here wouldn't impress her in the slightest.