At the bottom's edge, we begin our ascent.
The going is easy at the river's edge.
It isn't until our path meanders away from the rushing water that the incline appears.
I go first. The children follow like ducklings after their momma. The Drummer brings up the rear. Protectively, he watches over us all. If one stumbles, he sees. He reaches out to them and encourages them. I, for one, am too nervous to see them walk the thinning trail leading across a steep embankment.
The path, always gaining elevation, narrows to the width of a foot. To our right is a steep incline to lean on, but to the left, a roller coaster descent without any brakes. Navigating the trail is difficult when it ascends up the incline. The going is hard. It is harder for one child in particular, the one closest to me. She groans under exertion. Grasping at soft wood, she yelps as it yields no support. I hear her and turn slightly.
"No," I correct from the front, "try grabbing hold of this type of tree. It can hold your weight. Push off the trunk."
She exhales understanding and presses forward. We rest with heaving sides when the trail levels for a time. Encouraging words pour forth from the Drummer. I just huff and puff, wondering if my heart will pound right through my chest.
"Hunting grounds? Is this normal for a trail to go right through?" The Drummer asks as we resume the ascent.
"Around here, yeah," I breathe a reply.
"We aren't wearing anything bright," he interjects into my thoughts of left, right, left, right, up the hill, don't forget to breathe.
"It's too early to be hunting season yet," I pant. When is bow and arrow allowed in these mountains? I try to remember, and silently pray as we plod forward ever further up the trail.
We stop. I want to end this quest for the top and return to lower valleys. I look back, and sigh. There's no returning to the river, not the way we came. The going is too steep. Upward is easier.
Glancing through the trees, I see the angle of sunlight has shifted. It is lower on the trees. "See the light coming through there?" I point it out to the children. "We are almost to the top."
"Good," our struggling one mutters.
"It'll be worth it," the Drummer tells them all, but especially our grumbling hiker. "Wait til we reach the top, and you see the view."
She looks at him, unsure whether he is right or not. Silently, she turns her face. I watch her. Does she know she has no choice but to go forward? Like life, all have no choice but to go forward, one day at a time. Staying still, resting, and sipping our water dry is only a momentary option.
Feet move forward. The trail finally widens and I exhale relief. We walk amongst the trees at the top. "Are we at the top?" she asks from behind me.
"Um, yeah," I answer.
"There's no view," she utters disbelief.
"We have to walk a bit along the top here. It won't be long."
"How long?" she wants to know.
"Oh, well, maybe a mile or so. See here on the trail map, we'll go up and down along the top for awhile until we reach the Vista, the view." I show her our map.
She looks briefly, but does not return my smile. "You mean we'll have to go down and up again?"
"Yes," I smile wide. Ups and downs are part of life. We don't always see the view right away.
She glares, says nothing, and walks onward.
"Hey, you all almost stepped on this snake!" The Drummer's voice calls us to stop.
"Oh, I missed that," I admit my own failings. "What kind?"
The Drummer analyzes the markings, determines the kind, and deems it unharmful to us.
We journey onward. Up and down we travel until we break through the trees. Finally, the view is just beyond the crossed beams,
stretching wide before us.
"Well, wasn't it worth it?" The Drummer prods her with his words, daring her to admit the struggle was indeed worth every step.
She looks at him slightly and turns to soak in the view from the top. "Was that where we were? Is that the river?" Her voice edging upon amazement.
"Yes," he smiles brightly.
"Wow!" she exhales her disbelief.