Mountain Spirit

“Your husband does not want the breathing mask or the feeding tube,” said the nurse to me over the phone.  Tears welled up in my eyes. I grabbed my keys and rushed to the hospital to be with my husband. I wiped away my tears as I walked down the brightly lit hallway.

Seated next to my beloved husband, I asked him, “Are you at peace with your choice?” He nodded. Roger had lost his voice and could only whisper now. I leaned close to him to hear his every word. Bravely, I told the love of my life that I accepted his decision and quietly replied I understand.

As he reached for my hand from under the blanket he whispered, “We’re having tea at the picnic table. The waiter is bringing the popovers to us now.” I continued to hold his hand. We were no longer in the hospital room, but transported to another time and place in our lives together. In my reverie, I remembered that day. It was a long time ago when we were young at heart.

I had an asthma condition and wondered if I could hike the route my husband had planned. The night before our hike, Roger stretched out the map on the table and showed me the route we would take. It was at least a 7 mile trek. I thrilled at the possibility of reaching the summit of three mountains in one day. I felt like an explorer with my husband taking the lead.

After a restful night, we organized our gear and worked as a team. Roger would carry the map and compass, but would always give me a spare map to keep handy. I packed Roger’s favorite sandwich, ham and cheese on rye bread, in a small cooler bag. I placed the snacks in the side pouch of the pack, then filled up the water bottles. “How many water bottles will we need today?” I asked. “There won’t be any place handy to refill the bottles on this route,” said Roger. “Better pack two for each of us.” I grimaced thinking my pack was going to be a lot heavier than what I usually carried.

With the gear packed, including wind breakers, hats, and gloves, I thoroughly reviewed the list. As I read each item packed Roger would respond with “Got it.”

I knew Roger did not take hiking for granted and often said the person responsible for your safety stands in your shoes.

On that clear sunny day, we hoisted our packs and were on our way down the wide path of the carriage trail near Jordon Pond Tea House. Roger stopped and checked the map. He pointed to the trail on the left and said,” We turn here.” I was pleased that I was able to keep pace with my husband. It was going to be a glorious day.

Onward we trekked. We didn’t speak much, but enjoyed the quiet knowing we were together. I noticed my heart began to beat harder on the steep climb.

I paused to calm my beating heart and then continued upward. At the top of the first mountain peak, I gazed wide-eyed at the magnificent vista. Roger put his arm around me and smiled. “We have long way to go,” he said. “We can’t stay here too long.”

With an added spring in my step, we began the down hill route. On the steep upward climb, Roger slowed his pace to conserve his energy and noticed I followed his lead wordlessly. I knew Roger was wise to the ways of the mountain.

At last we reached the open ledge above the tree line. I was awed at the stunning 360 degree views, but watched every foot step over the jagged edges of the granite remembering what my husband had said earlier that morning. I wasn’t going to twist my ankle and spoil the trek. As Roger pointed his hand up at the sky he said, “Look, there is a hawk circling above us.” I smiled thinking it would be a day to remember. Roger noted only a few small white clouds dotted the blue sky.

“No chance of rain today,” he said. “We should make good time to the summit.”

I squeezed his hand in affirmation. We reached for our water bottles and drank some water to renew our energy. I thought water always tasted better on top of the mountain. Soon we reached the summit of Sargent Mountain, the second highest mountain in Acadia National Park.

Along the way Roger stopped and took pictures. I always loved the pictures he took on our trips. I was surprised at some of the photos. One time he took a picture of me still asleep in the bed before we were to start a hike.

In my enthusiasm for this glorious day, I said, “Roger, I should take a picture of you here in front of the summit sign.” As he handed me the camera, he made a few suggestions to get a good shot. I took several and was pleased with my effort.

We sat down, leaned against the rock out of the wind and ate our lunch. I was surprised that we had the summit all to ourselves. We didn’t pass any other hikers along the way. Roger mentioned that the route was less traveled than other trails.

“We have a short trek to the summit of Penobscot,” he said to me. “We won’t even go all the way down the mountain to go back up .” I was relieved as I was beginning to feel tired.

Once again we hoisted our packs and made our way along the trail to the summit of Penobscot Mountain. I marveled at the view of Jordon Pond. I was relieved that I didn’t need to use my inhaler that day. We rested at the top of the mountain soaking in the views while munching on granola bars. “Where do we go from here?” I asked. Roger pointed all the way across the flat wide mountain top. I’d discovered my fear of heights rose the higher I went. As long as there were several feet between me and the edge of the mountain I felt safe. I thought it would be foolish to say anything to my husband.

The I face the edge of the mountain and it wasn’t a gradual downward slope. It was a steep decent down large faces of rectangular granite. Roger went first. I noted where he placed his hands and feet. Suddenly, I froze in fear. I plucked up my courage then, carefully managed to angle my body down the first boulder face.

On the next ledge, Roger grasped my hand to help me keep my balance close to the edge. “Remember,” he said, “I’m always here to help you. We are a team.” I smiled through my fear and took a deep breath. I closed my eyes for a moment and convinced myself I could make the next move. Gingerly, I made it down the next ledge. The pond was no longer in view. We were among the trees now. I wondered how much farther down I had to go to reach flat land. Ever so slowly we climbed down the steep ledge. At last we reached the carriage path trail. I let out a huge sigh, “I did it!” I exclaimed. Roger smiled and said “You’re a real trooper. I’m proud of you.”

With a second wind of energy, Roger and I marched along the wide flat trail back to Jordon Pond Tea House. Roger said, “We are here just in time for tea. I want to surprise you.”

Seated at the table outside, we gazed at the mountains we had just climbed. Roger set up the camera on a tripod and took a picture of us having tea in the late afternoon. after the first popover arrived he leaned across the table and said, “Kiss.”

Just then I came our of my reverie and heard my husband whisper, “kiss.” We shared to gentle loving kisses and then my husband fell asleep. I knew in my heart that this was the end of the life we had known together for 27 years. It gave me peace to know my husband’s last hours were not in a hospital bed, but ended with a memory so real where we shared popovers and tea at a picnic table. That was indeed a glorious day.

Silently, I ran my finger across the engraved words on my wedding band- “You have my heart for your entire life.” I knew we would always be together.

Roger kept his promise. His spirit resides within my heart and helps me along the journey of life. We are still a team.

~Laurie Doran