The Climbing Partner

Her climbing partner wanted her to achieve his own experience of being alone out in the back country of the high desert. She agreed to his plan. After he secured a back country pass for her at the park gate, he said, “I’ll drop you off at the trailhead and pick you up tomorrow at high noon.” His confidence spurred her onward.

Early morning, she shut the car door and hoisted her pack. He adjusted her cowboy hat and prophesied, “This journey will change your life. Now go.”

With bravado she replied, “See you tomorrow at high noon.” as she headed toward the horizon, she heard the noise of the car engine fading away. She didn’t look back. Suddenly enveloped by the remoteness, she felt small and vulnerable. Questions she couldn’t answer crowded her mind. Then, like photographs from an album, snap shots of previous climbs with him flipped through her mind.

In January she had reveled in having led him as her partner on an ice climb, she had protected him and herself from the dangers of avalanches. The winter route with deep snow and treacherous ice proved exceedingly more challenging than did that same rock climbing route in summer. She vividly remembered the first time she climbed it. Then, he had been her guide. She now wondered what she would learn on this solo journey.

The cowboy hat shaded her from the blazing sun, although rivulets of sweat ran down her back. Grateful to find even minimal shade from the sun’s assault, she rested before continuing onward.

All too soon her pack’s weight dragged. Her shoulders sagged. As she trudged forward, a cloud of sand swirled around her. She wondered how far she should go and where she should camp for the night. Then, off in the distance she spied a large rock formation. There she would seek shelter from the sun.

Suddenly, her spirits were set free as the questions in her mind dissolved. The desert calm flowed through her soul. She felt strong and independent. As she breathed in the smell of sweet sage, she voiced, “So, this is what he must have experienced out here alone.” Along the way she marveled at the cacti in full bloom. She knew herself to be alive.

At that moment, she heard the rasping caw of a lone raven, circling above. Under the blazing sun she felt a sudden chill ripple across her shoulders. Was it the raven’s shadow, as though an ominous omen?

Four hours later she reached the rock formation. After guzzling some water, she cooked a simple meal on the tiny camp stove. The desert air was cool now, even pleasantly comfortable.

She planned to sleep on the high desert plateau. She felt  the grit of desert sand beneath her feet. It was an odd sensation, but delightful. “Maybe he experienced this alone out here, too.” she thought.

Then, as she ascended up the steep, angled rock, she notice that, chameleon like- her skin color became that of the color of the rock. “It must be the light of dusk creating this illusion,” she mused.

At the top of the rock plateau, stretching out on her back, she was grateful to be watching the spectacular sunset. Orange, red, pink and purple colors, created by the paint brush of the high altitude wind, swirled across the sky.

She witnessed the first star of night, as a dark blue curtain descended. A yellow crescent moon glowed while billions of stars twinkled. She was lulled into a sound sleep by the soft desert breeze gently sifting through her blond hair.

The next morning she couldn’t move. She remained upon the rock plateau. Initially she panicked, but calm eventually spread through out her being. She had found what she had searched for all her life- a perfect union of peace outwardly and within.

High noon soon arrived. He waited for her at the trailhead. An hour passed. She didn’t appear. He searched the trail for any signs of her route. Then in the distance, he too spotted the large rock formation. “Perhaps, she fell,” he thought, “and needs my help.”

He quickened his pace. She heard his footsteps. “I’m up here!” she exclaimed. Strangely, he heard her words in his head. He looked on the other side of the rock formation. She wasn’t there. Again, in his mind he heard her words, “I’m up here!”

When he looked up, he saw a stone head peering skyward. Again, in his head he heard a voice speaking, “Don’t worry! It’s me,” it assured him. “I’ve changed. My body melted into the rock during the night. My hair blew away strand by strand in the wind. All that you see of me is my head. Being one with the Creator, I have found perfect peace. I feel neither pain nor sorrow, for I am no longer mortal. But do not fret, for I will still be your climbing partner.

I am the cool breeze that will wipe your brow to comfort you in the heat of the sun. I am the ray of warmth you’ll feel on your back to keep you from shivering in the mountain’s chill. I am the snow that will give you traction on steep slopes. I am the crack in the rock that will stabilize you and propel you upward. I am the tree that will be there for you to build an anchor. I will be the bright star in the night sky to watch over you in the wilderness. I will be the voice that tells you, “Turn back.” I am the perfect wave you’ll surf at the ocean. I am the deep powdered snow you’ll ski down swiftly and safely. I am the river that will calm your mortal soul. And when your day is finished, I will be the rainbow you see across the sky. go where your spirit leads you on this journey of life, for I will always be there to protect you. I am your climbing partner.

~ Laurie Doran

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

Writing About A Photograph

When I first saw this picture, I thought it so strange. Then I thought when I saw the praying hands that the praying hands and headless body could represent any Christian who is thankful to God for all He does for them. Many people pray to angels or to saints according to cults. They deny the living God! Imagine how sad Our Heavenly Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are for all they do for the just and unjust especially for the people of God and others are given the thanks and Glory instead o them.

It has been said that Gratitude is a memory of the heart so let us recognize and appreciate truly all the blessings and favor on our lives that God accords us daily and give the thanks and glory to whom it belongs to Our Heavenly Father Jesus and The Holy Spirit!

~Suzanne M. McNeil

(1948-2014)

The Gathering Place

The Gathering Place, the Gathering Place,
It’s a treasure to behold.
There are many sad stories here
Just waiting to be told.
The homeless, the jobless, the young, the old,
Some with such sad eyes,
Others determined to “make it”
In a world that does not welcome all–
Not willing to hear their desperate call.

Why do I volunteer at the Gathering Place?
I feel that I can help here
In answering that call.
It could have been me, the homeless one,
Would someone answer my call?
I see the needs of many,
What can I do to help?
I can make coffee, provide a treat,
Work in our garden.

But sometimes hugs are needed
When you’re living on the street.
The Gathering Place provides safety
And warmth from the snow;
To many of our clients,
It’s a safe warm place to go.
I feel that volunteering here
Has been my special gift
It’s made me more compassionate.

I try to answer this call–
More grateful than before
And more thankful, too.
That God has provided The Gathering Place
To give our clients hope anew.

~June Garman

The Gathering Place

There is a place that I go
When I’ve no place to be
It’s filled with warmth
and caring
By the ones that welcome me.

Sometimes I sit in silence
And rest my weary mind.
Sometimes I find comfort
In the ones that are so kind.

The Gathering Place, The Gathering Place
Where all can come to meet
Or maybe even make a friend
Or enjoy a delightful treat.

For everyone that enters here
If they seek then they will find
Whatever their hearts desire
Whether it be a place to visit
or a place to just pass time.
~Charlene Swain Matts