Friday, January 18, 2013

Climbing the Fiction Mountain

Image, cave, IdahoA little further along the trail, in a thicket of evergreens so big you couldn’t put your arms all the way around them, we came to a monument for a group of girl scouts and their leader who were struck by lightning on that very spot years ago.  The trail grew steeper.  In places, stairs had been made with tree roots and flat stones, and my thighs began to complain.  Soon, the cave came into view, a great maw of an opening in the Earth, like a yawning mouth still high above us.  A waterfall spilled out of it from some hidden spring deep inside, cascading down the steep rocky slope.

Image, Idaho, forrestLast fall, I went on a writing retreat to Victor, Idaho. I thought I would spend lots of time reworking and revising my book, which I did do, but I also went on a hike with an old college friend, Stephanie.  Stephanie lives in Victor, which is probably fortunate in the summer, but I don’t envy her too much in the winter. Brr!  The town lies on the Idaho side of the Grand Tetons, just west of the tourist craziness of Jackson Hole.  Anyway, I told Stephanie I would be in town and would like to take a hike somewhere.  What I imagined as a short nature hike turned into a four hour trip to Wind Cave.
It was a coolish, misty day in October before the weather turned truly winterish, but the trees had already lost their fall colors.  Stephanie drove us to the trailhead in her Subaru, several miles into the forest.  We bundled up and started up the trail.  It twisted through a grove of pines, past giant boulders worthy of a Hobbit film.  As we passed the tree line and came out into an open, rocky cirque, it began to drizzle a bit.  We took shelter in a small overhang and Stephanie showed me the swirling fossils in the gray rocks, the remnants of an ancient sea.  We shared a granola bar and talked about our children while we waited for the shower to pass.
More primitive man-made steps, only a foot square, led up to the mouth of the cave.  My fear of heights kept me from looking back.  Going up the stairs wasn’t so hard for me, but I wondered how I might get down.  A misstep here might mean a fall that went on for a long way.  Crossing the stream, the boulders icy from the freezing temperatures the night before, frightened me too.  We clambered up into the cave on slick, wet rocks and turned around to see the view of the misty valley far below us.
In fiction and in life, it’s always amazing how far you’ve come when you stop to consider it, when you look back at the obstacles you’ve overcome.  Sometimes there are set backs on your path. Sometimes there is fear, danger even. But sometimes, there is beauty and awe. And it is all worth it.

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