I heard a yell from down in the valley and immediately realize my error. The voice was my father’s, and it wasn’t a happy sound. I had paused to pick up rocks and throw them into woods down a steep embankment. It was fun to watch them bounce their way down through the trees. I didn’t realize my father had hiked down below, and evidently one of the rocks hit him on the shoulder. When he got up to the piece of trail I was on, he emphasized that I shouldn’t do that again. It was a good lesson to learn at twelve years old. Now while hiking I occasionally stop younger hikers from throwing rocks down hillsides and this always reminds me of my father.
While visiting my Uncle Reese in Arteaga, Mexico, years later in the 1990s, I did a little desert hiking with my dad. I stared at Arteaga Mountain through my uncle’s second floor window and thought it looked like an easy climb with little in the way of vegetation or challenge. My dad, sister, and her son were up for it. We consulted with one of Reese’s neighbors who had a topographic map of the area, determined a route, and drove to the foot of this “smooth little mountain.”
We were surprised at the steepness of the climbs and the thickness of prickly vegetation. Cactus plants were everywhere and had a way of reaching out and touching you.
Another surprise was the deceptiveness of the climb. After reaching one rise, there would be a dip before rising even higher. We hiked up, then down and then up even more. This pattern repeated over and over. We finally reached the peak and enjoyed the view back down on Arteaga. Rather than return by the up and down route, we chose a drainage to scramble down and walked back to the car. A souvenir from that hike was a century plant stalk that my father found and used as a hiking stick. It was light and strong and still works today.
A few years ago my father and I visited Petit Jean State Park where we’d spent many family vacations when I was a child. We got in late and set up camp in the dark. Early the next morning we hiked down the Cedar Falls Trail. Robins were everywhere, and water flowed in small drainages along the trail. A flood of memories came over me as I thought of the many times I’d walked that trail as a child. The house-sized boulders in front of me sat exactly as they did when I was a child. Although there had been gradual changes over centuries from water, ice, and wind, the changes were imperceptible to me.
We were both growing older in a world that seemed to change a breakneck speed. The world we worked in had seen tremendous changes in technology and professional practices, yet here along these rocky trails, time seemed frozen. There was something comforting about the stability of these scenes remembered from childhood. The little drainages still flowed across familiar rock piles. Cedar Falls still roared with power. Deep green moss still clung to the tops of vine-covered rocks. Bright orange and yellow lichen still caught my eye as we descended the trail.
As I watched my father hike down the trail, I thought about his years of commitment to my mother and our family. He’d worked hard to provide for us and make it possible for us to explore the beauty of the world and learn new things. He always had an eye for the beauty of nature, and I was pleased to think I received that tendency as a gift from him. He took pride in his children and grandchildren, but I knew that he had made sacrifices to provide for us and make our needs more important than his own.
The few hikes I had with my father became special memories. He is the true long-distance hiking partner, having traveled with me for more than fifty years. I’m thankful for his many lessons, some verbal but most taught in silence through example. He showed me how to walk a path with integrity. Out of respect for my father and his example, I hope to walk as he walked.