Vo l . 6 N o . 2 That was where I trained my eyes. Step. Connect. Flash. Step. Connect. Flash. Steve reached his hand over Liam’s shoulder to hold his hand. Step. Connect. Flash. A hunk of shale shot out from under Steve’s foot and flew down the mountain, clanking as it hit other rocks. He wobbled and let go of Liam’s hand. He slid his other foot to center his weight. Step. Connect. Flash. When they got across the exposed section, which was about 100 feet long, they turned to look for me. They were all smiling, and Colby called, “Mama, come on over!” “Just give me a minute,” I tried to say, but my tongue was too fat to work. They started walking again, and they approached a boulder which seemed to block the trail. Part of me was relieved that they couldn’t go on. I couldn’t watch them cross the shale again. I decided to walk into the woods and wait there. But when I got up, I couldn’t see them anywhere. I called and waited, but heard only my own breathing. I called again, and then a laugh chimed in the still air. It was Colby. Steve appeared in front of the boulder again. “Where the hell are the boys?”
in almost two years.” “Get back on the horse. That’s what I always say. You’ll be fine.” She hitched her daypack on and started up the trail. I shouted to her back while trying to stop the waistband of my pack from chafing. “At least wait for me before the shale field, will you? I don’t like that spot.” She turned around and her arms framed her curly dark hair tucked in a red baseball cap. Her face, which normally looked angular, was softened by the shadows of the trees. “You have birthed three children. Three goddamn children. Without drugs. What makes you think you can’t do something as simple as cross some rocks?” Before I could respond, she was invisible, the sound of her feet beating the dirt the only evidence she was even there. Keeping up with her was out of the question even though she was ten years older than me, so I slowed down so I didn’t have a heart attack. It also meant I didn’t have to talk to her, because I was sure I’d bring up Ron again even though I didn’t mean to. So I just walked. The trail was so steep my heart pounded in my ears, and I was sticky with sweat in just a few minutes. I grabbed my sternum strap and hummed Nanci Griffith songs. In the old days I sang out loud, matching my steps to the rhythm of the music. That day I had no extra oxygen to waste on actual words. Besides I was just plain too scared to sing.
“The trail only looks like it ends,” he called back. “How could you leave them by themselves?” The words barely floated away from me. He never heard them. “Lisie, it’s not bad. Once you duck under here and scoot around here, you’re in a big meadow. It’s totally nice.” He made a few hand motions to try to show me where I had to go. “I’ll wait right here for you.” “No,” I said. “Go up with the boys. Don’t wait for me.” I started toward them, but the trail sloped downhill, and I didn’t have light up shoes to tell me when I connected. I cried, taking each step only because I couldn’t have my family on one side and myself on the other. After getting out of the car with Violet that day, I couldn’t tell her all that. All I could say was, “Way to remind me I suck.” Even I hated the whine in my voice. “You know I haven’t hiked anything steeper than the dock at low tide
Scared I would be too clumsy. Scared the trail would demand something I couldn’t give. Scared the trail was as fickle as my dream-river, taunting me someplace I couldn’t escape. Scared I had made all the wrong choices. For about a quarter of a mile I hummed louder; then I ran out of breath. Then I put down my head and moved, roots and rocks rolling my feet, adjusting my weight to stay upright. My knee hurt, but it was grounding, and I rocked my steps into the pain, holding my breath at each sharp bite. Hiking alone is ok. At least then someone faster than me isn’t wasting her hiking time on my slow ass. I climbed, taking a break at each switchback, sweating and swearing at the steepest spots. I tried to imagine Ron here, but couldn’t. I’d only ever seen him on the tundra, and when I pictured him, that landscape seemed etched on his skin. I climbed some more. Swore some more. Thought about
A Journal for the North Pacific Rim