Snapshots from Green Victoria (tedwords) wrote,
Snapshots from Green Victoria
tedwords

Another hill.



Section 2.0
Royalston Falls
Royalston, MA
2:00 p.m.




Another hill to climb.

But just not any hill. After this one, it was all over. After this, our impossible quest for the elusive Royalston Falls waterfall had finally come to an end.

It had all started out innocently enough. After a leisurely breakfast of eggs and bacon nestled within the shade of our little campsite, the conversation had turned to the day’s itinerary. And, seeing as everyone was still a little leery from the leech episode the night before, the thought of going swimming or kayaking was definitely out of the question. So…

“Tully Lake has three waterfalls near it,” Pauline had offered.

“It does?” asked Annie, glancing up from The DaVinci Code .

“Sure does,” replied Pauline. “One’s real easy to get to—about five minutes away. One’s only about a mile away, but not really that impressive. The farthest one—Royalston Falls—is also the most impressive.”

“That’s the one!” stated Annie.

“And can we walk there?” asked Amber, always the most adventurous. Amber was 13 and deeply resented the fact that nature had played a cruel joke on her and made her a girl. In her eyes, it was a man’s world, and she had been dealt a losing hand, simply for wont of the Y chromosome.

“Some of us can, if they want,” said Pauline, wisely. “But maybe some of us should drive there. Just in case.”

“I’ll walk,” said Annie.

“So will I,” said Ashley impulsively.

Chad, Annie’s boyfriend, snorted, and took a break from feeding the fire, to look at her, sitting on her da-day goy goy, and playing with her Bratz dolls. “You?” he asked. “You’ll give up after five minutes.”

“Will not,” said Ashley, irritably.

“You’re right,” he scoffed, and threw black his dirty blond hair. “It’ll probably be more like four.” Amber, who was also feeding the flames, giggled.

“Will not!” Ashley said, moving her voice up a notch.

I tried to defuse the situation, because I knew that Chad had a point, but I also knew that Ashley desperately didn’t want to appear weak in Amber’s eyes. “It’s twelve already,” I said. “If we’re going to head of, we should do so now.”

“Why don’t we all just drive,” said Pauline, and then whirled around to cut Amber’s protests off at the pass. “Look, once we make it to the falls, those of us who want to walk back can feel free to do so. As it is, the ranger yesterday said that you still have a twenty-minute hike to see the waterfall, once you get to the area where you can park your car. That’s not bad, is it?”

And it wasn’t a bad plan, not at all.

Unless, you somehow managed to get lost.

We all blamed Amber. She was the one who had proclaimed herself the guide, and she was also the one who had instructed us to go straight after the foot bridge, even though the trees lost the telltale yellow marks that had accompanied the less telltale white paint splotches. “I don’t think this is right,” Pauline had mumbled, but Amber had egged us on, until, lo and behold, 30 minutes later, at the point where the red grimy stream we had been following narrowed to a thin trickle, Amber had turned and whispered to me, “I don’t think this is right.”

Which meant that we finally reached the actual falls an hour after that, by which point, the water supply has vanished, the food was all gone, our bodies were covered in bug bites, and every inch of my body was dripping with sweat. And all the time, while everyone is oohing and ahhing over the pretty waterfall and the spectacular view, I’m thinking, “Royalston Falls, my ass. Royal pain-in-the-ass Falls is more like it.”

Also, after the oohing and ahhing had ended, there was still another grim reality to face. The return hike back to our car.

And, there we were twenty minutes after that point. With another hill to climb.

But just not any hill. After this one, it was all over. After this, our impossible quest for the elusive Royalston Falls waterfall had finally come to an end.

I was looking at the positive, but Ashley’s point of view was turned clear in the opposite direction. After three hours of hiking in 100 degree sweltering weather, she was just barely holding everything together. She stood by my side, gripping my hand tightly, pressing her head up against my side, trudging forward bravely.

The last hill had been brutal. So much so that all eight of us had been forced to stop at the very top, gasping for breath. No one had spoken a word. Most of us had simply collapsed onto a large boulder that had been convienently placed a few feet downhill. Thank God for Mother Nature. Sometimes.

After a few minutes together as a group, we decided to split apart. Some of us wanted to rest a bit longer, but my group—Corb, myself, Annie and Tiger, elected to move forward, hoping to make it back to civilization before our lungs burst.

And so, we made our way down, down, down. Slip sliding with our sneakers, feeling the crackle of dead leaves under our feet, trying to defy gravity. And then, we were down, and the other group was just a distant sea of voices, and we realized, with dismay, that there was another hill to be climbed, just as high as the one we had just climbed.

I heard Corb groan in front of me. “I’m going to die,” he said.

“Corb—“

“I can’t do this any more!” he said. “I can’t breathe. I’m going to pass out. This is too much.”

“This is the last one, Corb,” I pointed out. “Just keep going.”

The spirit in my party, that momentary burst of energy, was fading fast. Particularly Ashley. She took one look up the top of the hill, and then one quick behind her to make sure that Amber wasn’t around, and then sat down, plop, into the dirt. “I don’t want to go any farther,” she said, her brown curls soaking wet. “I don’t want to do this.”

“You have to do this, Ashes,” I whispered, trying not to sound annoyed. “We’re almost there.”

“No! I donwanna!”

“Ashley, get out of the dirt, you’re getting dirty. Come on, get up—“

“No!”

“Ashley! Come on, you can do it.” Ashley frowned, and I patted her sweaty head. “Come on, sweetie,” I pleaded. “You can do it. You’ve been real brave so far. I’ve been so proud of you…come on…you can make it to the end…”

I tugged at her hand. She rose to her feet, and walked another 200 feet, and then, sat back down again. “Ashes!” I said.

“I can’t do it,” she moaned.

By then, I was started to feel hopeless. What was I going to do with her? What could I say? Clearly, she was eventually going to get up again. She had to. But there we were, sweaty and panting, and for a minute, I thought to myself, “What if?” What if something happened to her? What if she really couldn’t get up? What if I needed to try and find help for her?

I knew that I couldn’t freak out on her. I had to handle this one delicately. I had to be the daddy, the good daddy…not the guy who grew grumbly in situations like this. I had to keep my cool and get her to climb this one last mountain.

“Come on, hun,” I whispered, staring straight into her eyes. “We can do this one together. We’ll take it slow. I promise.”

And she rose to her feet.

And together, we made our way up to the top of the hill.

Our descent down the other side was, of course, far easier than climbing up. But this was the point where Tiger broke down, and asked me to carry him on my back through the mud pits. Being that this was the last leg of our journey, I broke away from Ashley to focus on Tiger and the little signs of hope that represented the tail end of our journey: the section of the mud where we had laid down sticks, to make it easier to cross. The crooked branch where we had to jump off at the end to reach dry land. The part where I had misjudged my course and ended up with a soggy left sneaker. And, of course, the point where the mud ended and dry land began, only 200 feet from the clearing.

After ten more minutes, we finally reached the end. Corb whooped and ran to the car, acting as though he had uncovered a treasure chest.

I let Tiger fall to the ground and turned to look at Ashley. “We made it,” I said to her, with admiration in my voice. “And you made it here before Amber or Chad, too.”

She looked down at the ground, clearly exhausted, and more than a little embarrassed. “I’m thirsty,” she replied.

“We’ll get you a big drink at the nearest Cumberland Farms, I promise,” I replied, and gave her a quick hug.

I don’t want to make a big deal about it. However, there is something in this that I have to remember, for as long as I can. You see, sometimes I worry about Ashley, and where her road will lead her. Sometimes I worry about whether it will be an uphill battle for her, about whether she’ll lose her way. I worry that she might give up, because her burden is just too great to bear.

But maybe, the next time I have these fears, I’ll think about this snapshot in time. It wasn’t an easy trail that we took that day, but I’m happy to say that we stuck it out until the end…all of us. And all it really took to get all of us to scale that hill was a gentle tone and a willingness to be there, every step of the way.

No matter how long it took. Which is kind of the journey that we've all been on for quite some time, now. Just moving one step at a time, up that big hill.

With, hopefully...gentle tones.
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