Monday, January 1, 2018

The Road Home

My road.

My son's road.

Some years ago, I had the great good fortune to travel to the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. We camped in the Big Horn Mountains and walked up to the Wheel on the summer solstice, which also coincided with my friend Patti's birthday. Our respective young sons were with us as well. There were many people on the mountain that day - tourists, New Age people, Native Americans and our little group. We held a Pipe Ceremony in the Wheel. I prayed for many things and Spirit answered my prayers in such a forceful way that it was all I could do to hold myself together. (Be careful what you pray for.)

Later that afternoon the boys and I went to Mule Falls, not too far from our campsite. As soon as they could get the doors open, the boys burst out of the truck and took off, racing down the steep trail without a backward glance. I tried to call them back but a human voice is simply absorbed in that mountain landscape. The trail was a steep switchback with stands of pines and thick vegetation that deadened my nearly panicked calling.

There are bears and cougars in that wilderness area. It was late in the afternoon so there was not much daylight left for two young boys to be on an unknown trail alone. I could still walk then but my knees were stiff and troublesome. The trail was covered with pea gravel and very steep. I made my slow, painful way down the trail, calling after the boys. Their voices had gone out of range of my hearing almost immediately. As is normal for me, I immediately imagined them making it to the falls that I assumed were towering and wildly dangerous. I imagined those boys running headlong down the steep trail, falling into the water and drowning. I would have to tell Patti that her son had fallen/drowned/been eaten by a bear while in my care. I laugh now, but at the time, I was in a terrible panic. It was not simply that I was worried. It felt as if both boys had already met a terrible fate. It was a horrific feeling.

I had no idea how long that terrible trail was but I eventually realized that the further down the trail I went, the harder it would be to go back up. Almost in tears, I made the decision to turn back. The trail was so steep, the footing so loose that I pulled on the low tree branches to help myself climb. I was at last reduced to crawling on my hands and knees. All the while the panic was growing in my chest because it was almost dark. The deep valleys and high peaks of the mountains made for a very short twilight.

Never in my life had I ever, EVER been unable to physically meet whatever challenge I faced. Never had I been unable to protect my children. I had never been in the position of being left behind nor entirely powerless and helpless. I continued to crawl up the steep slope in such a profound state that I could not even cry. I was in a constant dialogue with the Creator. The only time in my life I had ever felt such an intense soul pain was when my father died. Creator was answering my prayers in a mighty way and it was incredibly painful. I was meant to get this particular message, no mistaking it.

Crawling pathetically up the trail, I clearly saw my path end and my son's path go far beyond my reach. He did not "belong" to me. He would and must go on without me. In fact, he hardly needed me at all even then. I realized that I could not hang on to my son so tightly. I could not live in fear that life would take him away. It was a painful realization but necessary. The unreasonable bonds of my fears were being cut right in the moment. It was physically and psychically painful.

Eventually I made it to the top of the trail and staggered across the level ground to my truck. I pulled out the map of the park to glean any clue it might hold regarding the trail or the falls. To my horror I read that it was an ALL DAY hike to the bottom and back! All day! Knowing those boys, they ran headlong and shouting all the way to the bottom before they even realized I was not with them. If it became dark or if they were lost... I was in full blown panic by then. I weighed waiting for them to come back on their own or getting help in case they were already lost. I decided the sooner I got help the better it would be.

I started the truck and drove on the dirt road back toward a ranger compound we had passed on the way to the trail head. It was miles back and I was driving as fast as I dared, which was far too fast. An enormous plume of dust rose in the still air. I roared into the fenced area of the compound and left the truck running as I hurried to the front door of a building that looked like it might have people in it. I knocked but no one answered, so I walked in - entirely out of character for me. I was in the kitchen of the rangers' private facilities when the surprised Native American ranger from the Medicine Wheel found me. She asked what I was doing, explaining I was in their private quarters. I apologized and explained what happened. By then other rangers had come in. The woman, half to herself, said I had been through a lot up on the Wheel earlier. How did she know? They gave me water to drink and it helped me to calm down.

They asked what instruction I had given the boys. I explained they tore down the trail so fast that I did not have a chance to say a single thing to them. The rangers said they would not be in danger of falling or getting lost as long as they stayed on the trail. They said the boys likely wore themselves out coming back up. The woman kindly asked one of the men to follow me back. I was so mercifully grateful for their kindness and their help.

I drove only slightly less fast back, mindful of the powdery dust, worse than any Kansas dirt road by far, billowing up in front of the ranger's truck as he followed behind. About a mile away from the trail, I saw the two boys walking in the road, coming my way. I slammed on the brakes and rushed out of the truck to hug both of them safely in my arms. I was crying with relief and gratitude and happiness that they were safe! Not eaten by a bear nor a cougar. Not floating lifelessly at the bottom of Kicking Mule Falls. Not lost and hungry and cold in the dark in the wilderness! I did not have to go back to camp to tell Patti that her son was lost.

There was an old hunting shack located at the top of the trail. When the boys returned to the top of the trail, they found I was gone. My son was certain a crazy Vietnam Vet lived in the shack and had kidnapped his mother and her truck. He was in a bit of panic too.

I did not get a chance to thank the ranger though I sent a letter to the park service after we got home, thanking them for their kindness and apologizing for barging into their private quarters. The ranger wrote back, saying that is was his job and that he was thankful it turned out well. He said I should come back to the Big Horn Mountains to visit, too.

On the surface, it was simply not that big of a deal to anyone else but it was one of most powerful things that has ever happened to me. It was a turning point in my life but I cannot say that I successfully released my poor son from the web of my unreasonable panic and fear immediately. It has been a long process - likely ongoing to this day. I am sure I damaged him and my daughter with all of my craziness. I tried not to but I am certain it happened anyway.

Now my son is entirely grown and on his own in the big city, wanting a life for himself that bears no physical resemblance to the life I have chosen for myself. He is a decent human being and in many ways he is more similar to me in thought processes and world view than my daughter is. He is his own man. His road goes on without me, the way it is supposed to be.

May the new year bring an abundance of happiness and all good things to both of my children, now and always.