It must be, I think tonight, that in a certain sense only the newborn in this world are whole, that as adults we are expected to be, and necessarily, somewhat nibbled.
- Annie Dillard
The temperature Friday night at 10,000 feet was easily in the 30s, maybe upper 20s. Our fire stocked with wood from the grocery store in Woodland Park afforded us some mirage of warmth. But your bones know when they're being nibbled. The gnawing had only just begun.
In an effort to make sure my family was snug and warm, I played the martyr and slept wrapped in a blanket rather than a bag. I know martyrs don't get to see their kids graduate from college or sit on the porch with their girlfriend while grandbabies play under foot. Still, I play. I awoke at 12am to the sound of my teeth chattering and a chill I would not shake for almost twelve hours. Many of Fox's martyrs were burned at the stake. I don't remember any succumbing to hypothermia in a tent from Wal-Mart. Still, I play.
The hike we took Saturday runs up the backside of Pikes Peak. The Aspen groves on the sidelines seemed restless, anxious for October to arrive so they can shed this blend-in-with-everything-else green and let autumn's alchemy do its magic. Legend has it that the cross was made of Aspen and the quaking gold leaves come from the tree's humbled response at being chosen to hold the body of our Lord. But it has to get colder for the gold to surface. Maybe the Aspen's golden leaves are actually chattering, trying not to freeze at the stake; their refusal to recant.
Our troupe consisted of four adults and eight kids; cheaper by the dozen. I took the anchor position on the hike and found myself a motivational speaker, coaxing my middle daughter and her same-age friend up the mountain. Ten-year-old girls can nickel and dime you to death, like being nibbled at the stake. Did you know that? Well, they can. My daughter said sometimes I feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I said me too. My hip bones were still cold. It was a glorious hike.
Nature seems to catch you by the tail. - Annie Dillard
We sat in camp chairs 'round a fire pit and someone said look up and we did and dear God at the stars. I couldn't remember seeing stars like that since I slept in the belly of the Grand Canyon years ago alongside two friends and a host of bats. Several campsites away, a radio began belching out bass notes in a continuous loop, strong enough to distract us from heaven and memory. A child's voice said those people are dumb. No adult voice corrected them.
My son and his please-come-along-so-I-won't-be-the-only-boy fellow male sat on a bridge in shirt sleeves with their Levis rolled up, while bare feet dangled above a clear mountain stream. Huck and Tom. Their middle school, cell phoned, Wii controlled minds were quickly ground down by nature's molars to that known as "boy." Get a boy outside and he knows what to do; he just does. Or at least those boys did. They slept in their own tent, only a few feet away from the mother's care. I wonder if they talked of setting off down that mountain current on a raft made of grocery store kindling, gently down the stream?
On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water. - Edwin Way Teale
What would my son and his friend have done if they'd come across hurrying eels? I want to believe they'd of figured something out, gotten the eels to paint the fence possibly.
I used the last of the bought-and-paid-for wood this morning. The fire coughed to life via a starter log, used Kleenex, and a silent prayer. As the flames rose, anticipatory grief did too. I'm not ready to go back, I said. The robber jay replied but you almost froze the other night in this spartan place of pine and stream and crag and star. Surely you'd rather live than be nibbled like this, right? Just recant and it'll all go away.
My teeth began to chatter; a martyr's refusal.