Stepping Out

"Here, put this on your ears, I told my oldest son, Daniel. I handed him a bottle of sunscreen. You're going to need this, 'cause were going high on the Sahale Arm. Daniel quickly dabbed a bit of lotion on his ears and grabbed his pack. Can we go now? he asked. He had quickly tired of hanging around the parking lot it was only 9:30 a.m. but he could already feel the heat. I wasn't in a hurry; the northern face of Johannesburg dropped from the sky to the valley floor nearby. Great mounds of ice clutched at the rocky face for life. Okay, just let me put some on, too. I applied a thick layer on my ears and the back of my neck. Common sense told me I should also be wearing my broad-brimmed hat, but I knew it would feel hot. Instead, I wrapped a bandana around my head, and started walking. We would be hiking in the trees for a while anyway. The trail to Cascade Pass was easy, gaining only 1,800 feet in three miles, with an additional half-mile traverse. We passed two large groups it wouldn't be lonely at the pass. And it wasn't. But we didn't care, because we only planned a short water break there. We were climbing higher, to the Sahale Arm. Besides, the wildlife wasn't afraid of the crowds. As we lingered we spotted a mountain goat, and a deer walked within 10 feet of the human visitors. Now refreshed, Daniel started up the next portion of trail. Here's where the work starts, I said. Indeed, we weren't walking on a 10 percent grade any longer; the trail here gained nearly 1,000 feet per mile. But it didn't bother us, because every step, no matter how laborious, was a step up the Sahale Arm. On the Arm, the sun poured over the surface of all we could see, which was quite a bit. The rocky summit of Sahale broke the blue surface above. Other peaks scrambled towards the sky from distant valleys. We climbed to a spot high in the rocks. I smeared some more lotion on my legs, and pulled my lunch out of my pack. Then I leaned backwards and took in more view than my brain could hold. It doesn't get any better than this, I said. We could build a house up here - that would be better, Danny said. Are you carrying the supplies? I asked. But he was right. Why not just stay up here? What worries could assail you here, up on the Arm? Bank account overdrawn? No sweat - the sky is kissing your face. Kidnappers holding your spouse for ransom? Not to worry - you're listening to ice crash off the face of Johannesburg! Left a hot iron face down on your white, silk shirt? Well, it can wait, 'cause the sky is intersecting with the ground, and you are there at the line where the planes collide. Take your troubles and drop them into the valley below; let the Cascade River wash them past Marblemount and Concrete, to the lowlands whence they came. Too bad the river couldn't wash away the sunburn on the back of my legs. That took a lot of aloe. People at church the next day had a lot of fun pointing at the line on my forehead where my bandana had stopped. Are you fed up to here with your kids? one asked, pointing at his brow and laughing. I dont care what you say, I replied. I'm up on the Sahale Arm. I can't hear you."

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