I walk with tottering steps up the forest-lined trail. Chubby cheeks. Chubby legs. My mother, following patiently alongside, takes my small hand in hers and guides me through the maze of roots and rocks. Dew slides across my small face as I push past thickets of thimble berries and, higher up, huckleberries, both still unwilling to share their bounty until fall brings crisp days and cold nights.
“One step. Two steps. Three. There! You’ve got it!” exclaims my mother.
Colorful butterflies, towering cedars, and fuzzy caterpillars are of wonderment to my young eyes. So many things for a toddler to see and experience in this world, both good and bad. Maybe, just maybe, my mother guides me up this trail in the hope that my life will follow a path that embraces these wild places and leave behind only footprints that can be washed away by the wind and rain.
She walks with hesitant steps up the steep, subalpine trail. Her slow gait reflects her years. Hunched over hiking poles, she bypasses roots and rocks, moving steadily upwards. Always up. I follow patiently behind, placing my hand on her back as she navigates the slippery, scree-lined slope.
“One mile. Two miles. Three. Only six more to go! You’ve got it!” I encourage.
Peaks and valleys carved by the artistry of glaciers long ago, fields of bear grass and Indian paintbrush, and aqua-blue lakes nestled among wind-lashed spruce are of wonderment to her eyes. So many things her aged-eyes have seen and yet these wonders, both big and small, continue to move her. Maybe, just maybe, I guide my mother up this trail to show her that it is not your age that defines you, but what is in your heart.
As I sit next to my mother on the precipice, engrossed by the peaks unfolding in front of us at every angle, I find my thoughts are wandering. Questions. Unanswered questions. Is this love of wild places something you are born with? Or, instead, is it something that is instilled at a tender age by a guiding hand and a gentle voice? Will I, at her ripe old age of 70, still be roaming the backcountry? And will I pass on this love to my children? Smiling, I realize that I know the answers to these questions and, for that, I am eternally grateful.
Author - Kevin Mahoney is an avid fly fisherman and trail runner. When not teaching high school math and science, Kevin can be found combing the streams and trails of north Idaho with his wife and dog.